On the 26th of April Leigh Howard’s Tour of Romandie was looking good. Howard had just finished third in the opening 3.5km prologue and although disappointed, it was clear the Australian was sitiing on some pretty good form - and that a stage win was not far away. Cycling can however be a cruel master, and in the same Time-Trial that compatriot Cadel Evans grabbed the yellow jersey, Howard crashed and was forced to abandon the race. Nearly three weeks later Howard has for the most part recovered and is hoping that the Amgen Tour of California will bring better fortune than his experience in Switzerland.
"I’m still not 100%," Howard said of his knee injury to Cyclingnews.
"It’s healed up quite well and I’ve been back on the bike the last four days now. I had a couple of problems today [going up Mt Baldy], but I think that just comes from getting back in to it quickly."
"Hopefully I’ve carried the form [from Romandie] through to [the Tour of California]. [In Romandie] I had some of the best climbing legs I’ve ever had. I’ve done some sprints here and some leadouts for Gossy and I think the power is definitely there. Given we both get to the finishes together, the two of us should be a pretty formidable force."
Howard is confident, but not brash for a 21 year old. He knows what he’s capable of and is disappointed when he doesn’t meet his own high expectations. The Aussie is however happy to acknowledge that his own aspirations will take a back seat in California, especially with the presence of Milan-San Remo winner Matthew Goss in the HTC-Highroad lineup.
"Goss is obviously the outright leader - just with his results and form at the moment. But it’ll be hard to tell how both of us we’ll go throughout the race. He hasn’t raced for five weeks, so if he’s feeling not quite up to scratch I’m sure he’ll be happy to hand over the reins. We’ll just have to wait and see."
Mt Baldy and the Team’s GC chances
While the flatter stages will give Howard and Goss chances to show just how good they are together, one stage that Howard is dreading is the 7th stage to Mt Baldy - a climb he described as "bloody hard". HTC-Highroad will however have other options in the hills and Howard was quick to point to young American revelation, Tejay Van Garderen.
"Tejay’s looking really good, he’s thin, he’s lean and he’s super motivated. When you put those things together it makes a pretty strong combination," Howard said.
"If you also take into account we’ve got the Velits brothers and Danny Pate to take him up the mountains there’s no reason to say he can’t win."
Asked about plans for the rest of the year and pursuing his own chances, Howard is realistic.
"Being a lead-out man isn’t going to be one of the main focuses for the rest of my life. But for the moment I am third sprinter behind Cavendish and Gossy - So you have to do what you have to do. I do get my own opportunities and I take them when I can - hopefully I’ll get some more chances in the rest of the year."
The Amgen Tour of California starts on the 15th of May.