Garmin-Sharp first-year pro Alex Howes takes the team ethos to extreme lengths. The day after eight of his teammates hit the pavement in the Tour de France – with Tom Danielson, Ryder Hesjedal and Robbie Hunter eventually abandoning – the 24-year-old from Boulder, Colorado, broke his left collarbone in seven pieces while training back in the states.
"I guess I kind of fell down out of sympathy for them," Howes joked Tuesday while recovering at home. "We're a tight-knit team, so we win as a team and we fall as a team, I guess." Garmin manager Jonathan Vaughters also shared the pain, reacting to the news on Twitter by writing, "when it rains, it pours."
Howes was in the middle of a motorpacing session outside of Boulder with teammate Peter Stetina, Spidertech's Lucas Euser, Champion System's Craig Lewis and BMC's Taylor Phinney, who is scheduled to represent the US at the London Olympics at the end of this month, when he went down hard after making contact with the pacer.
"I got tangled up with the scooter a little bit and ended up on the floor," Howes said. "Taylor was behind me, so we were lucky he didn't go down."
A friend with a car took Howes, who was the only rider injured in the crash, to a local hospital where doctors operated within hours, using 10 screws and "a big old metal plate" to fix the shoulder.
"It seems to have gone well," Howes said of the repair job. "It's not too long after surgery, just three days now, and a lot of the swelling has already gone down. I'm getting more movement in the arm, starting to straighten up a little bit and back off on the pain pills, so, all things considered, it's going pretty well."
The bad luck comes in the middle of a season in which Howes has been making the most of his first year in the European professional peloton. Aside from earning praise from the Garmin bosses and team leaders for his yeoman's work so far, he had his own breakout rides in the spring classics with a sixth-place finish in Brabantse Pijl before spending the majority of the Amstel Gold Race in the day's breakaway. Now the young rider will have to recover from his first-ever broken bone if he wants to finish out his rookie season on the high note he initially envisioned for himself at the upcoming stage races in Utah and his home state of Colorado.
"The surgeon who operated said it would be at least six weeks until I could race again," Howes said. "But speaking with another of the team doctors and people who are more qualified in the sports medicine department, with something like this I should be back to racing, hopefully, a little sooner than that. Definitely out on the open road before that."
The 2012 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah starts in exactly four weeks, while the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado is just under six weeks away. Howes said Utah has been in the cross-hairs on his calendar since he was denied the chance to race there last year when the UCI enforced a rule barring the Chipotle Development Team he rode for from competing in races with its Garmin parent squad. Howes earned national recognition at the race in 2009 when he famously ate a hot dog handed up by a spectator before going on to win at the summit finish of stage 4 just weeks after earning a pair of U23 national championships titles.
Howes said his history with the race and an opportunity to compete in the event's team time trial with Garmin-Sharp have made Utah a big goal, but he quickly added that the race in Colorado has always been his top priority.
"Really, my heart is intent on getting back for the [USA Pro Cycling Challenge]," he said. "That's the big goal. That's the one I've got marked on the calendar, and that's where I'd like to be firing again. I don't want to just be there. I want to be competitive. I don't know how that's going to work out, but I'm going to do everything in my power to show up for that race in form that would put me up with the contenders."
The goals are still within reach, but for now Howes' will have to content himself with slowly making his way back onto the bike and then out onto the open roads. Although the setback is disappointing, he said, the timing "isn't really the worst," and his morale is still pretty high.
"The thing that breaks me up most is that I was a reserve for the Olympics," he said. "And that was something that I was really hoping to do. This essentially totally eliminates that possibility. It's kind of hard to take, but that's part of the deal, I guess. That's just the nature of the sport. You can't be on top all the time. There are going to be highs and lows."