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GEELONG, Australia (VN) — Neilson Powless is ready to impress his new EF teammates.
The 23-year-old moved from Jumbo-Visma to EF Pro Cycling in large part because he wanted more shots at racing for his own results. After 15th overall at his season debut at a highly competitive Santos Tour Down Under, Powless is hoping it’s the start of a big season.
In Australia, Powless is already seeing the team support him in ways that would have been nearly impossible before changing uniforms.
“It’s pretty inspiring for the rest of the season,” Powless said. “Whatever the result is here, it’s nice to have the guys around me and being committed to what result we can achieve.”
Powless, 23, is one of the most promising all-round American talents to hit the WorldTour in years. With equally strong time trialing and climbing skills, he has the complete package to develop in a stage-race GC rider. A top-10 at the 2016 Tour of California and overall victory at the Joe Martin stage race that year served as a preview of his potential. He jumped to the WorldTour with Jumbo-Visma following another impressive 2017 season.
Powless admitted he had a bit of difficulty adjusting to Jumbo-Visma’s way of working, but hit his stride in the second half of 2019 in sophomore season, helping teammate Primoz Roglic win the overall at the Vuelta a España.
By then, Powless had already decided to move to EF. The chance to ride with more responsibility was too good of an offer to refuse.
“It’s a bit crowded at Jumbo,” Powless said. “I’ll get more chances to grow at this team. What I’m seeing here in Australia is encouraging for the rest of the season.”
Joining EF Pro Cycling felt like a natural step for Powless, another product of the Axeon Hagens Berman talent factory. To get to know his new teammates, Powless came down to Australia well ahead of the season debut. Other new arrivals quickly hit it off with team veterans Mitch Docker, Tom Scully and Lachlan Morton.
“It felt very natural coming to this team,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like a new team at all. Immediately it’s very comfortable around the dinner table and you feel at-home.
“We quickly fell into a nice race rhythm,” Powless continued. “That gives me a lot of confidence as well. We’re having a great time together and keeping it pretty relaxed off the bike. It’s been really fun.”
The old cliché goes a happy racer, a fast racer. It’s not that Powless was miserable at Jumbo-Visma, and he said he learned a lot racing with some of the top names in the peloton. As Jumbo-Visma continues to hit a higher level, it’s simply harder for younger riders to find their space.
And there was something else. Powless didn’t want to miss the chance to race for one of the peloton’s U.S. registered teams.
“It’s hard to be racing in the WorldTour when there’s an American team, and not be part of it,” he said. “I wanted to represent an American team in the WorldTour. The American presence and culture on the team is different. There are a lot of strong riders at EF, and with the American culture on the team, I wanted to be a part of that.”
At EF, Powless will not only feel at home, he’ll be given plenty of rope as well. He came to the Tour Down Under with leadership duties, and will finish out the Australian summer, racing at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race as well as the Herald Sun Tour.
Powless will be back in Europe in time for EF’s early season training camp in Girona in February before ramping up for the first major European targets, with likely stops at the Volta a Catalunya, Tour of the Basque Country and the Ardennes classics.
There’s growing expectation that Powless could see his Tour de France debut this season. That’s still a long way down the road, but after finishing the Vuelta off on a high note, Powless admits he’d love to race the Tour.
“It would be a huge honor to race the Tour de France, it’s always been a big goal of mine,” he said, before adding that the “long list” for the Tour is about 20 riders.
“We’ll see how the fitness is tracking that time of year,” he said. “You also hear stories about great riders who haven’t raced the Tour until their 10th year in the WorldTour. I’m not putting any pressure on myself, but any opportunity to race the Tour, I’d immediately jump on it.”
More pressing is the Tokyo Olympic Games, but with only two spots for the elite men’s road race team, with both selected riders to also race the time trial, Powless isn’t holding his breath on that one, either.
At 23, Powless has plenty of open road ahead of him. He knows the most important things are to keep learning and keep improving. If he keeps the upward trend, those larger goals will come sooner or later. More likely sooner if Powless has his way.