Neilson Powless’ five-year wait came to an end Saturday.
In winning the tough Basque race, Powless becomes part of an elite club of active U.S. riders to have won at the WorldTour level.
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Five years after turning pro with Axeon Hagens Berman, 24-year-old Powless joins the likes of Sepp Kuss, Joe Dombrowski, Ben King, Tejay van Garderen and Will Barta in topping the podium on the sport’s biggest stage.
“I can’t even put into words how much this means to me,” Powless said Saturday.
“It’s my first pro victory, and I’m so happy to have taken it here in San Sebastián with a director that’s local. Every time I’ve raced here it’s been incredible with the fans, so I’m super happy to win in front of such enthusiastic crowds.”
Powless’s scintillating debut victory in Saturday’s hard-fought Clásica sees him step up to his growing status at EF Education-Nippo.
The Californian has become a top domestique for veteran captain Rigoberto Urán in his two seasons with the squad, twice supporting the Colombian to top-1os at the Tour de France while also attacking to a pair of top-six stage finishes for himself.
With his stock starting to soar, Powless was handed his own chance Saturday. EF Education-Nippo rallied around the American, and he delivered.
“We’ve spoken repeatedly about the finish with Neilson Powless, and he came good for us in the end,” said sport director Juanma Garate.
Powless attacked repeatedly on the rainsodden roads of the Spanish Basque Country on Saturday to move into a five-man lead group as the race rocketed toward its end.
With breakaway ace Matej Mohorič and Danish hotshot Mikkel Honoré for company, Powless had a lot to do.
He smartly reined in what his team has fondly called an “understandable overexuberance” to think his way out of a crash in the final five kilometers. It was a moment that made the difference between the podium positions and the fight for scraps.
Powless explained that he had foreseen trouble on a greasy bend that saw two of his rivals hit the tarmac as the race roared into the center of the city.
“I was watching the map on my Garmin. I think the guys in front of me were maybe too focused on the situation in the race and not so much the road,” Powless said. “I could see it was a sharp corner coming up that they ended up crashing in. In the end I was just happy to keep it upright and stay as fresh as possible for the end.”
Powless went on to finished the job, coming off Mohorič’s wheel to edge the three-man sprint finish. It was a victory that confirmed his billing as one of USA’s great new hopes alongside climbing sensation Kuss and Olympic star Brandon McNulty.
What next for the latest addition to USA’s WorldTour winners club?
The rest of Powless’ season has not yet been mapped out, but a start at the Vuelta a España could be on the cards.
Wherever Powless ends up later this year, he’s likely to be enjoying an increasingly growing role with his team.
“It’s a very important win for us,” Garate said. “It’s so difficult to win anything in cycling, especially in a race like this, so this will bring us good energy for the Vuelta a España and the rest of the season.”
Powless’ ride through the Spanish Basque Country is one that he – and his team – will remember for a long time.