After stepping onto the final step of the podium last year at the Tour de Hongrie last year Team BikeExchange’s Damien Howson knew it was in his power to deliver victory at the five-day stage race. Even though he'd set the scene with his stage 4 win, there was no letting the guard down till he crossed that final finish line on Sunday.
"Bike racing is never over until it’s over, so particularly until three kilometres to go I definitely had to be very attentive and have a little bit of luck go my way, no misfortune and at the end of the day I got around the course safely,” said Howson.
The 28-year-old’s safe arrival at the line in the main bunch, as Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo) won the sprint, meant he held onto that yellow leaders jersey and secured Team BikeExchange's second stage-race win for the year.
Howson kept all of his 16 second gap on the second-placed rider on the GC, Ben Hermans (Israel Start-Up Nation), and the 24 seconds he had on Antonio Tiberi (Trek-Segafredo).
The stage four and overall win at the Tour de Hongrie mark Howson’s fifth and sixth career victories and were the first time he had stood on the top step of the podium since winning a stage and the GC at the Czech Tour in August last year. Before the Czech Tour Howson hadn’t had the chance to celebrate an individual victory since Australia's Herald Sun Tour in 2017.
“The team rode well and I’m happy to come away with the victory at the end of the week,” said Howson. “I think last year after winning the Czech Tour I had the desire to get a few more wins and it’s something I’ve put focus on and this race, I came close last year, so I knew it was in my grasp if I played it smart."
An early break on the 92 kilometre final stage was kept within reach by the sprinters teams, with Team BikeExchange chipping in but mainly focussed on guiding Howson safely through. The remaining three breakaway riders were reeled back in before the final lap to set up the bunch sprint and the path to victory for Howson.
"We’re really happy to finish the tour off like that, it’s always a little bit nervous with a street circuit and there was quite a lot of rain this morning, but the boys did well defending the jersey,” said sport director Mat Hayman.
Eight WorldTour teams lined up at the Tour de Hongrie, with Howson among the GC favourites along with Hermans and Jhojan García (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), who finished fourth on the overall.
Stage four, which finished atop a category one climb, always looked like it would decide the GC with little opportunity to carve out substantial gaps on the the rankings ahead of it and, after it, there was little opportunity to reel the time back on the street circuit of the final stage.
During the final kilometres of the pivotal stage four it was Garcia who first made his bid for victory, launching with two kilometres to go while Howson bided his time.
"I feel bad for the Caja Rural rider, he did exactly the move I did last year, and I knew if a team still has more than one rider it’s virtually impossible to stay away,” said Howson after the stage.
Teammate Kevin Colleoni kept a hard tempo rolling and then Howson attacked within the final kilometre, riding across the gap and straight past the Colombian to move from 34th position on the GC and straight into the yellow leaders jersey, which he clearly then had no intention of giving up.
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