The four-day Challenge Mallorca series is one of the first European races on the professional calendar and despite having already amassed a number of race days in 2013, Orica GreenEdge were left without a result at the end of the opening day of racing in the Trofeo Palma.
Despite failing to launch the day's protected sprinter Leigh Howard to the line, team director Neil Stephens was satisfied with how the 112km race unfolded. The team had worked hard to pull back the day's escape group and was lined-up toward the front in the closing kilometers. It was perhaps a touch of first-race jitters that led Howard and his lead-out man Mitchell Docker to be isolated at the finish.
"We were ready to ride for Leigh today," said Stephens on the team's site. "The main goal was to keep control through the race and support Leigh at the finish.
"Tomas [Vaitkus] is really eager to be here and help out his teammates," said Stephens. "He's had a knee injury since the Giro d'Italia, and he's happy to finally be back. His job today was to drop off our sprinters for the lead out. He went out too hard too early, and he dropped Mitch [Docker] and Leigh a bit too far away from the finish.
"They didn't have enough to manoeuver their way to the line. Leigh said he got caught up in the bunch at the finish and never had the possibility to open up his sprint full gas."
In fact it was the team's other fast-man Michael Matthews, who most recently won a silver medal at the Australian Road Championships in January that achieved the team's best placing. Matthews rolled across the line out of contention for the win in 24th place while Howard never had much of a chance when race winner Kenny Dehaes (Lotto Belisol) hit out early.
"Body feeling good for 1st day here Challenge Mallorca, boys were bloody great. Unfortunately just got caught out with 500m to go.#tomorrow," Howard said on Twitter.
"It's the first race for a lot of riders, and we're never really sure about anyone's form until we see the race," explained Stephens. "I know it can be hard to understand that we're satisfied even if the team isn't up in the results, but we are.
"We need to work on our dynamic at the finish. Aside from the sprint, the rest of the race went really well. The team is super eager to race hard in Majorca, and it's clear they're focused on the important races we have coming up after this."
The team will race again tomorrow in the Trofeo Migjorn.
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