This year Neilson Powless opens his fifth season with EF Education-EasyPost in Europe, but it won’t be at Sunday’s Grand Prix La Marseillaise. He has his eye on one-day races again for 2024, this time using his powerful efforts focused on a Belgian race, or two, with cobbles.
He’s a 27-year-old with a career still on the rise. Last year he took the victory in France at GP La Marseillaise, then secured the GC title at Etoile de Bessèges before a third overall at Tour des Alpes and sixth in Paris-Nice. Across six of the big spring one-day races, he took third at Dwars door Vlaanderen and top 10s at Milan-San Remo and Tour of Flanders.
“A Monument win would probably be the biggest goal that I have right now. I feel it is attainable, a realistic goal that I have for myself. That’s not easy by any means, it’s very, very, very difficult to win one,” Powless admitted to Cyclingnews with a nervous laugh.
Since his first pro victory in the Clásica San Sebastián in 2021, Powless has surged on punchy, rolling terrain. In 2022 at the Tour de France, he twice finished fourth on stages, including atop L’Alpe d’Huez. But it was on stage 5 across the cobbles to Wallers-Arenberg that Powless could taste yellow, missing out on taking the leader’s jersey by one second. At the World Championships, he’s been close to glory as well, last year finishing 11th in Glasgow on a course suiting his talents, but missed a late winning move by Mathieu van der Poel.
“I’ve been sort of at the front of big one-day races now for about two years, kicking off when I had a win at San Sebastián. That’s what gave me the confidence of chasing after those results a little bit more. Ever since then, you know, I haven’t been able to race at the front of every one-day race I’ve done, but I would say the majority of the big ones that I’ve competed in, I’ve been able to really be a part of the race in the finals. So that’s been a fun goal to chase after and that’s definitely going to be my focus these next few years.”
His 2023 season wound down after a second place at Maryland Cycling Classic, but his life continued to ramp up. He became a father, new daughter Charlotte arriving in the early fall for he and his wife Frances. They also bought a townhome near Houston, Texas and then he accepted another delivery, this one a four-year extension with the US-based EF Education-EasyPost WorldTour team.
“My wife grew up in Texas. We decided once we found out Frances was pregnant, we decided we wanted to have a little bit of family support for the off season,” he said about a busy off season, and becoming a father motivated him to confirm more security with the team. “Being an American on an American team just gives me a little bit more of a sense of home than I would feel on any other team. Everyone is on the same page. I’m really happy here.”
A return spot on the team for the Tour de France, is something he said he’d welcome, but “the GC, that’s not on my radar”. He said the team would first support a healthy Richard Carapaz as team leader at the Tour de France, then there would be some freedom with stage opportunities. What did intrigue him was a chance at another Olympic Games.
“My first peak of the year will be at some point this spring, at a cobbled Classic. Hopefully, I can win one of those. Then a second peak will be for the Tour de France. So that kind of falls into Tour-Olympics, so close together and hopefully I can ride the same peak,” Powless said.
The Paris Olympic Games was probably a better challenge for success this year, he said, rather than the World Championships in Zurich, which he had heard had a very difficult climb, even though he loves to climb.
“If it’s 15 minutes in hard [effort] for all 15 minutes, then that could be a difficult one for me,” Powless admitted. He said it would be tough to match up against “explosive riders” like Primož Roglič or Jonas Vingegaard, the latter not having raced at Road Worlds in six years since he was in the under-23 road race.
“In the Olympics, I’ve really found more of a niche for myself, just really short, punchy climbs that are two, three, four-minute range. And my repeatability within that time frame is good for all seven hours of racing. My power doesn’t tend to diminish over that length. So I would think the Olympics, considering there’s no big mountains in Paris, but if there’s a short climb that we do, you know 20 times, then that would suit me.”
He is still quite proud of his most recent season even if he can’t name his first race for the new one. Last season was packed with achievements and Powless said his top two were easy to discern.
“Number one becoming a dad. That was pushing my motivation throughout the whole year more than anything else. Number two would probably be holding on to a jersey for 13 days and the Tour de France,” he said.
He said he has shared several of those 13 polka-dot jerseys with family, with one reserved for his sister, Shayna Powless, a pro cyclist and founder of The Dream Catcher Foundation, an organisation providing advocacy programs for women and young children in Native American communities. One of those jerseys should surface soon as a fundraiser for Dream Catcher.