Riding Momentum From The Tour de France, Neilson Powless Has Big Goals For Cycling Worlds

by Bob Reinert

Neilson Powless (C) competes during the men's road race at the 2022 UCI Road World Championships in Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia. (Photo by USA Cycling / Casey Gibson)

If his recent performance in the Tour de France is any indication, Neilson Powless is ready to make some noise at the upcoming UCI Cycling World Championships.

Powless, who spent 12 of the first 13 stages wearing the polka-dot jersey emblematic of the Tour’s top climber, finished the 21-stage race in fourth place in the “King of the Mountains” competition. It was a continuation of a strong season for the 26-year-old American.

“I had been having a really good spring,” said Powless, who is originally from Roseville, California. “Being able to wear the polka-dot jersey for so long and getting so many mountain points was incredible. It was an amazing experience, but at the same time, I didn’t feel like I was performing to the level that I had been performing at in the spring.”

Powless was put in a position to collect mountain points when his EF Education-EasyPost team lost its leader, Richard Carapaz, to a crash in the opening stage.

“He was going to be our main leader,” Powless said. “Apart from that, I was thinking, OK, depending on what he needs from me, maybe I could still try to go for one stage win or something.

“In the end, he ended up crashing out. With him stepping out of the Tour de France and me already being in the polka-dot jersey on day one, I just sort of fell into this role. I just completely forgot about anything that I had been expecting before the Tour, and I just was listening to what the directors had in mind each day because I really wanted to keep the jersey all the way to Paris.”

That wasn’t to be, but Powless nonetheless learned plenty about the mountain points competition.

“I’ve never raced the Tour de France where I’ve just gone all in from day one all the way through basically to Paris for 21 days trying to chase after this goal,” he said. “To win the polka-dot jersey, you have to be so aggressive. I spent more time in front of the race than anyone else. I think I spent almost 900 kilometers in the breakaway. I basically just need 100 more kilometers, but I just didn’t quite have it in me anymore.”

As the first tribally recognized Native North American to race in the Tour, Powless values his Oneida heritage.

“I hope that it’s inspiring to all native communities,” Powless said. “Maybe by the time I’m finished with my career I could really be a bit more hands-on with developing or just getting more resources to people who need it.”

Neilson Powless competes during the men's road race at the 2022 UCI Road World Championships in Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia. (Photo by USA Cycling / Casey Gibson)

Powless followed up his Tour performance with a fourth-place finish Saturday at the one-day Clasica de San Sebastian in Spain. Now, he’s preparing for the world championships in Glasgow, Scotland, which run Aug. 3-13, as a member of Team USA. For the first time, the cycling world championships will include all the sport’s disciplines, including Para, in one location.

“World championships is definitely going to be the big (event) for me this second half of the season,” said Powless, who will compete in the men’s road race on Sunday Aug. 6. “I think I’ve just grown a lot as an athlete this whole year in general, and the Tour was definitely a big part of that. Just being on stage on the Tour de France is about as big as it gets in cycling.”

Powless placed fifth in the world championships road race in 2021.

“I’ve always been in contention for a podium spot,” he said. “That’s a very realistic goal I think I can set. But, of course, the main goal is always to try to win every race you go to. The goal is definitely going to be to win world championships. I think I can also be satisfied if I can land on the podium.”

Powless, who lives in Nice, France, during cycling season, is also looking forward to next season. This year’s world championships is one of the first automatic qualifiers for the Olympic Games Paris 2024.

“Next year the Tour de France finishes in Nice, actually, because the Olympics are in Paris,” Powless said. “I’m actually really thinking about the Olympics as a major goal for myself next year. With the Tour finishing at home, I’ll be able to just immediately get some quick rest and then head up to Paris and take a stab at it.

“The Olympics has definitely been something I’ve been thinking about for the past two, three years now as a realistic goal to try to win.”

Should he make the Olympic team, Powless would be following in the footsteps of his mother, Jen Allred, who ran the marathon for Guam at the 1992 Summer Games. This month’s world championships also have a family connection, as Neilson will be reunited with his sister, Shayna Powless, who will compete for Team USA’s track cycling team.

“So, that’ll be really cool to see her,” he said. “I only get to see my sister about once a year. My parents will be coming up to watch, as well.”

Off the bike, Powless and his wife, Frances, are expecting their first child in October.

“We just bought a house in Houston, and we are getting it ready for the little one,” Powless said. “If it’s not about cycling, it’s about getting ready for the family.”