Alex Howes handily outsprinted TJ Eisenhart (Holowesko-Citadel) in downtown Breckenridge on Friday to win the second stage of the Colorado Classic. It’s the third victory of the season for the Colorado native but his first in #GreenArgyle. Howes won two stages of the Cascade Classic while riding for the US National Team last month.
“I’m feeling very good, and I’m feeling very bad,” said Howes. “I dug deep for that one.”
“Alex has been with me for almost 15 years now,” said Slipstream Sports CEO Jonathan Vaughters. “I booted him off the team for a year to toughen him up. It worked. He’s tough as nails now.”
The queen stage of Colorado Classic featured 10 laps around a 10-kilometer course. Each lap included a steep ascent up Moonstone Road before a fast, winding descent back into town. The 600-foot (180-meter) climb tops out at 10,000 feet (3048 meters) with multiple sections above 10 percent gradient.
Eisenhart was the first rider to go on the attack. He was joined by Daniel Eaton (UnitedHealthcare) in the early breakaway. The duo pocketed a four-minute advantage over the peloton by the mid-point of the race. A chase group that included Will Clarke rode in the gap between the leaders and the bunch.
Four laps into the race, Eisenhart dispatched of Eaton up Moonstone and forged ahead alone. Two laps later, Clarke’s chase group splintered and the peloton exploded. Howes emerged as part of a 22-rider selection. The group included three Cannondale-Drapac riders alongside Howes: Clarke, Tour de France runner-up Rigoberto Uran and neo-pro Hugh Carthy.
“The most important thing was that we would never be in a situation where we where in trouble,” said sport director Ken Vanmarcke. “The whole race we had it all under control, and everybody executed the job perfectly.”
Peter Stetina (Trek-Segafredo) attacked out of the favorites group on the third to last time up Moonstone. His acceleration drew out Howes and Sepp Kuss (Rally Pro Cycling).
Attacks from Stetina on the final Moonstone ascent distanced Kuss and bridged the gap to Eisenhart. Responding to Stetina’s accelerations required a massive effort from Howes, who was repeatedly gapped but repeatedly clawed his way back to Stetina’s wheel.
“I was like ‘Pete, there is no way you’re dropping me dude,” Howes said. “I’m going to throw up and have a heart attack before you drop me.”
Eisenhart attacked on the descent. Howes emphatically marked the move. Stetina, the most cautious amongst the trio, allowed a gap to open on the downhill run into town, setting the stage for a two-up sprint.
Howes swung wide through the final corner and maintained his speed in the surge to the line. Just beyond the finish, he pumped a hand into the air in celebration.
Eisenhart moves into the race lead due to bonus seconds he picked up out on the road. Howes jumps up to second on the general classification at one second.
“I really wanted to win here today because I knew whoever takes the win here has a great shot of winning the overall,” said Howes. “This is one of the few races without a time trial. I thought maybe I could win the overall because I can’t time trial my way out of a wet paper bag.”
“We can win the general classification here, but even with chasing the overall victory, there are still two chances to win stages,” said Vanmarcke. “We have a very motivated and strong team here, and with this victory, everybody will be more excited to go for it.”
The Colorado Classic continues tomorrow with a 130-kilometer stage in Denver. The out-and-back course includes the Peak to Peak Highway and Golden Gate Canyon State Park.