In 2012, Alex Howes was a late call up at Amstel Gold Race and the American made an instant impact, infiltrating the break and making it to the last ascent of the Cauberg. It was a highly impressive ride for an athlete making his debut in the race.
Seven years on, and once again a late call up, the EF Education First rider was repeating the trick on his cobbled Classic debut in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Given that this year's break came after Howes was forced to miss a portion of last year's season due to a hyperthyroid condition, and has already called his 2019 campaign a second neo-pro year, Saturday's performance in Belgium represented even great comparison to his Amstel exploits from seven years ago.
"That was the first Classic and it was fun to be put on the breakaway assignment. I don't know what the story was with Moreno Hofland but they tossed me in for him. This kind of continues with the second pro neo year that I'm having," Howes told Cyclingnews after the race.
Howes and his breakaway companions would enjoy a healthy lead in the race until the main contenders put their workers on the front and reduced the gap in second half of the race. From there, Howes worked for his teammates in the bunch before eventually finishing 58th behind winner Zdenek Stybar.
"It was interesting. When I got caught I sat in the field and it was crazy seeing the level of skill at these races and this was my first proper European race since the Dauphine last year. Everything feels fresh and new again.
"We knew that with the headwind that we'd get a pretty big gap. In a different race with Sep Vanmarcke and Sebastian Langeveld having different legs it could have been a key piece to the puzzle but it didn't work out that way.
"This was my first cobbles race I've done, unless you count Liege. I did U23 Roubaix a couple of times and we had pavé at the Tour one year but this was a little different, and in a field full of specialists."
Howes was originally down to ride Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and despite his exploits on Saturday he will line up for Sunday's race too. His role for the race might be slightly different but his outlook on the Opening Weekend and racing in general is healthier than ever. This really feels like a new start for the American.
"I'm going be in it tomorrow and I think it's going to be about doing what I can for someone who feels a little fresher than myself. The forecast calls for rain, so it could be anyone's day.
"With the time off, my level of motivation is unlike any I've ever had. I'm just really excited to be back racing and I'm really enjoying it. Surprise assignments like this that are a bit off the schedule I would normally do, I'm taking it all with open arms and loving it. It's been an experiment. The team had no idea how I'd come around. I had no idea, and the neither did the doctors but it's gone really well."
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