A young Australian has succeeded a veteran New Zealander as the winner of the UCI Oceania Tour. In 2012, it was Paul Odlin who was victorious in the circuit following a win at the Oceania Championships. This year, Damien Howson added his name to the list of honours by an outstanding performance, winning two gold medals at the Oceania Championships in mid-March.
Howson consequently topped the final individual ranking of the 2013 UCI Oceania Tour. His total of 86 points put him out of reach of compatriots Nathan Earle (68 points) and Benjamin Dyball (64 points), both members of the Huon Salmon-Genesys Wealth Advisers team. Leading the UCI Oceania Tour in January, Neil Van der Ploeg (54 points), ultimately dropped to fourth in the final ranking after placing fourth in both the Australian Championships and the Oceania Championships.
"Winning the UCI Oceania Tour is a real honour for me", he said. "I am very happy with the beginning of my 2013 season".
Aged just 21, Howson discovered cycling when he was 16 on the recommendation of the South Australian Sports Institute while he was carrying out tests as a basketball player. Taken on by the Institute, he has followed the classic route for young Australian riders, focusing on the track. He made his debut for the national road team in 2010 at the UCI Junior World Championships. He finished third in the GP GÃ©nÃ©ral Patton in Luxembourg in the same year, a UCI Nations' Cup event.
A formidable time trialist, last year Howson took the bronze medal at the Under-23 World Championships in Limburg (the Netherlands) and gold at the Under-23 Oceania Championships.
He repeated his achievement at the Under-23 Time Trial at the Oceania Championships this year, taking 40 seconds out of Campbell Flakemore and 2'03" out of Adam Phelan in the 35-kilometre event. He then finished second in the road race, just two seconds behind his breakaway companion Cameron Meyer, but received the gold medal as Meyer, a professional with Orica-GreenEdge (a first division team), was not eligible for the title.
Howson had gained experience in a breakaway in a major race some six weeks earlier in the Santos Tour Down Under. Competing in the UCI WorldTour event for the University of South Australia team, on the fourth stage he found himself in a 120 km two-man break alongside UCI World Champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team). Gilbert praised the young Australian: "He's good because he kept a high cadence, it means that you're strong when you can ride like this."
After his day in the spotlight, Howson is more than ever determined to become a professional rider in the UCI WorldTour. His Continental Championship victories and the UCI Oceania Tour title should certainly ease his passage towards this objective. It means that he can face a European racing season with confidence, riding in the colours of Jayco-AIS, the Orica-GreenEdge feeder team.
"I now look forward to getting into the racing in Europe with my U23 Australian team mates", he says. "I hope to continue my successes in both all areas of racing, stage races and one day races but am primarily aiming to win the U23 Time Trial in the UCI World Championships later".
Jayco-AIS did not renew its UCI Continental licence this season and so lost its title as the top-ranking team in the UCI Oceania Tour, a feat it had achieved every year since 2010. The top team of 2013 was Huon Salmon-Genesys Wealth Advisers (209 points), ahead of Team Budget Forklifts (81 points) and Drapac Cycling (79 points).
Australia dominated the nation ranking, with its 628 points putting it far ahead of New Zealand with 174.