"Amstel tomorrow. I think that's pretty damn cool." That was how Alex Howes heralded his Amstel Gold Race debut on Twitter on Saturday evening, and the 24-year-old American went on the animate the race as part of a break that endured all the way to the final run-in to the Cauberg.
"It was pretty cool," Howes laughed as he sat on the steps of the Garmin-Barracuda team bus afterwards. "It was the biggest race I've ever been in and I wanted to show that I could have an impact on the race. It was incredible up there; I had a really good time."
Initially not slated to start Amstel Gold Race, a combination of his strong 6th place finish at Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday and Sep Vanmarcke's crash at the GP de Denain the next day saw Howes get the nod.
"I was on reserve and then I had a good ride at Brabantse and Sep had a fall at Denain so they put me on," he said.
Howes infiltrated the break of the day after 60 kilometres in the company of teammate Raymond Kreder. After gaining a maximum lead of 13:30, the peloton gradually set about whittling down their advantage, and when the gap closed to almost a minute inside the final 30 kilometres, Howes took the chance to go clear in the company of Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale).
"When we went I thought we would be gone for 5k and it ended up being 15 or so," said Howes. "I think we were both kind of looking back thinking 'man when are they going to catch us so we can sit on.'"
Howes was ultimately only swept up after the penultimate climb of the Keutenberg with a little over 8 kilometres to go, and he reached the top of the Cauberg in 30th place, as the leading group fragmented on the final haul to the line.
Depending on how he recovers from his exertions in the Netherlands, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège may be next on the agenda for Howes. In any case, after a lengthy apprenticeship at Chipotle, interspersed with a year at VC La Pomme, the American was pleased with his first taste of a WorldTour classic.
"The team's taken good care of me this year," he said. "They've put me in some good races to put me in good form for these classics."