SHEFFIELD, England (VN) —The long and winding road leads to even longer and more winding roads.
Ask Alex Howes. The guy works years and years to get to this point in his career — his maiden voyage at the Tour de France — takes a look at the roadbook, and notices something.
“A lot of these stages look pretty long. And this dang thing’s three weeks. It’s not your local crit,” Howes mused on the morning of the Grand Depart in Leeds. “But I’m pretty excited to get this thing under way and get into a groove and just get moving.”
The 2014 Tour de France undocked shortly after and Colorado’s Howes was among the stream of color and speed that makes up the Tour, a beautiful and tense three weeks for the entire sport.
“It’s kind of a mess, this whole Tour de France thing. It’s kind of a circus. People keep telling me it’s just another bike race, but it doesn’t feel like just another bike race. It feels like the big show,” Howes said while sitting on the back of a Garmin-Sharp car, a wisp of hair peeking from under a just-so cycling cap. His glasses gave his young face a distinct complexity.
“I feel like they’ve kind of thrown me into the deep end here. Everybody just assumes I know what I’m doing and to be honest I’m not so sure anymore,” Howes said, having a bit of fun before the crush of a first Tour. “They told me not to say anything bad about France.” The Tour has yet to cross the Channel, limiting his opportunities.
Though the 26-year-old is new to the Tour, his team isn’t. Garmin-Sharp is a “well-oiled machine,” he said.
“Things could go a little haywire this first week. But everybody’s pretty relaxed, we know exactly what we need to do to support [Andrew] Talansky and that’s what we’re going to do,” he said. “Everybody knows their place. We’re excited.”
Jonathan Vaughters, Garmin’s manager, recalled his first Tour ride.
“It’s nerve-wracking and it’s exciting. It’s one of those things where, in a way, it’s just like any other bike race but the difference is all your buddies back home, your parents and your family and your grandma and whoever else, they’re actually going to read about you racing a bike for the first time,” he said.
“And that puts a whole new level of pressure on. Not that it should, but it does. You just automatically start thinking, whatever, ‘the kid who used to stuff me in my locker in seventh grade, he’s gonna go, ‘Oh, wow, that guy?’”
Some of those guys are still around, though, waiting to shove other riders into lockers. The pressure to perform is immense.
“Sometimes I do feel that the notoriety and the pressure should be spread out a little more evenly among the races over the entire season. But, that’s not the reality we live in. This is the one where you make your name in cycling, and they all know that,” Vaughters said.
Howes, though, seems to be taking it all in stride. Asked if there was anything he wanted to add to this interview, he paused.
“Anything else?” he said. “Hi, mom.”