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Americans attack in Ardennes

Americans have a noticeable presence in the Ardennes, with Howes, Warbasse, and Reijnen riding into Amstel and Flèche breaks.

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Making the early breakaway in a major race is a challenging, often thankless task. Plus, most fans don’t have a chance to watch the early kilometers, which are sometimes the hardest, most hectic of the entire day. So it’s worth noting that three Americans rode into the breakaways at Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne — two hard, hilly Ardennes classics.

“I was glad I took a stab at it. It was a hard day to make it up the road,” Trek – Segafredo’s Kiel Reijnen said after riding off the front in Flèche. “Break took an hour and a half to go. Sometimes you just got to get up the road so you can shred the corners, rip through the countryside, and do your jam.”

Three days prior, Cannondale’s Alex Howes and IAM’s Larry Warbasse were in Amstel’s escape, which was a similarly tough move to make. “I was lucky enough to be near the front when the move went,” Warbasse said. “I think I was the last guy to go across, and I had to do a huge effort to close the gap to the pretty much already formed group ahead!”

Reijnen didn’t want to be left out of the action: “I’ve got to keep up with my frenemy Alex Howes!” he joked about his Wednesday exploit. Howes and Reijnen are frequent training partners and good friends, despite crossing swords several times in last year’s USA Pro Challenge.

“I had good legs. I kind of wish I would have saved it for the end, but I don’t know,” Howes said about Amstel. “It was a good group — 11 guys, strong riders. I gave it a look around and was kind of like, ‘crap gotta have somebody there.’ There you go, I was there.”

Warbasse was a welcome addition to the large break that included Howes on Sunday. “I’d call Larry a friend,” Howes added. “Got to hang out with him for six hours, got to speak English. It was great. He was riding well.”

“It was cool to be up there with Alex and to have two Americans at the front of the race,” Warbasse said. “We didn’t speak too much, just a ‘good job’ here or some encouragement there, but it’s always nice when you have someone else you can form an alliance with, even if we didn’t need to in the end.”

And unlike Howes, the Michigander was a first-timer at Amstel and benefitted from a clean run at the sinuous Dutch roads. “Having never done the race and not having done a recon, I really didn’t know what to expect, which made it much nicer to be in the breakaway!”

All three of the American aggressors are under 30 and hoping to make their marks on the big European races. Reijnen especially is out to prove himself, a first-year WorldTour pro after eight years of grinding on Continental and Pro Continental teams. He’ll line up Sunday in Liège, along with his two fellow breakaway artists and a notably large contingent of eight other Americans

“Most of the time the break doesn’t work, but you never know ‘til you try,” Reijnen added. “And when it does … Legendary.”