Alex Howes left the inaugural Colorado Classic clutching a growler of beer courtesy of Denver’s Epic Brewing Company, but his hangover will come from missing out on an epic victory he could almost taste.
Howes, who estimates he made 500 ascents of Lookout Mountain while growing up in Golden, finished third Sunday in the general classification (overall standings) after four days of racing and was the top American behind Manuel Senni of Italy and Serghei Tvetcov of Romania. Howes won the toughest stage in Breckenridge with a thrilling sprint finish Friday but finished 31 seconds behind Senni on Saturday, and that’s where he wound up when the event concluded.
“I came here to win,” Howes said somberly.
Racing for Cannondale Drapac, Howes came out of Breckenridge in a virtual tie for the GC lead but lost the precious 31 seconds on Saturday’s 81-mile trip from Denver to the Peak to Peak Highway and back when he and others in the peloton got confusing information about the gap between them and the leaders off the front. Bad weather and mountain topography disrupted race communications. If Howes and the others had known the gap was bigger than they realized, they might have attacked more aggressively.
“I can’t be too picky,” Howes said. “It’s been a few years since my last big win, and the win in Breckenridge was pretty sweet. If you’re going to pick any stage to win out here, that was definitely the day to do it. I’ve got to be proud of that. I’m happy with the way the team rode, and I’m already counting the days down to next year.”
Senni, a 25-year-old from Cesena, Italy, claimed the first GC win of his career.
“It’s really great, really nice, and also to win here with so much people on the roads, so friendly, is something special,” said Senni, who rides for BMC Racing. “They make you feel like home. It’s great.”
Senni said the win would give him “a lot of morale” for the rest of his season and into next year.
“I think it’s important for a rider to win a race … achieving something in your mind,” Senni said.
Howes, a two-timeTour de France rider, has had success in major Colorado races before. In the 2014 USA Pro Challenge he took the GC lead on a muddy Aspen-Crested Butte stage and won the final stage that took riders from Boulder to Denver via his beloved Lookout Mountain. Howes exudes love for Colorado, and he ached to win this race.
“I got to see my mom out there. My dad was out there,” Howes said. “Friends, family, everybody. I just tried to put on a show.”
The Colorado Classic brought big-time cycling back to a state that loves the sport after the demise of the Pro Challenge, and riders were enthusiastic about the new event even though it was shorter and put an emphasis on circuit races.
“It’s definitely a little different,” Howes said. “The Colorado Classic is not exactly the Giro (d’Italia) or the Tour (de France), but I think it made it more exciting. Just look at (Saturday), we had a stage where everybody thought we were going to ride around and it was going to be a 35-man bunch sprint (at the finish). It ended up being the day that decided the whole thing. I think cycling needs more of that. As bummed as I am about how things went (Saturday), I think we need surprises. We need to get people revved. Hopefully they’ll show up in 2018 like they did his year.”