• Leigh Howard (L) congratulates Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race winner Peter Kennaugh (Kathryn Watt)Source: Kathryn Watt
Geelong local Leigh Howard was a popular second place finisher as he took out the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race bunch sprint behind solo winner Peter Kennaugh in front of his home town fans.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Cycling Central
1 Feb 2016 - 11:58 AM  UPDATED 1 Feb 2016 - 12:01 PM

The former Orica-GreenEDGE leadout man and domestique was keen to show after his post season transfer to IAM Cycling that he could chase results that were largely denied to him with the Australian WorldTour outfit.

“It’s been some time since I’ve been up that pointy end, so I was happy to be back there today," Howard said. "Sprinting for the win with the full support of the team, in front of my home crowd… it’s just excellent.”

The Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race course was expected to be too testing for Howard's talents, with his best wins coming in bunch sprints at races like the Tours of Oman and Britain, but it's clear that he is developing as a hard man who can get over the tougher terrain before unleashing his sprint.

Kennaugh breaks away to claim Cadel Evans Road Race
Team Sky's Peter Kennaugh broke away from a strung out peloton to win the second edition of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.

“At the very beginning, I was a bit unsure, my legs were good but not awesome. Coming into the circuit for the first time, I saw quite a few guys going off the back of the peloton and I really felt like I was taking it easy, it made me think that maybe I’m on a good day," Howard said.

"It was about two laps to go that I got on the radio to our director and said that I really need the support of the boys today because my legs were good.

"They did that and put their full support behind me, I had the guys working their backsides off for me and I almost repaid them. They did everything they could to bring Peter Kennaugh back at the end there but they were just off the pace.”

That support from IAM Cycling to pursue his own ambitions is critical for Howard after the 26-year-old spent four seasons leading out talents like Michael Matthews and Caleb Ewan, who had overtaken him on the pecking order at Orica-GreenEDGE.

It is likely that he will have a similar role in the service of IAM’s Matteo Pelucchi, but with the Italian very much a pure sprinter, Howard should have a number of opportunities to pursue his own goals in 2016.

A second place in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road race is a big first step in showing his new Swiss bosses he can do more, but the frustration at missing out in Geelong was still evident, banging his handlebars as he crossed the finish line for second.

“So close, close but no cigar… so many mixed emotions. This year is a transition to move in the direction I want to move in, which is winning bike races again," he said.