Aqua Blue Sport on Monday announced Howard wouldn’t continue with the team in 2018.
The 28-year-old transferred to the Irish Pro Continental outfit this year following the collapse of IAM Cycling, with which he made his Tour de France debut in 2016.
“I am not leaving the sport indefinitely, but I have decided to step away from professional road racing in Europe and concentrate on track cycling, with eyes on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games,” Howard said in an Aqua Blue Sport statement.
“This has been a difficult decision to make, however, I feel that at this point of my career I need to put my focus into something I am truly passionate about.”
Howard returned to the boards at the beginning of the year but in February stopped short of announcing a return to the velodrome where his career began.
“I would like to thank Aqua Blue Sport for the support afforded to me in the team’s maiden year. I had the chance to be a part of a great group of people and I will always be thankful for that opportunity. I look forward to seeing them grow into a formidable team in the near future,” he continued.
Howard was part of the quartet, including Kelland O’Brien, Nicholas Yallouris and Jordan Kerby, that defeated New Zealand to win gold in the men’s team pursuit at the Oceania Track Championships on Monday. Australia claimed the title in 3:52.421.
"… It is great to be back and going a lot faster than we used to,” he said.
Howard last competed on the road at the May Tour of Norway in what was a slim season of just 21 race days.
“Leigh’s decision to clearly focus on the ambition of Olympic gold is one that commands respect. I look forward to celebrating his future success on the track,” Aqua Blue Sport team owner Rick Delaney said.
Howard turned professional with HTC-Columbia in 2010 after competing on the road and track as an under-23.
He marked mixed four-year tenure with Orica-GreenEdge (now Orica-Scott) after HTC folded, before moving to IAM in 2016 where he enjoyed a return to form. Howard finished second to Peter Kennaugh (Sky) at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race that year, won the proceeding Clasica de Almeria and then later in the season took a stage and celebrated a stint in the leader’s jersey at the Tour des Fjords.
The former Madison and omnium world champion was in Adelaide training with the national track squad prior to the Oceania titles. It’s been reported he is also eyeing selection for the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
The Madison has been reintroduced as an Olympic event ahead of Tokyo 2020.
Cycling Australia is undergoing a period of change under the leadership of newly appointed high-performance director Simon Jones, who has already created shockwaves with strategies to restore Australia to Olympic Games glory.
Aqua Blue Sport also announced that Lars Petter Nordhaug, 33, has retired.