Mitchelton-Scott's Damien Howson won both the final stage and the overall classification of the Czech Tour in Šternberkon Sunday, finishing off a successful four days in the Czech Republic for the Australian WorldTour squad.
The team went into the race as the defending champions, having won the race with Daryl Impey last season, and promptly won the opening team time trial stage on Thursday to put Luke Durbridge into the first leader's jersey, which they defended the following day when Jordi Meeus (SEG Racing Academy) took the stage win.
Meeus won again the next day, on stage 3, when sprinter Kaden Groves took over the race lead from Mitchelton teammate Durbridge, and it was left to Howson – second overall on the GC going into the final stage – to tie things up on the significantly hillier final stage from Mohelnice to Šternberk.
"It was a hard day," Howson said on his team's website following his victory. "I had to be attentive and respond to any moves throughout the stage that looked dangerous, because the guys had put in a massive amount of work over the last couple of days and we needed to keep ourselves on the front foot. So, I think I did that pretty well and remained calm.
"For the last half of the stage, we had Jack [Bauer] and Michael [Hepburn] there to help me, and they did a tremendous ride and kept me calm," the 27-year-old explained. "I said to them that as long as they could get me into the last climb, they'd done more than enough, and I was confident to at least seal the GC at that point."
Howson and Uno-X's Markus Hoelgaard rode clear of the front group on the final circuit in Šternberk, where the Australian was able to overpower the Norwegian for the victory, although Hoelgaard did enough to make it onto the final podium, taking third, 29 seconds down on Howson overall, while New Zealander Bauer ensured a Mitchelton-Scott one-two, finishing second on the GC, 19 seconds in arrears of his teammate.
"I just had to match anyone on the climb on the last lap," said Howson of the finale. "When the Uno-X guy rode a super hard tempo, there were only us two left, and then it was a matter of playing my move right into the final to get my hands in the air."
Mitchelton-Scott sports director Dave McPartland added: "We had 'Heppy' [Hepburn] and Bauer protecting 'Damo' on the circuits, nullifying any attacks, and those guys were super. Damo only really had to cover on the climb on the last lap, and he was all over it; he was the best bike rider there.
"This was the goal at the start of the week. We had lofty goals with the GC and stages, and we ticked both boxes there," said McPartland. "We had it taken to us a bit more than last year – there was a much deeper field – but we came away with two wins and the overall."
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