Party at the front: Howes makes the break at Amstel Gold

American Alex Howes is riding on good form after a day in the breakaway at Amstel Gold Race, his favorite Ardennes classic.

Photo: Graham Watson

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Amstel Gold Race is a party, if you ask Alex Howes. Certainly the Cannondale rider enjoyed himself Sunday, riding in the day’s principal 11-man breakaway.

“Beautiful atmosphere,” Howes said of Amstel. “It’s a big fiesta on the Cauberg and the Bemelerberg — every other berg has a party going on. It’s very festive. The course suits me better. Shorter climbs, very punchy, very technical course. You have to be a very capable bike driver, and I fancy myself as one.”

This year’s festivities might have been dampened by some nasty, cold weather — including a shot of hail in the end — which Howes said also affected the race. But the laconic Coloradan wasn’t bothered and came home 32nd, just behind the peloton.

“So many favorites suffering out there. Nobody really moving in the final — kind of a weird end to the race. I tend to do better at that than most guys [in the cold] … ‘cause I’m fat,” the Cannondale rider said jokingly. (Howes is five-foot-11, 134 pounds.)

On one hand, you notice a tinge of regret as Howes considers whether he should have saved those admittedly good legs for the final. But on Instagram, home to his best, weirdest, and honest musings, he said, “Hell of a day in the @amstelgoldrace. Lots of great pics and memories.”

Anyway, the 28-year-old seems happiest when he’s on the attack. A career man at the Slipstream outfit, Howes revealed his potential in the Ardennes during his 2012 neo-pro season. That year, he made the break at Amstel, clinging to Romain Bardet’s wheel until the closing kilometers and still finished 30th. One week later, he rode to La Redoute with the leaders at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and even had the gall to attack near the top after following Angel Vicioso’s move. He ended up 47th behind winner Maxim Iglinskiy (who is now provisionally suspended for an anti-doping violation). “I surprised some people, myself included,” Howes says.

Don’t expect a ton of fireworks from Howes in Flèche Wallonne. His job will be to support Tom-Jelte Slagter and WorldTour newcomer Mike Woods. He seems content to play that role and admits the midweek race, which he characterizes as a one-kilometer sprint after a long day of “nasty, horribly paved roads,” isn’t his favorite. “The race only suits five guys, five guys who have a realistic chance of winning it. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those five guys. I’d say I’m 100 percent a supporter,” he adds.

Sunday, on the other hand, could be different. “I imagine I’ll have some liberties at Liège to try to see what I can do in the final,” he says casually.

For Howes, the Ardennes classics are like a backward mullet — the party is on the front.

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