Manual for Speed was at the Tour of California and talked with various players in the workings of Team Exergy and Team Garmin-Barracuda (now Team Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda) at the end of the long, hot week. We spoke with Team Garmin-Barracuda’s 24-year-old Alex Howes about transitioning to the Pro Tour. What follows is in his words.
“I expected it to be fast. It’s fast. Everything is fast. You go up hills fast, you go around corners fast, everything is just real fast. That’s how it goes. I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into but I appreciate it more now that I’m in the middle of it, definitely.
“I did the Ardennes Classics, and those stand out as highlights. Particularly Amstel Gold and Liège–Bastogne–Liège. They’re both just real tough races, 260km-ish, up and down all day. Amstel Gold for me was great because I was in the break all day. We got caught with 10km to go, and I got to see the big guys swinging at the end. Liège was cool, I was at the front most of the day, mixing it up. I made it to the end and got to help the guys out. I came off with about 20km to go but it was pretty good race all in all. I put in a little stab at Côte de La Redoute, one of the real mean ones, which was fun.
“You experience the crowd differently depending on the day; sometimes you see that they’re six deep going crazy. Sometimes you only see what’s in front of you, just thinking about the race, watching how other guys are going and how things are moving and shaking. Sometimes all you see is the road, all you can think about is going really damn hard.
“If you want to make it as a Pro, race every race flat-out. Don’t hold anything back, ever. Go from the gun. That’s how you get better. Go until you blow, then maybe next time you can go a little longer. That’s the only way to do it from the States, anyway.
“I had to learn to go bed early. I’m more focused on the day-to-day. I’ve always eaten healthy and taken care of myself, so there was no adjustment there. No late nights anymore, though. Getting really good at racing bikes is really simple for the most part.
“Ride your bike a lot, race your bike a lot, sleep a lot and don’t eat crappy food. Do all of that perfectly every day, that’s all you got to do. It’s really simple, the recipe is painfully easy, so much so that its almost impossible to do.”
“It’s not just about riding hard though, there’s a mental aspect. You need a balance between not caring at all and being totally obsessed, otherwise you’ll go crazy. I probably fall a bit more towards the former, which is good and bad. It’s good for rough days like Stage 7 where we lose the jersey, despite the whole team riding themselves into the floor. It sucks to lose the jersey but it’s a bike race; there are more. There will always be more. A bit of detachment helps in that respect, especially with going out there tomorrow and swinging with the other teams some more.
“The first day, Stage 1, we went over a pass, about 2km long. The team plan was to have Peterson kinda go hard over it and he wasn’t there and so I said to myself, “Oh, I’ll go hard instead” and I clicked the gears down a couple of times and all of a sudden at the top there were maybe 20 guys left. I looked around and thought “Hey, thats pretty cool.” I went a lot faster and it scarred a lot of guys, messed up the race for a lot of people. People were packing their bags and I was stoked about that. I was going pretty hard—I could’ve gone faster. The whole team was just like, “Who the hell are you, where did that come from?” Thats my specialty, 1-2km steep things like the Ardennes stuff. Plus it was cold that day, I always go better in the cold. Worked out for me. I feel good about my week, I’m riding strong.”