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Alex Howes, America’s secret weapon in Limburg

September 22, 2012

Alex Howes (Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda) in Santa Rosa, California

[updated 10/18/2012]

This Sunday’s World Championship elite men’s road race won’t be Alex Howes’ first Worlds competition or his first trip up the Cauberg on two wheels. But it could be one to remember.

Howes raced at Worlds in cyclocross as a junior in 2006. Later he represented the U.S. in the under-23 road races in 2009 and 2010. He currently rides for the Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda team.

One of Howes’ biggest goals is to ride in the Olympics. The Worlds provide a similar rush of satisfaction for him because of the national team format. “For me personally I’ve always really cherished the opportunity to represent my country,” Howes said, a few days before leaving Boulder for The Netherlands. “So for me World Championships have always been a priority and a goal every season.”

Now 24 years-old, the 2012 event is his first elite worlds. He spoke those words with what sounded like a tremendous sense of pride. “I went twice as a U23 and both times I was ecstatic to go. To be selected for elite, it’s obviously a much higher level. It’s an opportunity I’m really looking forward to.”

Repeats on the Cauberg

Many commentators have suggested that the last spin up Cauberg Hill at the end of the 267 kilometer course will decide the winner on Sunday. The famous climb tops out about 1.5 kilometers from the finish line in Valkenburg, The Netherlands.

Alex Howes leads 2012 Amstel Gold escape, photo courtesy of Graham Watson for Team Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda

The finish resembles that of the 255 kilometer Amstel Gold one-day classic which Howes completed just 47 seconds behind this year’s winner after participating in a strong break-away for almost 190 kilometers; only Howes and another rider survived as far as about 10 kilometers from the finish line.

Howes believes the 2012 Worlds road course fits him really well, “and that’s probably the primary reason why I was selected,” he said, “because I’ve shown that I can do well on a course like that.”

And while Howes has said elsewhere he’s not the team leader, teammate Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) offered a different opinion. Van Garderen, whom many consider the U.S. team leader given his stellar season this year and who has said he’ll aim for a good result, legs willing, told VeloNews he sees Horner, Talansky, and Howes as potential team leaders. “…they’ve all shown strong performances in one-day events,” he said.

At the time of this interview Howes described all nine of the U.S. team riders as very strong and said the team’s strategy would be decided once the nine-man team met together, with significant influence from the team director. Howes has demonstrated time and again he’ll work himself into the ground for the designated or on-the-road team leader.

He said he’s not holding onto any “hard-set” goals for Sunday. Then he added, “I do know that my form is coming around and it’s a good course for me so…I’m not there to lick stamps, I guess.”

Howes is also familiar with some of the roads leading into the finishing circuits; he thinks they might take some by surprise. “There’s like 100 K before we hit the circuits which I think will be a lot more selective and technical than a lot of people realize.”

One-day racer advantage

All things being equal – like luck, for instance, the Limburg World Championship road race route favors one-day racers who look forward to conquering its many hills.

At this point in his neo-pro season Howes characterized himself as more of a one-day racer. “Obviously the shorter, kind of punchier climbs suit me quite well.” The finishing circuit features two such climbs, including the 1.5 kilometer Cauberg with a 12% maximum grade.

Given where he stands in his development as a pro-cyclist, and the depth of the U.S. team and the entire field, predicting Howes will fly out of Limburg wearing a rainbow jersey under his street clothes might be a little bit unrealistic. However younger riders have pulled-off storming performances to earn the world champion stripes. Examples include Lance Armstrong at age 21, Oscar Freire at age 23, and most recently in 2005 Tom Boonen at 24 years-old.

Howes & Zabriskie lead peloton over Coleman Valley Rd in the Tour of California

Looking ahead, Howes said his next big goal is to race a Grand Tour. “…my development is kind of hinging on that,” he said. “Right now where I’m at I’m not going to make massive gains just doing what I have been doing. I need to overextend a little bit, and a Grand Tour is more or less the only way to do that.”

Howes has shown he rides well in week-long races, having just completed the Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado.

For the moment though, one-day racing feels good. “The idea of one day – lay it all on the line, go for broke, really appeals to me and physiologically it suits me quite well.”

Follow Alex Howes on Twitter: @alex_howes.

Watch the elite men’s road race live on September 23rd via links on www.cyclingfans.com.

Team U.S.A. for the 2012 UCI Road World Championships, elite men’s road race

  • Timmy Duggan (Liquigas-Cannondale)
  • Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda) (replacing Tyler Farrar)
  • Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek)
  • Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing)
  • Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing)
  • Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing)
  • Matthew Busche (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek)
  • Lucas Euser (Spidertech p/b C10)
  • Alex Howes (Garmin-Sharp)

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