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Tour de France

Tour de France: Neilson Powless returns with EF Education-Nippo

Rigoberto Urán headlines well-balanced team of stage-hunters and opportunists.

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Neilson Powless is back for another loop around France as the American is confirmed as part of EF Education—Nippo’s Tour de France selection.

The 24-year-old impressed in his rookie Tour in 2020, riding into several key breakaways, and will join the likes of Rigoberto Urán and Sergio Higuita as the team hunts for stages and a strong GC placing.

“I’m coming to the Tour this year with more experience and confidence than I had last year,” Powless said Tuesday. “Every year you get stronger and learn a little more, and I’m hoping to put those lessons I’ve learned over the past year into practice.

“I started to feel like myself again at the Tour de Suisse,” Powless continued. “The final day was probably my best and that makes me really excited for the three weeks of racing we are about to begin. I also felt like I was able to give a little more to support ‘Rigo,’ sometimes the motivation of a teammate doing well can also help you reach that next level.”

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Powless will be helping Urán, hot off second place at the Tour de Suisse, make a run for a strong GC position. The team juggled its Tour ambitions following Urán’s strong showing, and will now mix in stage-hunting with a push for the podium.

Urán, second overall in the 2017 Tour, won a time trial at the Swiss tour and nearly upended Richard Carapaz and Ineos Grenadiers.

“In Switzerland, it was better than I expected obviously. When you win it gives you extra motivation, it means that the work you are doing is going well and before the Tour de France I felt good,” said Urán, who will start his eighth Tour. “I will go day by day. The Tour de France is a very long race and anything can happen. I hope I am in good health and that everything goes well.”

Others given a start include Stefan Bisseger, who’s been impressive in his first full WorldTour season with two victories, the highly touted Ruben Guerreiro, and Sergio Higuita.

“Competing at the Tour de France is a very important opportunity because I want to give my best self to the team and show all of my potential,” Higuita said. “I especially want to support Rigoberto Urán, who has a great opportunity. I would like to be someone who can contribute and achieve great things for the team.”

Officials said the roster represents what is perhaps the most “race-orientated” team the organization has sent to the Tour in years.

“Proper racers,” said the team’s head sport director Charly Wegelius. “They’re not climbers, not sprinters, but these guys, they’re the kind of guys who if they get into a break then the bunch has real difficulty catching them. It’s a team on this route you can do a lot with.”

The strategy is similar to the 2017 Tour effort that saw Urán finish in second place on the final podium in Paris.

“In 2017, we never rode a defensive strategy. It was an open race, we encouraged the guys to take chances. Each day we will have someone helping Rigo, but he’s such a strategic racer that he doesn’t need an entire team dedicated to him anyways,” team CEO Jonathan Vaughters said. “If you take each day as an individual race, we’ve got a rider who can win that stage each day. It’s a very dynamic squad. And win in different situations. There are a lot of different opportunities. I’m excited for everyone.”

Grand-tour rookie Jonas Rutsch and Danish stage-hunter Michael Valgren round out the selection.

“There’s so many things we can do as a team. The roster we are bringing is in great shape,” Valgren said. “We have some big goals with Rigo and guys who can perform well in the stages. We will want to fight hard for them and for the fans. I’m really looking forward to the special moments we will have together.”

EF Education-Nippo typically punches above its weight during the Tour. With an explosive and varied squad, the team just might be what disrupts what many expect to be domination from the five-star favorites.