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Alex Howes elevates his game for dirt doubleheader LeadBoat this weekend

Alex Howes in his pink EF colours
Alex Howes racing at the Tour de Suisse earliier in 2021 (Image credit: Getty Images)

Two races, two days and two bikes. Former US Pro road race champion Alex Howes (EF Education-Nippo) is doing double-duty with the LeadBoat challenge - the Stages Cycling Leadville Trail 100 MTB on Saturday followed by the 144-mile SBT GRVL event on Sunday. 

The Colorado native been training at his home in Nederland, an eclectic community that sits a little over 8,200 feet above sea level, and is coming off a win at Ned Gravel. He recently competed at US Mountain Bike Nationals in Winter Park, Colorado, with a ninth-place finish, just three weeks after taking 11th in US Pro Road Race Nationals.

This Rocky Mountain high adventure adds up to 250 miles over the two days, which requires different equipment, different skill sets and a two-and-a-half hour drive in between the start lines of Leadville and Steamboat Springs.

“LeadBoat will indeed be a doozy. Looking forward to it though,” Howes told Cyclingnews, who competed on the road at Tour de Suisse this year for his WorldTour Team. ”I’ve been training well here at home and enjoying some long hard rides way up high above tree-line to get ready for the weekend.

“I can’t say I’m really targeting one race over the other. Leadville is probably more important for the GC as that’s where one can lose or gain the most time. That said, SBT suits me better and has been circled on my calendar for a couple of years now.”

Howes finished fifth in the Leadville 100 MTB when it was last held two years ago, less than eight minutes off the winning pace of Howard Grotts (three-time winner), and a little over three minutes behind EF Education-Nippo teammate Lachlan Morton, who was third, and former WorldTour competitor Peter Stetina, who was fourth. Morton and Stetina are also racing LeadBoat this weekend.

“Howard Grotts is always the favorite even if he’s had his nose in a book for the last couple of years. Pete Stetina has the engine and has really improved his mountain bike skills since placing 4th in 2019. Lachlan Morton just won the [Alt] Tour de France and has ridden his mountain bike every day since,” noted Howes about the competition, also calling out Keegan Swenson and Payson McElveen as riders to watch.

“I’m really hoping that living at altitude (8500ft) gives me an advantage over some of the lowlanders. I also know the Leadville course quite well and while I haven’t seen the full SBT course, I have ridden a lot of those roads in the past. The big question mark will be what condition the roads will be in as that’s always changing day by day.”

Leadville’s course is a 104-mile out-and-back grind on mainly forest trails and mountain roads has a low point at 9,200 feet and a high point of 12,516 feet, which is the Columbine Mine climb. Then there is the Powerline climb, that reaches 26 per cent gradient in one section.

“The race really comes down to two key parts: Columbine and Powerline. Columbine is tricky as it’s so easy to go into the red and never recover at that super high altitude. Powerline is all about what’s left in the tank. Overall I’ll be trying to have a more metered and controlled effort throughout the day compared to how I’ve raced it in the past.”

It will be his first time at SBT GRVL, and he has a “crazy experiment” with his equipment for the two different courses.

“I will be riding two different bikes. While it’s possible to complete both courses on the same bike, it would hard to be competitive at both as they really are quite different. For Leadville, I’ll be on my Cannondale Scalpel. I ditched the dropper post and put some lighter tires on there but other than that not many other changes. There will be some with a lighter set up but I think that this bike should be more comfortable and efficient over the six-plus-hour effort. 

“For SBT I’ll be on my Cannondale Super Six Evo. I’m constantly amazed what this bike can do. It won Flanders, took Rigo [Uran] to a top ten at the Tour, Lachlan road it 5,500km around France and now I’ve got the biggest tires I could fit in there and looking to race SBT on it. Hopefully I don’t regret this crazy experiment.”

For the transition between Leadville and Steamboat Springs, that plan is not as solid as the equipment.

“Still working on that part! The hope is to drive to Steamboat that afternoon and sleep there the night in between. Nothing too fancy for recovery other than eating well, getting a good night's rest and really focusing on hydration. Might have to put the legs in the Yampa for a Rocky Mountain ice bath as well.”

First up is Leadville. He predicts that is where the time will be critical for ultimate inaugural bragging rights for LeadBoat.

“Leadville is where most of the time can be won or lost so being right up there with the front riders on day one will be key to winning LeadBoat. With only two days of racing, there will be no holding back on either day.”

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