Orica-GreenEdge could introduce a new sprint partnership to Grand Tour racing at the Vuelta a Espana, which starts with a team time-trial on Saturday.
Leigh Howard has worked closely with burgeoning pilot Mitch Docker throughout the season and in the lead-up to the Spanish race where he and fellow sprinter Michael Matthews will both target stage wins.
“We’re going to pinpoint the stages we both want to target,” Howard told Cycling Weekly.
“He’s been climbing really well so he’ll be targeting the hillier stages. The flat sprints will be mainly for myself, and Mitch and I will work together in sprint lead-out.
“I think the line-up in the flat stages, if I’m sprinting, it will probably be Mitch in front of me, because we’re working pretty closely, and then Bling [Matthews] will go in front of Mitch. Then we’ve got also Cookie [Baden Cooke] and Sam Bewley as well so five really strong guys for the final couple of Ks.”
Docker assisted Howard to two race victories in Majorca in February and has followed the same training and race programme in the lead-up to the Vuelta including the Tour of Poland and Burgos.
“We’re getting used to how each other rides and how we work through the bunch and stuff like that. It’s coming together nicely,” Howard said.
“It showed in Majorca. It only took us one race in Argentina [January’s Tour de San Luis] to sort out a few creases and then Majorca we already won a race together. Now we’ve been working together again so hopefully we can pull-off a good result here.
“Poland and Burgos I sort of went into them not totally race ready because I was using them as preparation,” he continued. “This last week I’ve actually been pretty tired from the racing but hopefully I’ve recovered well and I should be alright come Saturday and Sunday.”
The 23-year-old estimates up to five stages could end in bunch sprints with fewer fast men set to compete at the Vuelta this year maybe in lieu of the mountainous course.
Howard was a late call-up to the Giro d’Italia, where he replaced an ill Matthews, as a pilot for Matt Goss this year. He sustained a fractured collarbone in a stage six crash there and did not start the next day. The Vuelta, in contrast, has always been on his programme.
“I want to try and keep the head screwed on right through the stages so hopefully if I finish the Vuelta I’ll use that form and I’ll do Franco Belge sort of as a bit of preparation for Beijing,” he said. “They’re my next two that I’m really targeting.”
Former under-23 road world champion Matthews will enter the Vuelta on the back of two stage victories at the Tour of Utah.
Orica-GreenEdge won the team time-trial at the Tour de France last month after which Simon Gerrans, who is competing in Spain, celebrated a stint in the yellow jersey. Teammate Simon Clarke also appears in shape to defend the King of the Mountain title he claimed last season.