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Neilson Powless targeting GC at Paris-Nice as part of growing ambitions

EF Education-Nippo star is hoping to punch return ticket to Tour de France following big splash in 2020 debut.

Neilson Powless was one of the revelations of the 2020 Tour de France, and the EF Education-Nippo rider rode into several breakaways and hit two top-10s in stages in his Tour debut.

For 2021, the highly touted all-rounder will see new opportunities to grow in his fourth season in the WorldTour.

“It was great to be racing at the front at the Tour, and I was just happy that the team gave me that opportunity,” Powless told VeloNews. “It was a great race, and I think physically it brought me to another level. Over the winter, I felt a lot stronger, and I took a lot of confidence out of that. Hopefully, it’s the turning point in the next stage of my career.”

Also read: Neilson Powless making waves in Tour de France debut

This week, the 24-year-old Powless is making his European season debut at Paris-Nice following an encouraging start to 2021, when he rode to fifth overall at the UAE Tour behind such powerhouses as Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Emirates) and Adam Yates (UAE Tour).

For his second season at EF Education-Nippo, Powless is hoping that the racing calendar remains largely unchanged, and he can help captains such as Rigoberto Urán and Alberto Bettiol on the bigger dates, and have a few shots for himself to continue developing his GC chops.

“I think that was always kind of the goal,” Powless said of developing his skillset. “Last year was a bit of an odd season with the calendar, so the races I did go to, we had Rigo and Alberto and these guys that were already racing at the top, so for me, it’s about learning from them, hanging as long as I can on the climbs, and taking an opportunity when I see it. For me, the next stage is to try to focus on thinking about never losing time, and this race [Paris-Nice] is going to be a real test of that.”

Also read: Neilson Powless is first tribally recognized Native North American to race Tour de France

Powless expects to have some freedom during this week’s Paris-Nice. The eight-day stage race opened Sunday with a mass gallop, when he finished safely in the bunch. Tuesday’s time trial will be a chance for Powless to show off his legs and put himself in position for a top overall finish when the race ends Sunday in Nice.

“In the first couple of stages we’ve got Magnus [Cort], and in the TT, everyone’s been told to go for it,” Powless said before the start of Monday’s second stage. “Hopefully I can TT as good or maybe a bit better than some of the other GC guys, and then try to hang on as long as I can on the climbs.”

It’s that combination of time trialing skills and deep motor for the mountains that has many believing that Powless could develop into a strong all-rounder for weeklong stage races and perhaps even grand tours.

With the rise of Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) and Brandon McNulty (UAE-Emirates), 15th in his grand tour debut at the 2020 Giro d’Italia, the stage race future among the Americans in the bunch is looking bright after a few years of drought.

Also read: Neilson Powless among leading lights of new American generation in grand tours

Powless is hopeful for another tilt at the Tour in 2021.

“I’d like to take  step forward at the Tour,” Powless told VeloNews’ James Startt. “We’ll have a strong team with Rigo [Rigoberto Urán] and Sergio [Higuita]. I’m not the guy going for the GC at the Tour, but physically, I hope to have a strong role there.”

Since joining the WorldTour with Jumbo-Visma alongside Kuss in 2018, Powless moved across to EF Education-Nippo in 2020. Ever the student of the sport, Powless has been soaking up lessons learned from the likes of Urán.

“I learn a lot from Rigo. Just from being around him, his attitude in the bunch and on the bus, he’s always in a great mood, and it’s just a pleasure to work for him,” Powless said. “When things are getting chaotic, he always stays calm, and that carries over into the rest of the guys. I’m learning that as a leader that the energy you’re putting off manifests itself in the way your team performs. It’s really important to be positive and to try to keep the stress level low and the confidence high.”

Powless is hoping he can apply those lessons, and perhaps turn the screws, this week at Paris-Nice.