The Take Out | Vuelta Stages 5-10 and Damien Howson Interview

Photo: Zac Williams

Photo: Zac Williams

Over a hectic last week, the Red Jersey has changed hand six times in six stages (a record for grand tours) with breakaway duels and GC showdowns dominating the front of the race.

Primoz Roglic now holds the Red Jersey, having blitzed the Stage 10 time trial after the rest day. He’s sure to face competition over the next two weeks from Miguel Angel Lopez and Nairo Quintana though, who have been strong on the notoriously steep finish climbs.

The Mitchelton-SCOTT team has had it’s own dramas though. Esteban Chaves had a chaotic finish to Stage 9, needing a bike change with only Damien Howson (who’s 20cm taller) close by to offer a bike change. A second bike change occurred and Chaves began a desperate chase back on with Howson and others. Though Chaves lost time and dropped to 15th, Mikel Nieve still sits in 12th, leaving the team with two options for top 10 finishes.

We’ve had another catch up with Howson, to ask about the team’s outlook following the last week.

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Stanley Street Social: The Vuelta went “full Vuelta” this week with 4 summit finishes in 5 days, including some super super steep climbs. What’s the mood inside the team, and the peloton like during periods like that - is it nerves and anticipation? Or edging closer to dread

Damien Howson: It’s definitely been a tough week, for any grand tour really. Steep finishes that really only suit very specific riders, but we’ve also seen a lot of breakaways get to the line as well, so there’s plenty of opportunities in this race for everyone to get a result, or make the race super aggressive. There’s a lot of guys that need to make up time if they want to win the race overall, but there’s also a lot of breaks that I think will continue to make it to the line.

SSS: So you had an interesting day on stage 9 obviously. What are those moments like in a team where something just goes completely wrong and you have to try and keep it calm?

DH: A part of bike racing is dealing with a bit of misfortune, and on Stage 9 with Esteban having a mechanical issue, at a bad moment, on a steep climb. It put us on the back foot, but we rallied around him as a team and he fought all the way to the line, which is all we can ask of him.

SSS: With Mikel and Esteban sitting 10th and 14th, you guys are still sitting reasonably well though. How do you approach supporting them through the middle of the week, and keep the team high in spirits?

DH: We had Mikel in the breakaway to try and get a result, but also be there as a second to play, and he’s riding well. I think the team’s always in high spirits, we’re all doing what we can. There’s a long way to go to achieve stage results, but also to get in the right move with one of our GC riders to try and launch them right up the order.

SSS: There’s also been some pretty awful weather in the last few days. What’s the transition like from the Spanish summer into hailstorms like? Are you someone who deals with poor weather well?

DH: Weather so far in this race has been quite mixed; There’s been 40 degree sunny days, and rain, wind and everything else in between, so that has made it interesting. I think as a professional cyclist, you’re ready to deal with all sorts of conditions, it’s very rare you get the perfect 25 degree sun, with no wind in any bike race throughout the year, so you’ve just gotta

SSS: What’s your usual rest day routine? Do you stay off the bike or, keep the legs rolling over? 

DH: Yesterday’s rest day was nice, we had a long transfer after the Andorra stage and didn’t get in until midnight. But the day itself was quite nice, especially the day after with most of us being able to take it easy and save our legs for the coming days.

I don’t think I have any real specific training that’s needed, it’s just about getting ready for stage 11 [the first stage after the rest day]. Still making sure to follow good nutrition and hydration, and making sure the legs are being looked after with a massage is still important. But there’s plenty of time to sleep and watch a few tv shows, and just unwind - forget about the racing for a day.  

Now we crack on with the rest of the race, and it’s only going to be as difficult, if not more difficult, from here on out. As a team we’re looking forward to it and we’re taking the challenge on.

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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