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Golden and Flagstaff reunions all in a day’s work for Alex Howes

November 2, 2012

Alex Howes (Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda) at Stage 6 USA Pro Challenge sign-in (photo by John Polli)

Alex Howes didn’t want to be near a race he’d planned on participating in and ultimately couldn’t ride because his then team had gotten pulled from the event. So while the peloton started the last day of the 2011 USA Pro Challenge under the “Howdy Folks” arch in his hometown of Golden, Colorado, he roamed the Sangre de Cristo Mountains alone with his dog.

One year later Howes roamed much more of Colorado, but this time without his dog and as one of the riders in the 2012 USA Pro Challenge. The second edition was practically tailor-made for him; it included three punchy uphill finishes, his specialty. But as a neo-pro on Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda, he supported senior riders like Christian Vande Velde. According to Howes, Vande Velde had specifically asked that he be part of the Garmin team in Colorado. “I tried to make that decision a good one on his part,” Howes said, some weeks after the race.

On more than one occasion over the seven-day race Howes achieved that aim, including during Stage 6 which began in Golden and quickly became a day to remember.

Where it all started

Howes couldn’t help thinking about Stage 6 in the days leading up to it. Then again, he also tried not to think about it.

“It’s always kind of an expectation when you’re racing in your hometown, but at the same time we had a lot going on in the days prior,” Howes said. His Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda team rode aggressively from the very first kilometer of the start of the race in Durango. “Definitely I had my mind on the race at hand but the Golden stage was… a hard stage in its own right even without the fact that it started in my hometown and finished in the town that I live in. I was certainly thinking about it quite a bit.”

A Golden Schools Foundation display in the Stage 6 start village featured Alex Howes (photo by Star Howes)

Stage 6 began like the start of almost any road race for Howes; he and his teammates arrived in Golden after a transfer from Colorado Springs. Things changed after he left the bus for the sign-in stage.

The race announcer corralled Howes for a short on-stage interview. He met the Mayor who told him, as anyone in Golden would, “I know your grandma.” He joked with his family and penned autographs for them.

In addition to immediate family, cousins Howes hadn’t seen in a long time, friends from high school, and others came out to see him off. “A lot of the people that I grew up riding with, a lot of the old club members, were around. And when I say a lot, I mean every single one of them,” he said. This included officials and others affiliated with the Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado (BRAC), previously named the American Cycling Association (ACA). “The cycling community in Colorado, particularly the ACA crew, are a pretty tight group of individuals. It was really nice to have them all out supporting me that day.”

Howes explained that the ACA played an important role in bringing up riders like himself, Peter Stetina, Tejay van Garderen, and Taylor Phinney, and developed them from the time they were juniors. “There is a core group of people that are around almost every weekend and have been since I was twelve years old,” he said.

The old club members Howes referred to belong to the Schwab Cycle Club. It was the first team Howes rode with until he joined the TIAA-CREF/5280 team at age 16. Many of the club members these days are old enough to be his dad. Howes acknowledged most people wouldn’t associate him with that club, then added, “but they are pretty much the guys that showed me the ropes from day one.”

As the Stage 6 start time neared the announcer called up riders to the front of the line-up. He called-up Howes last of all, introducing him as Golden’s own hometown guy. Then the national anthem began. “Listening to the national anthem on the main street of my hometown was pretty special, especially standing on the front row there,” he said as he recalled the day. “That was something I’ll never forget, and I’d like to think that maybe I’ll get to experience that again someday, but we’ll see.”

Mountain high

Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda’s plans for Stage 6 included having a rider in the break-away to take pressure off the team and help an attack over Lee Hill in Boulder succeed. Howe’s mission that day was to get into the break-away. “It wasn’t too difficult from a tactical perspective to get in that break-away. Physically it was pretty tough, but it was hometown knowledge, knowing all the roads and everything that made it pretty easy.”

Howes helped his teammates up and over Lee Hill and most of the way through downtown Boulder. And that, he said, “was the end of my day.” Only the approach to and ascent of Flagstaff Mountain remained between him and the finish line.

Banner at the Alex Howes corner on Flagstaff Mountain

It’s a climb he knows well, but the mountain had changed that day. Spectators took over the road, and in particular one corner more than half-way up to the Amphitheater finish. “I was riding up the hill and they started chanting [Alex, Alex]; it got pretty intense…I was like, ‘what the hell is going on up here?’”

Dozens of friends had transformed a bend in the road into the “Alex Howes corner.” A larger than life-size vertical banner of a mud-splattered Howes dominated the scene. Bikes occupied every space along the guardrail. Some in the crowd wore blue shirts decorated with Howe’s name; others held double-sided fans in the shape of his face.

“I didn’t see the banner, but I did read the shirts as I was going by and they had signs and everything,” he said. “I actually didn’t recognize a lot of my friends because they all had wigs and sunglasses and dressed up in all kinds of crazy clothes. I caught a few familiar faces…”

He kept riding to officially finish his day but stopped at the corner on the way down. “It was a pretty special experience. It’s still something that everybody talks about as being the coolest corner on the hill by far,” Howes said. “It was probably the most extreme cheering section in the entire race, of all seven days. It took the cake. It was a pretty special feeling knowing that was for me. I got a lot of love from my friends.”

Off-season socializing

It’s now off-season for most road racers like Howes. Many of his colleagues race cyclocross to maintain fitness before starting to train for next season. No stranger to the discipline, Howes raced at junior Worlds in cyclocross in 2006. So will friends, family, Schwab Cycle Club members, and the BRAC crew find him on the start line at a ‘cross race this fall or winter?

“I’ll probably be kicking around a little bit, nothing serious…cycling for me has kind of always been a social thing. To lock yourself in your house and only train on the road all winter kind of wears on the mind,” he said. “You’ve got to get out, see the people and chat with your friends, shoot the shit, and jump over some barriers and stuff sometimes.”

Stage 6 start on Golden’s Washington Avenue under the Howdy Folks arch

  1. Star Howes permalink

    Once again, a great article Mary! Thanks! Star

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