The Take Out | Vuelta Stages 11-16 and Damien Howson Interview

Photo: Zac Williams

Photo: Zac Williams

The Vuelta’s main course has been dusted off, with only dessert to come. Primoz Roglic still holds the red jersey with 5 stages to go, with a 2:48 advantage over Alejandro Valverde. He built that advantage with a dominant stage win in the Time Trial, and then matched everything that’s been thrown at him on the climbs.

We’ve seen the Slovenian falter in the tail end of Grand Tours before though, and with Alejandro Valverde waiting in the wings, he can’t afford to slip up. Roglic’s countryman Tadej Podačar has also been elite, sitting third in his very first Grand Tour, and taking his second stage win on a summit finish this week.

Inside the Mitchelton-SCOTT camp, they haven’t seen the same level of success; their GC challenge from Esteban Chaves has faltered, while lead sprinter Luka Mezgec was caught up in a big crash on Saturday’s sprint finish, and had to withdraw.

Our man Damien Howson has seen the front of the race several times though, getting into three breakaways, and placing fourth on Stage 11. We talked about those opportunities and more in our latest catch-up with him.

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Stanley Street Social: You said you were going to stay ready for your opportunities over the race, and you got a few this week, so you’re obviously in good form.

Damien Howson: Definitely wasn’t wrong by saying the race would be aggressive either. It’s been a really hard, quite unique, grand tour with all the aggressive racing, and it’s been multiple stages that the break hasn’t gone for up to an hour, even two hours.

SSS: Stage 11 was a fairly tactical finish; did you walk away content with fourth place on the day?

DH: This week I’ve got myself into three breaks, the first one I felt really good, finishing fourth place. The thing with winning, especially from breakaways, is that you have to have really good legs, but also have a bit of luck go your way. I guess fourth place gave me a taste of what winning could be like, being there right at the pointy end was exciting.  Of course, I would have wanted more, but it’s kept my motivation high, and another two days later I tried again.

SSS: With so many breakaway lasting to the finish, it must have been frustrating to not get to the finish that day, especially as you would have been looking to right the wrongs from two days earlier.

DH: This time the GC teams raced pretty hard from behind on the final couple of climbs and managed to bring the breakaway back again to contest for the win. So there goes another chance, but I’m still learning from all these different breakaways, different ways to win and be a part of it. I guess you’ve gotta keep putting yourself there and be in it to win it, I’ll keep looking to that in the last week.

Stage 16, my third breakaway, I was definitely feeling the effect of two breakaways before that, and didn’t have much of a say in the final really hard, 18km slog up the final climb to the finish.

SSS: Obviously, the team would be disappointed with Luka crashing out, how do you readjust the goals for the coming week - especially with three likely sprint finishes left.

DH: I guess with the team not having any sort of GC focus now, it’s all in for everyone to get up the road and take a chance.

I’ve gotta say, the team hasn’t had much luck, especially Esteban with his GC ambitions,  a lot of mechanicals and other factors have played a role in him not being able to achieve what he was hoping when he set out. But he’s keeping positive and the team’s around him.

Following that, Luka crashing on a stage that really suited him - we were confident he could pull off a result that day, and there’s also more stages in this final week that would suit his characteristics. We’re just now hoping he has a speedy recovery. We’ll keep pushing on ourselves here and seeing what positives can come out of this race - hopefully a stage win.

SSS: The Vuelta is known for being a bit left-field - how was the neutralised start on the Bilbao Football stadium? Have you ever had a weirder start than that?

DH: Yeah, the neutralised start in a stadium was definitely unique. They definitely get around the festivities; there were a few local riders from around here, Bilbao, that were presented with some special jerseys with their names on it. We did a lap around the soccer field, and some quirky things in the neutral, before the real game got underway.

Along with the start of the race with the grand depart going through the salt at the start, it’s kind of a unique way to begin a bike race, and it seems now pretty common for a bike race organisers to put starts in unique positions to show off what they have to offer.

So we’ve just enjoyed another rest day, after a pretty demanding six stages, but everyone’s in the same boat, and everyone’s tired, and we can see who has the legs in the final five stages

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Check back here for more interviews with Damien Howson over the course of the race. You’ll get an inside look at Mitchelton-SCOTT, and we’ll be posting them every few days.

See you back at the social club,


Joshua DugganComment