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Alex Howes Talks Tour de France vs. Tour Divide, Finding Form, and Tires

(Photo/Wil Matthews)(Photo/Wil Matthews)
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Editor’s Note: BikeTiresDirect has partnered with Alex Howes — a renowned world-tour-rider-gone-off-road-privateer — since 2022. Here’s an excerpt from a conversation between BTD & Howes that took place on April 2nd, 2024, where they went down the rabbit hole on all things bicycle.

Bertrand Mejia-Morin (from BTD): Alex, thanks for taking the time to chat… what driving forces were behind you leaving the WorldTour team that you were on (EF) and targeting a more freeform off-road-centric privateer life?

Alex Howes: The number one driver behind it all was just wanting to be home more with family. COVID was long, and the professional cycling world spent a lot of time just in the bubble. [It required] a lot of time away from home — literally months — so it just wasn’t a lot of fun.

BTD: How do you tackle balancing being a professional racer with [having a family]?

Howes: It’s funny because people use the word balance a lot… and the reality is it doesn’t feel balanced on any level or in either direction… the highs are super high and the lows are low — get things done when you can, and just forget about them when you can’t. Accept the chaos… [know it] doesn’t last forever, and if you just keep tapping away at the pedals and having fun with it… the snow melts and the form shows up and there you go.

(Photo/Gretchen Powers)

How to Break Into Bike Privateering

BTD: Any advice for people who are trying to similarly privateer their way through the US off-road racing scene?

Howes: It is surprisingly competitive these days. People do their research, both in racing and in putting together sponsorship proposals and decks and everything else.

First bit of advice: don’t think it won’t be a job. If you want to do it, it’s a lot of work. If you want to make it happen you gotta pick up the phone. You gotta get the keyboard out. You gotta hustle hard.

10-15 years ago, if you wanted to be a pro cyclist, you gotta go UCI, and that’s that. [Now], there’s no one right way to do anything in the privateer world.

BTD: What is the most underrated or overlooked thing that you carry with you during races?

Howes: I always bring super glue with me… I’ve used it more often than I feel like I should have. I glued bar tape back together mid-race one time when I cut it and it was flapping. It was just driving me crazy. I’ve super glued cuts. I’ve glued tire plugs in. I mean, there are 58,000 uses for it and you can get the super tiny ones.

Tour Divide vs Tour de France

BTD: How would you compare some of the more structured [WorldTour] races to a race from your Privateer career like the Tour Divide… just you out there on your own?

Howes: I mean it’s kind of funny because at the end of it all there were a lot of metrics that kind of lined up. If you look at fatigue scores… they were almost identical between the two of them — between the Tour Divide and the Tour de France. Which is comical because they’re not even in [the same] universe on so many other levels.

[For] the Tour Divide I mean, I would be surprised if I averaged 105 watts, overall. Versus the Tour de France — I don’t think there’s a day where you average under 220… which doesn’t sound like a lot but for someone that’s 63 kilos, [at] 220 [you’re] pushing for a lot. So anyways, it was surprising how well they compared on some levels, [but then are] totally different.

BTD: And if I recall correctly, You were on the Pirelli Cinturato Gravel Ms for the Tour Divide?

Howes: They’re still going. Yeah, I rode them two days ago — the exact same tires.

(Photo/Wil Matthews)

Alex’s Favorite Road Tire

BTD: On that note, what’s your favorite tire you’ve ridden?

Howes: Yeah, the bummer with tires is you remember a whole bunch that you really didn’t like.

If you have a good tire you forget about it, and you’re just enjoying your bike ride. If you don’t have a good tire you’re either fixing it or you’re terrified because it’s coming apart on you or you’re crashing.

The ones that I probably spent the most time on that I really enjoyed were the Vittoria Corsa [N.EXTs] … I rode those things in training a ton.

If I was gonna go buy a pair of tires to ride and race, those are the tires… between [the compound] and running them tubeless. I just think about how many tubes I used to use a year.

(Photo/Gretchen Powers)

Cycling Industry — Thoughts and Feelings

BTD: What’s your least favorite thing about the bike industry?

Howes: I feel like we’re always chasing… there’s a cycle to it every year. And I feel like everybody is a month behind at all times? Me included — I’m two months behind and I’ve just accepted that. Like, I’m putting my bikes together now, which is kind of ridiculous… why don’t we all just hit pause for a month and let it all catch up?

BTD: How about your favorite thing?

Howes: I think there’s a lot of just genuinely happy people that do stuff with bikes. And that’s why they get into the industry. For all its shortcomings… everybody wants to be there. They’re just trying to figure out how to stay there.

Howes: Did we touch on how we linked up? I called you guys up out of the blue. I said “hey, you wanna do something?” You guys are like, “we don’t do that but I guess we could. What do you want?”

“Tires, duh!” And I [explained] the whole rationale [behind] the [Lifetime] Grand Prix, with gravel racing, and with what I do; no single tire brand makes the perfect tire for every race. And tires are 50% of the game in off-road endurance racing. Maybe 50% is generous, but you’re not gonna win anything if you’re not getting to the finish line with air in your tires, so yeah…

I wanted the ability to mix and match, and you guys said “Alright, yeah. We do shipping.”

So yeah, it’s been fun. I’ve tested a lot of stuff and found some stuff I like, and some I don’t. I found a pair of tires that will apparently last for 7,000 miles.

BTD: And you were a real test subject for this year — 2024 now includes five athlete partnerships for BikeTiresDirect. And it’s been great to be able to share our base of knowledge and resources with other folks… be a part of their seasons and a part of their careers, even in a small way. So in that respect, thank you.

It’s been a great partnership so far and we’re really looking forward to what the next year and beyond has to hold working with you.

Howes: And I appreciate it. Yeah, and the reason I called you guys is because I just kept buying stuff from you guys.

[both laugh]

Thanks for reading. You’ll find the unabridged transcript with more about Alex’s WorldTour experiences, his strategy for tire choice, his confusion about pro cyclists apparently always pooping in hats, and a whole lot more at BikeTiresDirect.

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19 days ago

On my road bike I love the Vittoria Open Pave CG III tires, and combined with latex tubes they feel very similar to tubular tires. But sadly STUPID Vittoria no longer makes those tires, I think the closest to it is the Corsa Control? But there is no Kevlar belt in those like the Open Pave has.

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