Howson didn’t generate headlines as Giro d’Italia runner-up Chaves did this month but his efforts to help deliver the Colombian and team to its first ever Grand Tour podium were noted.
Orica-GreenEDGE sports director Matt White on Sunday speculated that the 23-year-old could become an integral aid to Orica’s relatively new Grand Tour title objectives, as Richie Porte was for Chris Froome and Froome for Bradley Wiggins.
“He really enjoys the role and wants to become a super domestique. He wants to be Esteban’s right-hand man and from what he has shown this week it’s pretty exciting for us,” White said.
White made special mention of the 2013 under-23 time trial world champion in a sweeping assessment of the team’s breakthrough performance at the Giro in which Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) seized the maglia rosa from Chaves on the penultimate day.
“Damien Howson was a big revelation for us. His breakthrough was last year’s Vuelta, we saw glimpses of that, and at his age he has progressed, even like Esteban, an incredible amount,” White said.
Howson is set to follow Chaves’s race schedule this season, which includes a title shot at the Vuelta a Espana that the latter finished fifth overall in 2015.
“He’ll be on the same program as Esteban. He will be doing something in June and then he’ll be preparing for the Vuelta,” White said.
The Australian entered the Giro on the back of a strong performance at the Tour de Romandie in which he finished 16th overall among a deep field that included winner Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
Howson was one of the riders Orica-GreenEDGE identified in November to spur its second attempt at a Grand Tour assault with Chaves.
“This group here they knew they were doing the Giro in November,” White said. “I spoke with those guys directly. Some of them have done the classics, some of them have done the Ardennes but their first big goal as far as Grand Tours was the Giro so they’ve had ample time to prepare.”
Orica-GreenEDGE in a short space of time has come tantalisingly close to its mission of winning a Grand Tour, a demarcation from its 2012 founding goal of stages and success in one-day races.
In Italy it focused on the general classification with Chaves and sprint stages with burgeoning fast-man Caleb Ewan, who ultimately worked at being in the mix in bunch gallops before departing prior to the high mountains.
“We were always going to target stages with Caleb and our goals haven’t changed since November, so we had to build a team around those two objectives,” White said.
“There is not too many teams who came here with a serious GC guy and also tried to develop a young sprinter, or blood guys in their first or second Grand Tour. That’s one thing that is also very pleasing is that not only have we run second in the Giro, we’ve given Caleb, a 21-year-old sprinter, some incredible experience that he is going to carry on for next year and the future. We’ve linked him up with Luka Mezgec, they’ve only done one race before, and you could see the development those two had in the Giro from stage one to stage 12. That’s only going to improve the more races they do together.”