Orica GreenEdge wasted no time in bouncing back from yesterday's lack of results at Trofeo Palma by taking out the second race at the Challenge Mallorca with Leigh Howard at Trofeo Migjorn. The team's protected sprinter was once again Howard but this time there would be no mistakes in the finale.
Howard and his sports directors Neil Stephens and recently retired professional Julian Dean previewed the finishing kilometers of the 167km race to ensure the team hit the front at the right time. The team demonstrated their strength in the prior day's race but committed to controlling the front much too early. By the time the sprint opened up Howard was essentially isolated.
This time however, Howard and the team knew exactly what to expect in the finale and with two corners coming in the final 300m, position was crucial. The team worked perfectly to drop Howard and his lead-out man Mitch Docker into the perfect spot and Howard was left to finish the job - pipping Garmin Sharp's Tyler Farrar and José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar) to second and third respectively.
"We knew it would be a crazy, hectic and potentially dangerous sprint," explained Howard at the finish. "I'm glad we had the preview. It allowed us to formulate a plan that we stuck to it almost to a T. I came out on top because everyone did their jobs. The team has given me a great opportunity here and put a lot of faith in me. It's nice to repay them."
It was a significant improvement for the team's second European race of the year with Christian Meier picking up the most aggressive award for his efforts in the day-long breakaway. Infiltrating the early move was not necessarily part of the plan according to team director Stephens but it meant other teams were forced to chase.
"Christian rode hard in the break throughout the day," said Stephens. "It took the pressure off us. It wasn't critical that we have a rider in the move because we wanted a bunch sprint, but we were able to point to Christian up the road to explain why we weren't contributing to the chase."
Meier was still hovering off the front in the break when the call was made to increase the tempo. A bunch sprint at that point seemed inevitable and the technical finish meant the pace needed to be high.
"We wanted to make the race hard and come to the finish with a small field to reduce the danger in the sprint," explained Stephens. "If we came to the line with 150 guys fighting for wheels, it would have been really dangerous. Our goal was to have only 30 or 40 riders contesting the sprint.
"Stuey, Albasini and Sebastian made it really hard coming into the final kilometres". They were able to drop Mitch [Docker] and Leigh in a good position for the sprint, and Mitch took over from there.
Taking up the main sprint role at Orica GreenEdge has clearly worked for the 23-year-old Howard who after just his second race of the year has already claimed a win. He came close at Tour de San Luis with a third and fourth-place but the win in Spain is a promising sign for the upcoming sprinter.
"It's great to repay the team for the faith they have put in me for the last two races - especially Mitch," said Howard. "We're working really well together. Like I said during San Luis, we're still getting used to each other. Three sprints in, and we've already won a race. It's fantastic. He's done such an awesome job. The whole team has. Hopefully there's more of this to come."