• Howard (second from left) joins the remaining Aussies on Stage 21 of the Tour. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Leigh Howard is at a “standstill” with contract options for the 2017 season despite a successful Tour de France debut with soon to be defunct WorldTour outfit IAM Cycling.
Sophie Smith

25 Jul 2016 - 11:31 AM 

Howard was an 11th hour replacement for Dries Devenyns in the 103rd edition of the race, which he finished on the Champs Elysees yesterday, concluding an active inauguration to the biggest race of the season.

“I’m at a standstill at the moment,” Howard said of his contract situation. “I’ve got to have another talk with my manager at the end of this Tour and see where we can go after this, but at the moment nothing.

“I’m not calm but I’m not panicking. There’s still a bit of time in the season, but of course I would have preferred to have had something organised already.”

Riders typically know where they are heading next season by this stage, despite the UCI restriction on contract dealings before August 1. Unfortunately, during the Tour, other things take precedence over worrying about next year.

“Honestly we don’t have much energy to think about anything but the race,” he said.

The 26-year-old featured in primary escapes of the Tour, including the opening stage that he said he entered with less than 100 per cent form due to late selection.

Howard also supported teammates to fuel IAM’s most successful Grand Tour in their history, with Jarlinson Pantano winning a stage and taking numerous other top finishes.

“I’ve been in a couple (breaks),” said Howard. “There was a couple of days I was pretty disappointed, the heat got to me and I cramped a bit, which I knew I would have problems with. In hindsight I’ve been quite good with the heat. I’ve only had that one day that I really suffered into Bern.”

Howard was perhaps too critical of his debut during which he tried to forget his immediate racing future.

“For the team, it has been amazing,” he continued. “We’ve gone from, before this year, never winning a Grand Tour stage to now (with stage wins at the Giro and Tour de France).”

The Australian sprinter has enjoyed a rebirth at IAM, which he transferred to this season following a slim racing schedule with native outfit Orica-BikeExchange in 2015. He exited the Giro d’Italia before the high mountain stages with the Tour in mind and was disappointed with his initial non-selection that impacted on preparation for the marquee event.

“I wanted to make a bigger impact on the race but unfortunately … I did what I could. I wasn’t quite physically prepared for it,” Howard said.

“(The Tour), it is different, it’s another level.  Every day is just that little bit more daunting, especially in the mountains, you just don’t know what could happen.”

IAM’s performance at the Tour was ironic given it had lamented its lack of big results, which the outfit achieved this month, prior to announcing earlier this year that it would fold through want of a co-title sponsor.