In His Own Words: Leigh Howard on Gent-Wevelgem

Mon 25 Mar 2013

All eyes were on Peter Sagan (CAN), who treated fans to an impressive wheelie, as he soloed across the line to win Gent-Wevelgem. The Slovakian attacked his ten breakmates four kilometres from the finish to take the convincing win. Further back, Leigh Howard rolled across the line with the bunch. Forty seconds behind Sagan and in 25th place, Howard was the only ORICA-GreenEDGE rider to finish the cobbled classic shortened by cold, snowy conditions. In his own words, he describes the day.

This is basically the first time I’ve raced the Classics. I started Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne two years ago when I was riding for High Road, but I only made it about halfway through the race. I had just come off of the Track World Championships, and I didn’t have enough kilometres in my legs to get through a race like that. This spring has been my first real crack at it. I’m certainly jumping into it with some good weather.

Honestly, I didn’t mind the cold too much. I dressed really well. That was key. I covered my arms and chest completely with a Vaseline style cream plus put extra heat cream on my legs, toes and feet. I had a thermal long sleeve undershirt underneath my normal race jersey with a sort of thick jacket on top of that. I had cut the arms off the jacket – it was just to keep the chest nice and warm. It was another thermal layer on the bottom under tights, and I used Santini booties and gloves for my feet and hands.

The race started in Gistel instead of Deinze, so we covered the opening kilometres by bus. I suspect the outcome of today’s race would have been the same regardless of our starting point. The best and strongest guys contested the finish at the end of the race.

Pretty much from the word go, as soon as the flag dropped, racing was full gas. There were crosswinds beginning from the first kilometre. The winds plus the crazy fast pace split the bunch up into five groups right away. We missed out on the first group, but we had four riders in the second group.

We knew there was no need to panic as we were pretty confident that the race would come back together. We stayed in our group and worked well together with the other teams that had missed out to merge the first two groups before the Casselbeg. Eventually, Mitch [Docker] who was in the third group caught back onto us, so we had five in the peloton – Mitch, Sebastian Langeveld, Gossy [Matt Goss], Fumy [Beppu] and me.

The race split again the first time up the Kemmelberg. Unfortunately we missed this split, but just before the second time up the Kemmelberg, we were able to latch back onto the bunch. I was lucky enough to have good legs, so I rode through most of the peloton and came out with the front group over the top of the Kemmel. By that point, the break had already established itself up the road. It was a bit of misfortunate that I had lost contact when I did.

Once the group of 11 had slipped away, I was the only ORICA-GreenEDGE rider in that front group and ultimately the only guy from our team to finish the race. I had no reason to work, so I sat in with the hope that the work done by Katusha, BMC and Omega Pharma - Quick-Step would bring back the guys up the road. In the end, we were off the pace of the break by only 20” with Sagan 40” ahead.

To finish right at the pointy end of some really hard racing is encouraging. Look at the results of the two races I've done [Dwars door Vlaanderen and Gent Wevelgem]. There were only 50 or 60 finishers both days, and each time, I stayed with the main peloton. I lack experience, and I need to work on my tactics for these types of races, but the way I’ve performed here bodes well my future Classics ambitions.

Personal performance aside, I’m happy with the way the team rode.  We worked really well together, and it’s clear the fitness is there. I suspect that we’ll have a real push for a good result with Jens Keukeleire and Sebastian Langeveld at Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in the next two weeks.