The Take Out | Vuelta Stages 1-4 and Damien Howson Interview

Photo: Zac Williams

Photo: Zac Williams

Four Days into the Vuelta, and it’s already been a crazy one. With less than a fifth in the race in the books, several GC contenders have dropped down the standings, or worse, dropped out of the race.

Saturday’s Team Time Trial was won by Astana, but the big news form that day came about via a burst blow-up a pool. With water gushing across the track, Jumbo-Visma and UAE both crashed, while a parked car on the course impeded a team in the final metres.

Stage 2 saw GC action kick off on a medium mountains stage, as Nairo Quintana took a stage win, righting all the wrongs from his less-than-successful Tour de France campaign. Stages 3 and 4 were sprints though, following the usual script for the first week of a grand tour. Sam Bennett and Fabio Jakobsen took a win each, both celebrating in their new National Champions jerseys.

Inside the Mitchelton-SCOTT, they’re fairly happy. Mikel Nieve and Esteban Chaves are sitting inside the top 15, safe in the long-term GC picture, while Nieve was at the front of the opening road stage. In the sprints, Luka Mezgec has been around the mark, taking third place on Stage 3, and fourth on stage 4.

We caught up with Damien Howson to see how the team is dealing with a hectic opening week.

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SSS: Stage 1's TTT was pretty dramatic, with a lot of crashes happening; what did you guys think of the course whilst recon-ing it, and did you expect it to be that nasty?

Yeah, the TTT was obviously a pretty technical course. I think it was probably, after seeing it, less technical than it looked on paper. Riding it three times myself, and with the team, I thought I had it down. But it was a matter of water on the road that caused some teams to come unstuck, which was unfortunate. Obviously they didn’t see that before. s

SSS: Mikel and Luka have already had some good (top 5, top 10) results for the team, does that keep morale high? but also, what needs to go right for those good results to turn into winning ones?

DH: I said before the race begun that, everyone’s gonna be taking their opportunities. Mikel did well on the second stage, which was more of a GC day than a sprint day as predicted , so he’ll keep doing that.The past two sprints have obviously been sprints and Luka has been consistent and around the mark; it’s just a matter of, in his words, “getting a bit of luck” and some clean air to see the finish line. It’s a matter of working on that, and we’ll keep helping him try to achieve that. We’re conserving as much energy as possible, cause that’s important over three weeks but also taking those opportunities. The morale in the team has been about ticking those boxes, going day by day.

SSS: The team’s made it through the first patch of the race without a huge incident, when some other teams have lost GC options already, is it a relief for you guys and does it contextualise small time gaps from the TTT

DH: Every day’s a constant battle to maintain position in the GC, and full attention from every rider is what’s required, For us, everything’s gone well so far. We’ve been able to manage the risk factor with a lot of technical courses and roundabouts and slippery roads. As the race progresses we’ll see more of the GC form and the a little bit more respect goes around the peloton

SSS: Is it hard to find a rhythm in the first week, when there are already some big stages that affect the GC? The Tour and Giro don’t really throw big stages in at the start, but here on Stage 2 we saw some action for the red jersey kick off, so it seems like the racing is already on?

DH: I said at the start of the race that it’s a grand tour with GC Days scattered throughout; we’ve got a big block coming up now. The TTT and stage 2 were important, and now we’ve got three consecutive hilltop finishes, one sprint and then the Andorra stages. I think on the second stage, the heat definitely played a hand in why it was so hard and so selective too.

SSS: How have the first few days been for you personally?

DH: Personally, I’ve felt ok. I felt I contributed well in the TTT, which is one of my stronger aspects of the sport, and I enjoyed that. As for the sprint stages, I’ve just been keeping out of trouble really, and then looking after everyone in the final 40km when its really important. Now it’s kind of all hands on deck for the next few days with these tough stages coming up.

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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