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Neilson Powless: Keegan Swenson has a pretty awesome opportunity at worlds

'I’m hoping that I can go better than last year, or equal to last year,' says American rider ahead of men's road race.

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The men’s US team at the 2022 UCI Road World Championships will be spearheaded by Magnus Sheffield and Neilson Powless in Sunday’s road race but one eye will be debutant Keegan Swenson.

The off-road star is making his road worlds debut and when it comes to road racing the 28-year-old has never participated in anything bigger than a small domestic stage race in Utah. However, the winner of several gravel and US mountain bike titles has an excellent chance to gain WorldTour attention on Sunday, especially given his tentative hopes of transitioning to the road in 2023.

Swenson and Powless both raced on the mountain bike scene a few years ago, so Powless knows firsthand just how talented his countryman is. With Swenson toying with the idea of racing in the WorldTour next year if the right opportunity comes along, Powless is well aware that a strong ride on Sunday would alert teams to Swenson’s talents.

“I’m eager to see how Keegan goes as well,” Powless told VeloNews earlier in the week.

“Obviously he has pretty good depth and trains really well. The races that he does are intense, and intense for long periods. Hopefully, it translates. I think I’d need to talk to him about what his goals are and what he wants to achieve from the sport but if his goal is to make it into the WorldTour then he’s got a pretty awesome opportunity to give it a crack and make a name for himself.”

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Powless finished fifth in the men’s road race at the 2021 UCI Road World Championships in Leuven and came into the worlds this time around on the back of a rest and steady build up following the Tour de France in July. He crashed in the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal earlier this month but rode to 22nd place in the opening time trial of the championships last weekend.

“I was pretty lucky to come away with nothing too serious,” he said concerning his crash in Canada.

“I’ve been able to continue training without any issues. The body is feeling good and I’m expecting some good form here in Australia.”

The course in Wollongong is tipped towards the one-day specialists who have strong sprint credentials but the 4,000-plus meters of climbing, coupled with the long distance, will make the race a battle of attrition. Such a style of racing should suit Powless and his attacking nature.

“I don’t think it’s going to be as hard as last year but because of the distance it’s still going to be a tough race,” he said.

“There are still guys here who don’t want it to be a sprint, so we’ll just have to think on our feet and read the race as best we can. We have to hope it doesn’t come down to a sprint. I want it to be a hard race but I just need to cross my fingers. I think that the team will be based around Magnus and I. With him and I, we have a cool dual leadership thing going. Even for me, it will be the longest race that I do all year. Hopefully, we’ll have teammates in the final.”

The American is expecting two-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar to help define the race through the final laps. The Slovenian won the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal through a sprint from a small group and he is likely to want to break up the race before the line once more. Such a tactic would suit Powless perfectly.

“A lot of eyes will definitely be on Pogačar,” Powless said.

“He’ll be the strongest guy who doesn’t want a sprint. I’m hoping that he’s strong enough to make that happen and that he can draw some other names out. In the final, it’s hopefully hard enough to make that separation happen. I’m hoping that I can go better than last year, or equal to last year. It’s going to be hard to do because as a one-day race it’s hard to pick a strategy and say how the race will pan out. Especially for a rider like me who isn’t a super strong sprinter. I’m really good at sniffing out the right move and reading races but if it’s a 50-man sprint then I probably won’t have the best odds.”