Embarking on his sixth season at WorldTour level, Alex Howes has gone from promising young rookie to an experienced hand in the peloton. He has been with the same set-up since he turned professional in 2012, and with Slipstream’s latest change to Cannondale this season, Howes has found himself turn into a mentor for the younger riders within the team.
As the elder members of the team have retired or moved on, Howes has seen his position within the team change. Now 28, he is one of the older members of the team, and with five years as a professional behind him he is also one of its most long-standing members.
“It feels weird. I went from being one of the young guys to being one of the most experienced guys in a year. It’s a role that I’m trying to adapt to. How well I’m doing that I don’t know, but we’ll see,” Howes told Cyclingnews at the Tour de San Luis.
“There’s a little pressure but not in a results sense, more in a make sure that everybody gets to dinner on time. It’s not something I can’t handle. I can get everyone to the dinner table. It will be interesting to see how things really develop over the year. Already we’ve seen guys down in Australia killing it. Mike Woods, who was basically an unknown coming into the season. They’re champing at the bit.”
The Cannondale-Garmin team endured a slow start to the 2015 season, taking until March to finally scratch up one for the win column thanks to Ben King at Criterium International. More victories would eventually follow but, with just 11 in total, it would be a disappointing season by the team's own standards. Howes believes that the team can bounce back from 2015, and he would love to be a part of it.
“I’d like to win a WorldTour race; I still haven’t done that. I’ve been up there a little, but it’s got to be about time to start chalking up some wins,” said Howes, whose last victory came in 2014 when he claimed a stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
“We had a lot of rough luck early last year. I think the whole team, including the news guys, are trying to put that in the past and put that to bed and come out firing.”
Ardennes and Olympic ambitions
The Colorado-born rider has opened his season already with the Tour de San Luis, a race he sees as more of a warm-weather training camp. He’ll head back to the United States briefly before he begins his spring campaign at Tour Cycliste International La Provence in late February, followed by Paris-Nice -a major target for the team. The Ardennes week will also form an important part of Howes’ spring calendar.
“I’d go into it to help the team but if they want to let me win Amstel Gold then that would be great...” Howes said with his typically dry sense of humour. “I think the Ardennes are some of the coolest races on the calendar, if not the coolest. The atmosphere there at races like Amstel, it’s hard to match the Cauberg with all the fans on the side. What we can do there, I don’t see why we can’t continue our strong results we’ve had in the past."
“Tom Jelte-Slagter kind of had an off-year but in years past he’s always been top ten or better. He’s been progressing as a rider for years. Mike Woods, I don’t know what he’ll be able to do, but he’s got the engine to do it so if we can put him in the right spot… We have a lot of depth for those races.”
Howes is also targeting a spot on the US Olympic squad for the Rio Olympic Games but he knows that making it will be an uphill battle. The US has only qualified two riders for the road race and the time trials. Olympic rules mean that countries cannot take separate teams for each event, and the US selection is likely to be based on the riders' time trial skills.
“I would love to do the Olympics, that’s always been a dream and a goal. Looking at how we actually qualified in the end, we only have two spots, I don’t know how that’s going to play out,” he said. “I don’t know how it will actually go in the time trial either because we have two spots in the time trial. It might be something that is over before it starts for me."
“However I think that I can do well on that course. It’s a bit more climbing heavy than something like Richmond, but it will take a very well-rounded rider to do well there. There will be nasty crosswinds, cobblestones, in addition to some hard climbing. Whoever comes out of that as Olympic champion will be a very worthy champion I think.”