“I was like, ‘Oh, wow! We’re at the end of the race. I’d better start racing now,’” he said.
He raced to a victory in downtown Anniston after several lead changes in the final 30 laps and likely made major inroads in the points standings for USA Cycling’s National Criterium Calendar.
Howe edged Team Exergy’s Carlos Alzate and Jamis/Sutter Home’s Kyle Wamsley and stands to move up in the standings after starting the day in third, 99 points behind United Health Care’s Hilton Clarke and nine points back of Jamis/Sutter Home’s Alejandro Borrajo.
Kenda entered the day third in the team standings, 146 points back of United Health Care. The standings had not been updated on USA Cycling’s Web site as of press time.
“It’s so early in the season,” he said after Saturday’s race, the third on the NCC. “There’s, like, 20 races on that calendar.
“You can’t really race for points this early in the year, because then you start to race defensively. We just want to go out and win every race we enter.”
Howe wasn’t the only big winner on the night as Ride Clean’s Erica Allar worked with Mellow Mushroom’s Laura Van Gilder to hold off three Optum Pro Cycling riders then prevailed in the final sprint of the women’s pro race.
The Sunny King Criterium is the center piece of the Noble Street Festival and kicks off the Anniston area’s annual cycling weekend. Today, several pro riders from Saturday’s pro criterium races will try the third annual Foothills Classic road race, while nearly 600 amateurs are expected to ride in the 20th annual Cheaha Challenge.
The Foothills and Cheaha Challenge will start and end in Piedmont.
Howe was part of a six-member Kenda team that came determined to make Saturday’s men’s pro race their own. Almost immediately after the start, they sent Phil Gaimon to the front, where he spent most of the first half of the race.
Gaimon opened better than a 20-second lead 12 laps into the 60-lap race and led until lap 27, when teammate Luca Damiani led the group that gobbled the tiring Gaimon up.
“We just came out, and we wanted to dominate the race,” Howe said.
“We don’t want it to come down to a field sprint. We wanted to solidify the win before it gets to the last lap.
“We had our teammate Phil out front, and we wanted him to lap up solo. Worst case scenario, he forces every other team to chase him down while we get to sit back and take it easy.”
Damiani became the first of 20 different leaders over the final 34 laps as the top teams jockeyed for position. The list includes Wamsley, one of the circuit’s top racers who led going into the final lap.
It came down to the final field sprint that Kenda hoped to avoid.
“Fortunately, I was able to come through for everyone,” Howe said.
Howe won in his fourth appearance in the Sunny King Criterium. He won over a field that included former winner Frank Travieso (2007).
“I love this race,” Howe said. “This is a race with a lot of history. A lot of really successful riders have won this race in the past, so we’re really proud of taking the win here today.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.