• Leigh Howard was on the front foot in the first stage of the Tour (AAP)Source: AAP
Australian sprinter Leigh Howard was in his own words “the last to be called-up and first to attack” at the Tour de France Grand Depart on Saturday.
Sophie Smith

3 Jul 2016 - 9:52 AM  UPDATED 3 Jul 2016 - 10:34 AM

The 26-year-old featured in the main break of the opening 188km flat stage to the sombre D-Day landing site Utah Beach in what was a memorable race debut punctuated by strong winds, high speed and crashes.

Howard was one of five escapees that broke away early and animated the initial stages of the blustery run along the coast, which saw Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) claim line honours and title contender Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) fall heavily.

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“It was a nice day,” said Howard. “I just wanted to try and embrace it here and enjoy the experience. It’s hectic.

“The finish of today was not ideal for me, that’s not my perfect sprint, so I tried to make the most of what opportunity that I could.”

Howard attempted to collect King of the Mountain primes for the polka dot jersey but fell short with Alex Howes (Cannondale) and Anthony Delapace (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) proving particularly antagonistic, out-lasting the rest of their companions before the race ultimately came back together.

The former track world champion competed for IAM at the Giro d’Italia in May and departed before the race hit the high mountains, partly with the Tour in mind.

“I guess if I finish the Giro it’s almost impossible for you to do the Tour. I was always on the long list to do the Tour so then when I got the call to say ‘no’ I was disappointed to say the least,” he said. “But after a few days I accepted it and tried to relax a bit and focus on the next race.”

Dejection turned to hurried excitement for Howard when he received a call on Wednesday to travel immediately to France as a sub for IAM teammate Dries Devenyns, who was side-lined through illness.

“I continued to train but probably not to the level of training for the Tour de France, no,” he said of the interim between his appearances at the Giro d'Italia and the start of the Tour.

Howard showed no sign of timidity on cycling’s biggest stage, going straight on the attack, however he was hesitant to compare and contrast it to other Grand Tours following one day in the break.

“Honestly I can’t tell you much yet, I was either off the front or sitting on the back today so I didn’t really notice much difference (to other races), but when I did come back I noticed a lot of people had crashed, so it looks dangerous,” he observed.

Howard may get a different perspective from the bunch on stage two on Sunday, which is tipped to suit puncheurs like world champion Peter Sagan (Tinkoff).

“I reckon I’ll suffer a bit after today,” he said.