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Power Analysis: Why Neilson Powless is one of the most underrated riders in professional cycling

Looking at the data from the American's stellar ride at the recent Tour de Suisse.

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In this column, we look at the power numbers of Neilson Powless at the Tour de Suisse.

Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) quietly rode his way to fourth overall at the Tour de Suisse, one of the hardest one-week stage races of the year, and one that comes just two weeks before the Tour de France. Every rider in the peloton is nearing their peak for the three-week grand tour, which means that we often see some of the best performances of the year in the lead-up races.

Despite having won the Classica San Sebastian and finishing fifth in the UCI Road World Championships in 2021, 25-year-old Powless is still one of the most underrated riders in the professional peloton. He is a puncheur, a hilly Classics rider, a climber, and a time trial specialist – in other words, Powless is a GC rider with the strength and endurance to win the biggest one-day races in the world.

The American showed his form in nearly every stage of the recent Tour de Suisse, an eight-day race that was hit hard by COVID positives with Powless losing all but one of his teammates.

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After a mediocre start to the Tour de Suisse, Powless had one of his best performances of the year on stage 5 which finished in Novazzano. The stage looked a lot like the Tour of Flanders: flat for the first half and non-stop climbs for the second half. In Powless’ heart rate (HR) data, we can see the polarization between these two sections of the race.

Powless – Stage 5 Profile
Time: 4:40:07
Average Power: 220w (3.3w/kg)

First 110km of the stage: 168w (2.5w/kg) for 2 hours 29 minutes
Final 80km of the stage: 284w (4.3w/kg) for 2 hours 7 minutes

Once the peloton entered the hills, the pace was full gas. Each climb was ridden at 5-7w/kg for minutes at a time, and the front group dwindled until there were less than 25 riders left. A series of attacks and counter-attacks threatened to break up the race, but the front group came together in the final few kilometers as they approached the uphill sprint.

Powless’ positioning let him down because he certainly had the strongest kick and the fastest finish out of the stage contenders. The American came charging up from behind, but he couldn’t quite overhaul Aleksandr Vlasov who narrowly took the win.

Powless – Stage 5 Finale
Time: 35:57
Average Power: 319w (4.8w/kg)
Normalized Power: 389w (5.9w/kg)

Final climb with 10km to go: 458w (7w/kg) for 6 minutes
Final sprint: 867w (13.1w/kg) for 28 seconds

Powless’ stage 5 result vaulted him into seventh on GC, just 28 seconds down on Vlasov as the Tour de Suisse headed into the mountains.

When the news broke the following morning of multiple riders testing positive for COVID, many questioned whether the race would go on. Thankfully, the proper precautions were in place, and the race moved ahead for stage 6. There wasn’t much to say about the route other than that it contained two massive mountain passes: Nufenenpass (13km at 7.8%) and Moosalp (17.7km at 7.6%).

Despite the intimidating profile, the race refused to blow up on either high-mountain pass. Even on the final climb, there were few GC riders who attempted a move, and none that succeeded. Nico Denz won the stage from the breakaway, while Geraint Thomas led the GC contenders across the line with a big acceleration in the final kilometer. This move is Thomas’ patented attack, and this time it was enough to drop Powless in a few hundred meters.

Powless – Stage 6 – Moosalp
Time: 52:26
Average Power: 352w (5.3w/kg)

Final 5.6km: 375w (5.7w/kg) for 15 minutes
Final 500m: 494w (7.5w/kg) for 56 seconds

Stage 7 was the queen stage of the Tour de Suisse, a 197km route from Ambri to Malbun, and a final climb with an average gradient of 8.7% for 12.6km. With only a 25km TT remaining, most of the GC contenders would have to lay it all on the line on stage 7 – and that’s exactly what happened. Ineos Grenadiers set a furious pace from the base of the final climb, and many of us thought we were watching a 2015 Tour de France stage.

By the time Dani Martínez made his final effort on the front, there were hardly any riders left. At the fore were Geraint Thomas, Jakob Fuglsang, and Sergio Higuita who attacked his fellow countryman. Higuita set off in time trial mode, while Thomas sat on Fuglsang who fought to keep the yellow jersey of GC leader. Powless was less than 100m down the road, setting his own pace with a few kilometers to go.

Thibaut Pinot took a triumphant win from the breakaway, while Higuita stayed ahead of Thomas who dropped Fuglsang in the final few hundred meters. Powless crossed the line in 10th, only a minute down on Thomas and better than names like Evenepoel, Schachmann, and Großschartner.

On this final climb, we saw some of the best climbing performances of the season, and Geraint Thomas’ best performance in many years. Despite the 30°C (86°F) temperatures, Higuita and Thomas averaged about 6w/kg for 39 minutes. The bad news: Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič have shown they can do 6.2-6.4w/kg for 30-40 minutes in the middle of a grand tour.

Powless – Stage 7 – Final Climb
Time: 40:02
Average Power: 370w (5.6w/kg)
First 5km in the lead group: 380w (5.8w/kg) for 15 minutes

Sergio Higuita: 39:00 at ~6w/kg
Geraint Thomas: 39:11 at ~5.9w/kg

All that remained at the Tour de Suisse was a 25km ITT in Vaduz, with Powless having the small opportunity to jump onto the GC podium. He would need to do an incredible performance to put a minute into Fuglsang, but the American went for it.

In Powless’ power data, we can see that he went full gas for the first 13km of the TT. But in the second half, he began to fade. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he had a mechanical in the final few hundred meters. Despite all that, Powless still finished 8th on the stage, less than a minute behind the winner, Remco Evenepoel. I think these time trial speeds get faster every time I look.

Powless – Stage 8 ITT (before mechanical)
Time: 29:25
Average Power: 363w (5.5w/kg)
Average Speed: 51.9kph

First 13km: 370w (5.6w/kg) at 53.9kph
Final 12km: 355w (5.4w/kg) at 49.8kph

Remco Evenepoel: 28:26 at 54kph

Power Analysis data courtesy of Strava

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Neilson Powless