WOLLONGONG, Australia (VN) — Neilson Powless was one of the big aggressors during Sunday’s road race at the UCI Road World Championships, but the American said that there was nothing he could do to match the might of Remco Evenepoel.
Evenepoel romped to victory with a dominant win after attacking with two laps remaining from an earlier breakaway group that had gone off the front of the peloton with around 80km to go. Only Alexey Lutsenko could go with him initially, but he too was distanced as the Belgian ramped up the pressure over the penultimate climb.
Powless was part of that 20-rider split that went up the road and joined forces with another group at the head of the race. He was well-positioned throughout but didn’t have the gas to go with Evenepoel and he doubts that he would have been able to even at his best.
“It was a really fun race, it was really dynamic and I was happy to be a part of it and happy to follow some moves at the right time, and I sort of started missing moves when Remco was solo, but in the end they all got caught anyway. So, I was really happy with my performance,” Powless said after the race.
“I maybe could have done a little bit more if I had better legs. I was really happy with my ride and how my performance went. I think if I had better legs, I may have been able to finish a few places higher, but in the end I don’t think on one of my best days I would have been able to follow Remco when he dropped Lutsenko with two laps to go.
“He was just on another level today. In the end, I was just happy to use my energy as smart as I could have, and I think that I got the best out of myself and out of USA.”
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As Evenepoel rode off in a class of his own, it was down to the chasers to duke it out for the final medal spots. A group of four went up the road, but Powless missed out and he tried to chase them down along with some other remnants of the break.
Neilson Powless and Scott McGill 🇺🇸 in the lead group of 24 riders. 35 km to go! https://t.co/MWh21Syv03
— USA Cycling (@usacycling) September 25, 2022
With some disunity in the group, Powless tried to drop some of his companions, but he was soon brought back. Given the lack of cohesion earlier, Powless was initially baffled by the strong reaction to his attack, but he soon discovered why it was happening as parts of the peloton had caught up with them. They eventually reeled in the four chasers behind Evenepoel for a small group sprint.
With a group of over 30 and riders like Michael Matthews and Christophe Laporte amongst it, Powless’ chance at a medal was pretty slim coming into the final meters.
“I thought I was going to be gone and that was the move, I thought I had got away from everybody else. I was really surprised when the group all of a sudden started working together,” he explained.
“That was because five riders started pulling behind and Italy started pulling for Alberto and Belgium for Wout so it made sense when they caught me, but I couldn’t understand why they chased me, because right before that everybody was looking at each other, and nobody wanted to work. In the end, it all made sense and I was just happy to be there sprinting in the group that was going for the medals. So, I was happy with that.”
A solid debut for Swenson
Outside of Powless’ performance, one of the stories of the day from Team USA was Keegan Swenson’s appearance in the race. The off-road star was a late addition to the team after several riders pulled out due to fatigue and the ongoing WorldTour points battle.
More used to the smaller groups of gravel riding or solo efforts of mountain biking, riding in a world championships peloton was a small shock to the system.
Swenson handled himself pretty well and was up on the peloton for a large portion of the race, eventually finishing the day in a group 6:37 down on Evenepoel.
“I didn’t know what to expect, I wanted to make it to the last couple of laps and see what I could do. I was having a hard time with positioning, and I missed the split on the climb, but I overall I was happy with it. It was my first one, I learned a lot out there and definitely a fair few mistakes but it went relatively well,” Swenson told VeloNews.
“It’s so different to anything I’ve ever done, just the tight nature of the racing, and constantly moving up and back and filing for position. I felt really good when I had a bit of space, but I’m not super used to that. It took a while for me to get comfortable, with people bumping and touching and whatnot but I kind of figured it out as the race went on.”
With his first taste of road racing in a very long time, Swenson is keen to do some more, though he doesn’t know when or where yet.
“I had a great time, I would like to do a bit more of it if I can. I think it definitely intrigued me, I think it was a lot of fun. The more I do it, the better I’ll get at it, and I think I just need a few more tries,” he said.