Orica-Scott domestique Damien Howson took his first professional victory on Thursday, winning stage one of the 2017 Jayco Herald Sun Tour in Australia, as Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) and Chris Froome (Team Sky) engaged in a climbing battle of their own.
Australian Howson had fought up the long final climb to Falls Creek with Frenchman Kenny Elissonde of Team Sky.
The pair had attacked from the peloton as the remnants of the day’s eight-man escape group were mopped up on the climb.
Elissonde faded towards the top of the dragging 29-kilometre ascent, having to settle for third as Jai Hindley (KordaMentha Real Estate Australia) came in for second.
Howson earned the yellow jersey of overall race leader for his efforts and sits 38 seconds ahead of Hindley in the general classification. Elissonde is third at 53 seconds. Prologue winner Danny van Poppel (Team Sky) finished over half an hour down on Howson to give up the race lead.
“This is my first win in these colours and it’s been a long spell without a win,” Howson said of his first victory for three and a half years.
“I have been living my successes through others which I am always happy to do, but it’s nice to get a little bit of glory today.”
“It was a bit of a cat and mouse game between myself and Kenny. It was about making sure you still had the legs to finish it off but knowing you had options behind too.”
Elissonde admitted that he completely ran out of energy in his battle with Howson, and wasn’t happy to settle for third.
“I blew up right at the end,” Elissonde said. “I was given a licence to go out and maybe get the win but I was a bit off the pace off the end.
“It’s nice to be there, but I would prefer Chris [Froome] to win today, instead of me being third.”
Behind the fight for stage honours another battle was ensuing between Orica-Scott and Team Sky – this time with Grand Tour big hitters Chaves and Froome engaged in a scrap for the minor placings.
Chaves came away with the morale-boosting victory, crossing the line in fifth spot just one second ahead of defending Herald Sun Tour champion Froome in sixth. Taking the prologue time trial result into account, Froome now sits in fifth overall with Chaves in ninth.
British continental team JLT Condor continued their strong showing in Australia, with British duo Ian Bibby and Edmund Bradbury ending the stage in 12th and 13th place respectively. Bibby now sits in 11th place overall with Bradbury in 13th.
The five-day Jayco Herald Sun Tour continues on Friday with stage two, taking the riders from Mount Beauty to Beechworth. After a largely flat day, the stage finishes with the punchy Stanley climb with 15km to go that may well rule out a bunch sprint.
The race finishes on Sunday, February 5.
Jayco Herald Sun Tour 2017, stage one: Wangaratta to Falls Creek, 174.2km
1. Damien Howson (Aus) Orica-Scott, in 4-33-54
2. Jai Hindley (Aus) KordaMentha Real Estate-Australia, at 32 secs
3. Kenny Elissonde (Fra) Team Sky, at 47 secs
4. Michael Storer (Aus) KordaMentha Real Estate-Australia, at 1-03
5. Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica-Scott, at 1-10
6. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky, at 1-11
7. Nathan Earle (Aus) KordaMentha Real Estate-Australia
8. Lucas Hamilton (Aus) KordaMentha Real Estate-Australia, at same time
9. Cameron Meyer (Aus) KordaMentha Real Estate-Australia, at 1-13
10. Timothy Roe (Aus) IsoWhey Sports-SwissWellness, at 1-15
General classification after stage one
1. Damien Howson (Aus) Orica-Scott, in 4-36-32
2. Jai Hindley (Aus) KordaMentha Real Estate-Australia, at 38 secs
3. Kenny Elissonde (Fra) Team Sky, at 53 secs
4. Michael Storer (Aus) KordaMentha Real Estate-Australia, at 1-10
5. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky, at 1-12
6. Cameron Meyer (Aus) KordaMentha Real Estate-Australia, at 1-13
7. Lucas Hamilton (Aus) KordaMentha Real Estate-Australia, at 1-13
8. Nathan Earle (Aus) KordaMentha Real Estate-Australia, at 1-15
9. Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica-Scott, at 1-15
10. Timothy Roe (Aus) IsoWhey Sports-SwissWellness, at 1-17
11. Ian Bibby (GBr) JLT Condor, at 1-26
13. Edmund Bradbury (GBr) JLT Condor, at 1-35