Australian rider Leigh Howard is the latest Australian to join the ranks of ProTour outfit Columbia-HTC, the 19-year-old signing a two-year deal overnight.
A talented road rider who has also enjoyed bountiful success on the track during the past three years, Howard joins the American squad known for its multitude of wins, most recently at the Tour de France with Mark Cavendish.
"To be honest I didn't expect to sign ProTour for next year, I always hoped that I would, but didn't think it would actually happen so soon," said Howard. "Columbia-HTC is the perfect team for me really, it has all the tools and experience necessary to develop me into the rider I want to become."
A track world championship title in the omnium in addition to wins in the Tour of Japan and Thuringen Rundfahrt have signalled Howard's continued growth as a force on the road, something recognised by Columbia-HTC staff. The team already boasts Australian riders Mark Renshaw, Michael Rogers and Adam Hansen, while Australian ex-professional Allan Peiper is a directeur sportif.
"Having a strong Australian connection in the team was really a bonus for me and it is going to make the whole transition into the ProTour ranks a lot easier," said Howard. "Allan Peiper has been a great help so far guiding me through the process.
"Riding with Team Jayco-AIS [he'll finish this season with the squad] has given me a lot of experience in Europe and my strength on the road has increased so it will be really interesting to test myself next year in the ProTour ranks," continued Howard. "Track for me is still my main focus right through until London and Columbia-HTC has given me the chance to combine both."