Neilson Powless looks to go 'one step further' at Tour of Flanders
In his cobbled classics debut just three days ago, Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) showed his spring form and Flemish talents with a podium finish at Dwars door Vlaanderen.
The versatile US rider has muscled his way onto the radar as a contender for the Tour of Flanders on Sunday.
Before Powless powered across the cobbles for the first time in Belgium to a podium in Waregem, the 26-year-old and his wife Frances posted news to Instagram about the arrival of their first child due in October.
The newfound joy could lighten the load needed on Sunday.
Should Powless make a statement on Sunday in Oudenaarde, he would be just the first US men’s rider to win the Monument, coming six years after Coryn Labecki, now with Jumbo-Visma, won the women’s pro race for Sunweb.
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For his first experience at the WorldTour level on the cobbles in Belgium on Wednesday, Powless was impressed with the atmosphere and confident with the terrain.
“They know how to put a good bike race together. They are beautiful races on real racers’ courses,” he said.
“The courses suit me really well. I don’t think I’m just a climber or one-day specialist. I think I am just good when a bike race comes down to endurance and it is hard throughout the day. I am really excited to take it one step further on Sunday.”
That one step would actually be two steps up the podium for a win at De Ronde, which measures 90 kilometres longer than Dwars door Vlaanderen and has a higher number of successive hills, a total of 19.
Powless, billed as a climber as he rose through the ranks of the Axeon Hagens Berman development programme and then spent two years at Jumbo-Visma, has hit stride with higher endurance on all types of terrain.
Just look back at the 2022 Tour de France.
“I guess it just confirms my ambitions that I have had ever since the Tour de France last year on the Roubaix stage,” Powless said about last year’s surprise fourth place on stage 5 of the Tour with a large section covered on the pavé of north-east France, launching him to within 13 seconds of the yellow jersey.
It is no fluke by any means that Powless was aggressive at Dwars. The young North American amassed a solid string of top 10 performances to open his fourth season with EF Education-EasyPost, including a pair victories at the one-day Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise and the five-day Étoile de Bessèges, where he notched his first career GC title. He also finished third in Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var, sixth overall at Paris-Nice and seventh in Milano-San Remo before heading to his first Flemish classic.
EF Sports Director Sebastian Langeveld is optimistic about what Powless can do in Flanders. Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) are the peloton pillars for the Ronde, but Powless has new confidence. He is a contender and a dark horse.
“Neilson is totally capable of doing a really good Flanders, but it is his first Flanders, and there are not many races out there with that many spectators and that history, so for him it will be key to be not racing on adrenaline, just doing his race as much as possible. He was totally in the picture in Dwars,” Langeveld said.
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