“Damien has shown strong progression within our national program,” said Sport Director Matt White. “We’ve seen obvious improvements from him first with Jayco-AIS last year and then this year with the Jayco-AIS WorldTour Academy. He’s ready to turn professional, and we’re ready to support his development.”
Howson is poised to follow in the footsteps of Australian neo-pros Luke Durbridge, and Michael Hepburn. The pair, like Howson, turned professional with ORICA-GreenEDGE after riding exclusively for Australian squads. Their success as neo-pros and continued growth in year two demonstrates the team’s commitment and ability to develop homegrown talent at the highest level of the sport.
“This is a dream come true,” said Howson. “Many riders dream of racing in Europe, turning professional, riding in the WorldTour and eventually getting to do races the biggest races in the world like the Tour de France. After eight years of riding a bike, I’m on my way.”
The South Australian won the U23 National Time Trial Championships in January before winning both the U23 time trial and road race at the Oceania Championships in mid-March. Buoyed by his success at home, he headed overseas where he scored his first European win in June. One of five riders to escape a fast-paced peloton, Howson evaded the bunch and outsmarted the breakaway to win Trofeo Alcide Degasperi.
It was not an isolated result. A week after winning the one day Italian Classic, Howson proved quickest in the Thüringen-Rundfahrt U23 prologue. Five days later, he finished second in the individual time trial. He finished the eight day German Tour in third overall.
“He’s quite versatile,” said White. “He shares similar qualities with a few other riders that we have on the team. Obviously he’s strong in the time trial. He also climbs quite well. He’s the sort of rider that gives a team lots of options.”
“I hope to develop into an overall contender,” said Howson. “My goal is to one day turn into a Grand Tour contender. Obviously I know there are a lot of small steps to take before that. I hope to focus on the small tours in my first two years with ORICA-GreenEDGE.”
The 20-year-old called his home country’s WorldTour team a natural fit. While he knows making the jump from the amateur ranks to the professional peloton will not be without its challenges, he anticipates an easier transition with support of his compatriots.
“Being an Aussie on an Aussie team should help me make the jump from my U23 team to the WorldTour more easily,” Howson said. “I also think my style of riding suits the team, and the team’s approach to racing suits me. We should work well together.”
“I’ve steadily improved over the last few years,” Howson added. “I’ve been able to deliver some big results this year, which has been pleasing. I’ve learned a lot about racing with the national team, and I’ll learn even more racing with ORICA-GreenEDGE. I hope that I’m able to use my strengths and knowledge to help the team while they help me.”