BOULDER, Colorado (VN) — In April, Alex Howes made a spring classics debut worth remembering. He wants to revisit the front end of the race on Sunday in the Limburg hills of the Netherlands.
The Garmin-Sharp neo-pro, along with French rookie Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), stretched their time on camera as they continued to defy the chasing peloton, late into the approach to Valkenburg in their first Amstel Gold Race. After being caught, Howes churned on, taking a few pulls to help his teammates in the group, including local Thomas Dekker, and still managed to finish 30th, at 47 seconds back. Three days earlier, he had ridden into the thick of the action at Brabantse Pijl, finishing sixth behind Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) in the winning breakaway.
Now, he’s back in the Limburg region of the Netherlands for another chance to showcase his classics talent.
This Sunday, on many of the same roads he saw during his inaugural Amstel Gold Race, the Howes will line up for his first world championship road race, poised to tackle terrain and the type of racing he feels suits him best.
VeloNews sat down with Howes at our office in Colorado just days before he left for Europe.
VeloNews: You were in the breakaway for quite some time at Amstel Gold this year. How does that factor into how you ride at the worlds?
Alex Howes: Anytime you’re racing in that part of Holland, the Limburg region, it’s a maze, and course knowledge plays a huge part. I was pretty lucky to be in the break at Amstel because I could take the lines I wanted and I wasn’t fighting the field. I didn’t have to worry about a lot of the crunch parts of the race, but just being able to see a lot of those roads, I think will help me for worlds. I know what the Cauberg looks like, I’ve been up it seven times or something now, and we were doing laps today in training and I was able to tell some of my teammates, Lucas (Euser) and Timmy (Duggan), the Cauberg is only three-quarters of the length of Lee Hill here [in Boulder], so it plays a factor. But, I think the legs will be more important than tactical knowledge.
VN: And how do the legs feel this part of the year?
AH: Honestly, I’m feeling a little fatigued, but pretty motivated. I’m in a fortunate position where I broke my collarbone in July, so I took a break. So, I’m a little fresher than most of the guys, so that should help, especially on a 267km course.
VN: Does that distance scare you? Do you feel like you’re there when it comes to a race that long?
AH: It doesn’t scare me; you definitely have to respect the distance, though. You know, I’ve always ridden pretty well in that length of race, but we’ll see if I can be a factor in the final. We’ll see.
VN: There are nine guys on the team. Going down the list, there are plenty of strong riders, but you stand out in that you’ve shown that you can ride on a course that has these relentless hills. Do you go in feeling like you’re the leader?
AH: [Laughs] I definitely don’t think I’m the leader. No, I will agree that it’s a pretty unique skill set to be able to ride those punchy climbs. It is racing in that region, it’s technical racing, you’re fighting a lot in the field, you have to be pretty switched on all day, and the technical aspect is pretty severe a lot of times. On paper, I think I’m kind of the wildcard… I think some people were surprised when I was selected for the worlds team. But I think the people doing the selection understood that I have that particular skill set. On paper we have a great team, though. I’m pretty excited about the team that we’re taking. Tejay’s (van Garderen) going really well, I know Taylor’s (Phinney) going really well and he’s lighter than he’s been since he was, like, 14, so that helps a lot. There’s not a rider on the team that isn’t world-class, as it should be at the world championships.
VN: Do you go into the worlds with a team strategy like you would riding for your trade team, or is it more wide-open?
AH: For me personally, any time you have the chance to represent the United States, you go for your best shot. If that’s me, which I don’t think it will be, or riding for Tejay or (Chris) Horner or whoever it is, you represent your country, and that’s what I’m there to do, and honestly the majority of us are pretty good friends. Me and Taylor, we were at Tejay’s bachelor party last year and I was training today with Timmy and Lucas and I’m teammates with Tyler (Farrar). The others I know, not as well, but we all get along, so honestly I think it’s a team that will be able to work together pretty well, which is definitely not always the case.
VN: What makes a successful world road championships for you?
AH: I don’t know, get my ass to the front? [Laughs] I don’t know, honestly, just to be in the fight is always fun, you know? Whether that’s in the final, whether that’s leading Tejay into the base of the Cauberg, second-to-last time or last time or whatever, we’ll see. I don’t have any hard-set goals just yet.
VN: Putting friendships and national pride aside, who’s your pick to be the world champion?
AH: I don’t know. It’s kind of an interesting course, because it’s kind of a blend of everything. You have to be a pretty well rounded rider, but honestly I think the sprinter could make it to the end. I think Tom Boonen looks pretty good; Gilbert won two stages of the Vuelta, so Belgium obviously has a really good team. Spain has an incredible team with (Alejandro) Valverde and Purito, so maybe Purito… [Joaquim] Rodríguez. That would be my pick. We’ll see.