Leigh Howard may have missed out on a stage victory for the second day at the Tour of Oman on Wednesday, but his consistency and the excellent support of his Orica-GreenEdge teammates paid off, with the young Australian securing the race leader's red jersey, the green points jersey and the best young rider's white jersey.
Howard was beaten by Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) on stage one and by Alexander Kristof (Katusha) on stage two. He used his track skills to survive in yet another hectic sprint, with the head wind causing the sprinters to fight for position. He now leads Kristoff by two seconds thanks to the two six-second time bonuses he picked for his placings. Greipel dropped his chain in the sprint and finished 25th, slipping to third overall, also at two seconds.
"It's always nice to have a leader's jersey but of course, if I could choose, I'd go for having a stage win instead of two second places. Winning is always more important for a sprinter," he told Cyclingnews after doing a series of media interviews after pulling on his hat-trick of leader's jerseys.
While Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) went on the right of the road in the headwind sprint, Howard opted for the left, where there was more room to manoeuvre and so find space to move up.
Kristoff managed to avoid any disruption by starting his sprint early and holding his power to the line. Howard moved up late. He couldn't close the gap on the Norwegian but had to speed to beat Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and the other sprinters who opted for the right side of the road.
"It was pretty crazy in the end," Howard explained.
"The whole team did a perfect job again looking after me again. There was a head wind in the sprint and so we all got swamped a bit, but I took a drink of courage and decided to go up the left hand side of the road as fast as I could. I think I'm sprinting really well and made up a lot of ground in the last 200 metres, but I just needed to have started a little bit further forward."
Howard promised he would try and defend the race lead but knows the finale of stage three to the new Oman Parliament building at Al Bustan includes some roller coaster roads.
"The third stage is going to be tough, it's going to be touch ad go if I manage to keep the jersey," he said pragmatically, while also promising to put up a fight.
"There's some real tough climbs and so it's going to hard. But well try our hardest."
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