As Neilson Powless (EF Education-Nippo) arrives at the start line in Como, Italy on Saturday for Il Lombardia, he will face the final WorldTour race of a season that saw him get the best results from his youngster. career.
Two of these results stand out among the best one-day results of an American professional for a decade or more. In August, Powless won the Clásica San Sebastián, the first one-day victory of the Men’s WorldTour for an American pro since Tyler Farrar’s victory at the Vattenfall Cyclassics in 2010. Then, in September, he finished fifth in the race on elite male route. at the Flanders Worlds, the best result for an American in this race since Chann McRae’s fifth place at the Worlds in 1999.
In short, things have really come together Powless lately. He attributes his success to a variety of factors that come together: A few crucial periods of relaxation and focused training helped, and he also received a marital boost.
“It’s definitely a combination of a lot of things. I got married last November. Taking five weeks off last November, I think it really helped me train with a lot more energy than in the past, ”he told CyclingTips by phone before Il Lombardia.
“It prepared me for a decent UAE tour. When I came back to training I wanted to train so hard and maybe a little too much for winter training but it helped me prepare for the UAE and it was a really good results. I think it came back to me a few weeks later in Paris-Nice but in the end I was really happy with the trip to the United Arab Emirates. My wife has been amazing last year, just always supporting me and always encouraging me and being there for me and also having someone to have these experiences with, I think it helps me get a lot out of it. more and to enjoy the free time and also running and training a little more.
Powless said that during the last offseason he had focused on “longer threshold time trial type efforts” by focusing on his stage race start at the United Arab Emirates circuit. . After a strong race there to take fifth overall, his best result to date in a WorldTour stage race, he fell ill in March. It didn’t help with his ensuing racing goals, and the Tour de France didn’t go as well as he had hoped, either.
Then, however, Powless took a brief “vacation” – taking his bike, of course – which he said helped him immensely as he refocused his training.
“After the Tour I just thought I wanted to have fun with the training so I put in a lot of really explosive efforts on the three to six minute climbs,” he said. “I would just try to set my best time in these hills. And I started to set records and enjoy them. I took a short vacation – well I can’t really call it a vacation because I took my bike – but I went to Greece with my wife and some of her relatives for a week right after the Tour and I brought my bike there. There was like a mountain on this island and I was just going to go around the mountain and try the KOM Strava on all the little hills. It really helped me perfect myself, I guess. After the Tour I didn’t need a lot of training but I felt like I needed that intensity because that’s what I lacked on the Tour. Super explosive stuff.
“I knew the engine was there. I was like, ‘Go have fun. Wake up, go have your breakfast, go relax at the beach and go for a swim, then in the afternoon before dinner go out for two hours, two and a half hours, sail and when you see a hill, climb as fast as you can to the top. ‘ I don’t know what exactly happened physiologically, but I think it helped me prepare perfectly for San Sebastian and it also helped me to question myself. I got back from Greece three days before San Sebastian, so it was a pretty quick turnaround. It was awesome. “
Powless’s win at San Sebastián was EF’s first WorldTour victory since Sep Vanmarcke won the Bretagne Classic in 2019. Powless followed with a strong race at the Coppa Sabatini, finishing sixth with teammate Michael Valgren then winning victory, then he rode the top five at the Worlds. Along the way, his plans and role evolve as his athletic directors begin to incorporate him into their game plans as a bigger runner in day and week events.
“It’s pretty cool to be in that position and it can certainly add a little more pressure sometimes, but it’s also very humbling when the directors are really confident that I can follow the support the team can give me. bring, ”Powless said. “I hope to build on that, especially tomorrow and also for next year. I really hope I can be a reliable rider to race at the forefront, not just a few times a year, but to always be there.
Powless’s impressive 2021 campaign comes five years after breaking onto the scene as an Under-23 rider, taking ninth overall and the young rider’s jersey at the Tour of California and winning a stage in the Tour de l’Avenir, among other promising results. He spent this season and the next with Axeon Hagens Berman before making the leap to WorldTour level with the team now known as Jumbo-Visma. After two years there, he signed with EF, telling CyclingTips at the end of 2019 that the training protocols he followed with the Dutch WorldTour team just didn’t work out as well as hoped.
After four years on the WorldTour, his progression from promising prospect to experienced Premier League pro has not been linear, but he has progressed nonetheless. He can see how he has developed during his time with the Jumbo-Visma organization, while also acknowledging that he has made major strides in the numbers department since the change of scenery.
“When I first arrived in the WorldTour, I didn’t feel like I had made a lot of improvements, at least improvements that you could really see on paper,” he said. declared. “I think in my first two years at Jumbo I was making really big strides in terms of endurance, durability and recovery, but in terms of raw numbers it was tough for me because I wasn’t sure why I wasn’t seeing much improvement in pure strength efforts from one to 20 or 30 minutes, whatever it was.
“Come to think of it, I think I made really big improvements in terms of recovery and endurance when I was with them, and that’s something you don’t often see that clearly. But definitely these days, since last year and this year, I’ve made some big improvements and it’s really fun to see and I feel like I really like doing faster times in the races. climbs and see a new power record or something like that.
“It’s always reassuring and quite fun to follow the progress on things like that. It’s hard to say exactly what it is, but I think I’m having a lot of fun with training right now, and as you get older too you start to learn what works for you and I think this year and last year, I just started to figure out how to listen to my body and how to get the most out of it. When you enjoy the training and have confidence in it, you will see improvements. “
This has certainly been reflected this year as Powless put in a strong performance at the top level. He sees these results against the backdrop of recent successes from compatriots like Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma), Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) and Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo) as something that will thrill American fans.
“I really hope this is sort of the start of USA Cycling and American athletes racing again in front of great races like this and hopefully consistently at the World Championships,” a- he said of his strong performance at the Worlds. “I think we have a pretty diverse group of super strong guys. Brandon is super strong in the one day races like we saw in the Olympics and also in the time trials. I think Quinn will definitely be one of the top contenders for some of the toughest classics over the next few years. Sepp is one of the best climbers in the world. I hope I can somehow fulfill my role as a kind of cross between these three.
Looking ahead, Powless will launch Il Lombardia on Saturday as one of the few solid options for EF, with Sergio Higuita and former third finalist Rigoberto Urán also in the mix, and Powless says he hopes to “slip away a bit. earlier than the last ascent of the day. Beyond that, he will enter the offseason with the aim of capitalizing on his promising performances so far in the more hilly one-day races, with the Ardennes Classics as his target obvious.
He has shown so far that he has potential in this field – and he appreciates it, too.
“I would really like to become a more impactful runner. Maybe in a few years I can really start to focus on being in the top five in WorldTour stage races, but with the way this second half of the year has been, these Impactful Italian one day races were really fun to run, and suit me pretty well, so I hope I can continue to improve in races like this.