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UCI Road World Championships: Neilson Powless ‘taking a gamble’ on hard road race

The American is feeling good after a surprise ride in the TT after Lawson Craddock was forced to drop out due to visa issues.

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WOLLONGONG, Australia (VN) — Neilson Powless wants to make sure that this Sunday’s road race at the UCI Road World Championships is as hard as possible.

Despite being selected, the American was unsure about his participation in the event until recently due to a long season of racing as well as the current team battle to avoid relegation from the WorldTour.

Other members of the team, such as Matteo Jorgensen, had already been given a firm “no” by their trade squads and told to keep racing for points, and losing Powless would have been a big blow to Team USA’s hopes.

In the end, Powless only made the call to come to Australia just over a week ago. He felt that his form was too good to waste after some strong results in recent weeks.

“I was feeling really strong in Canada and in Maryland and I really felt like I could perform well here. I think we’re taking a gamble that the race will be hard to that in the end, so that it will be an open race. I hope that’s the case,” Powless told VeloNews. “At the end of the day, it’s a long race so I think no matter what it’s going to be a hard race in the end. Hopefully, there will be a lot of other guys that want it to be a hard race in the end. Fingers crossed.”

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Powless’ decision about the world championships was almost made for him before he could make it himself after he had a big crash at the GP Cycliste de Montréal a little over a week ago.

Fortunately for the 26-year-old, he avoided any broken bones or other serious injuries.

“The day after, I was a bit worried that I wasn’t going to be able to come to worlds and I was really stiff for a few days but luckily I was able to get out on my bike and keep my body moving. It was nothing serious,” he said.

Powless lit up last year’s world championships for Team USA with his fifth-place finish in Leuven. The result was the best by an American elite male in two decades and he’s hopeful of a similar, if not better, result this time around.

The course around Wollongong is confounding predictions with a big early climb over Mount Keira followed by a string of shorter climbs on the finishing circuit. There is that it could end up with a small group sprint to the line, but if the race is tough enough, it could tip the balance in the favor of the climbers.

For Powless, it’s a case of reading the race and taking the opportunities that present themselves.

“As long as it’s not a sprint, I’m hoping that it will be a hard race in the end. Hopefully, I just race a similar way to the way I raced last year and trying to find the right moves and the right wheels to follow and just save all my energy until it looks like there’s a moment to go and open the race up,” he told VeloNews. “I would definitely want to be one of the riders that’s making the race hard in the end. Hopefully, it’s hard enough to create some separation.”

The U.S. team has seen several big changes across all of the categories, with the elite men seeing two last-minute additions to the lineup.

One of the most notable changes was the late inclusion of off-road star Keegan Swenson. The 28-year-old has never ridden at this level on the road, but his participation is hotly anticipated following his results off-road this year, including victories at SBT GRVL, Leadville 100, and Crusher in the Tushar.

It remains to be seen how he will perform, but Powless believes he has the power to have an impact on the race.

“I think he’s a super strong guy. I used to race on the national mountain bike team with him so I know him pretty well. I’ve trained with him in Utah a few times when I was getting ready for the Tour of Utah. He’s definitely got a huge engine and he’s really excited to be here so hopefully we can put that to good use,” he said.

Powless’ world championships got off to an unexpected start after he got a late call up to ride the time trial after Lawson Craddock was not able to ride. A delay with Craddock’s visa meant he could not make his flight to Australia and Powless was set to arrive in Australia on Friday, so he was subbed in for him.

“I heard a little bit about Lawson when I was in Montreal, but I didn’t know that I would be doing it until five days ago. It was a bit late notice, but I couldn’t really change anything, my travel was already all set,” he said.

“Luckily, I was going to come in time because I wanted to get here early to adapt for the road race, but in the end it was alright. I felt pretty good out there. I didn’t get to do too much training out there on my time trial bike but I felt solid out there.”

Despite the late call-up, Powless put in a solid result to finish 22nd just over two minutes down on the surprise winner Tobias Foss (Norway). Powless was always unlikely to trouble the top contenders but he can take some confidence out of the performance heading into his major goal of the road race later this week.

“I definitely felt better than I was expecting, to be honest, I wasn’t really expecting anything, I just figured I would get out there and give it my best effort and race as hard and as fast as I could and try to represent the stars and stripes well,” he said.

“Any time I’m racing, I’m not going to take it easy, no matter where I’m at. It was a great course, I had fun and I had good sensations so I guess it bodes well for the road race.”