Damien Howson of Australia leads the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.
Damien Howson of Australia leads the Jayco Herald Sun Tour. MAURIZIO DEGL' INNOCENTI

Puncture, dropped chain fail to stop Howson

CYCLING: A gentlemen's agreement and a tenacious effort from his teammates has kept Damien Howson in yellow after a volcanic stage two of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.

Team Sky's Luke Rowe sailed to a superb solo victory in the 165.6km stage from Mt Beauty to Beechworth, but chaos was unfolding behind him on the final climb.

Howson was ensconced in a peloton breaking up by the metre on the tough 10km climb to Stanley when he got a front tyre puncture just as Chris Froome and Sky went on the attack.

Howson's Orica-Scott teammates immediately rallied around him in an attempt to pace him back to the group, but in an instant he was 1min 10sec behind Froome and watching his yellow jersey slipping away.

One by one the Orica riders sacrificed themselves to limit the damage before Froome made the decision to stop riding - honouring a tradition that says you don't attack the leader of the race if he's had a "mechanical".

If that wasn't enough drama for Howson, he dropped his chain with 300m to go on an uphill finish to Beechworth and was forced to hang on to Esteban Chaves's jersey so he could literally be pulled across the line.

If stage one was excitement, stage two was pure relief for Howson, who maintains his 38-second buffer over young Australian Jai Hindley (Australian National Team) and Kenny Elissonde (Team Sky).

"When things went a bit pear-shaped with a front puncture with 20km to go, trying to remain (calm) is pretty difficult but I had the team around me," Howson said.

"I was stressing. I was nervous going into the climb ... but it makes it more sweet at the finish."

Saturday's 167.7km journey from Wangaratta to Mitchelton Winery is one for the fast men, with Team Sky's Danny van Poppel the favourite.