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Neilson Powless 'closing the gap' to Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert

Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) has one goal this year, and it’s to win a Classic. The 27-year-old is putting almost exclusive emphasis on this ambition after coming tantalisingly close to a podium in the Tour of Flanders last season.

Powless finished just behind Wout van Aert (Visma-Lease a Bike) in fifth place last year in Oudenaarde after Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) soloed to victory after escaping from Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Van Aert.

It was one of several indicators of his potential after a third in Dwars door Vlaanderen and seventh in Milan-San Remo.

Speaking to Wielerflits, Powless laid out his ambitions that would put him in direct competition with top contenders Van Aert and Van der Poel.

“It’s always fun racing against them,” Powless said. “They’re really aggressive, really strong. I feel like in the last couple of years have started to close the gap to them a little bit. You know they’re still going to be the favourites in every race that they show up to but I’m getting more confident at every race I do.”

Last year at the World Championships in Glasgow, Powless finished 11th behind winner Van der Poel but was almost on the wheel of the winning breakaway when it went clear – a heartbreaking but encouraging result.

Powless also showed potential to become a Grand Tour contender after he narrowly missed taking the maillot jaune at the 2022 Tour de France and finished 12th overall, but this year he is putting all of his attention on one-day races.

“I have quite a few big goals this spring, lots of the classics,” he said. “First one will be Strade Bianche, [Milan]-San Remo. And then depending on how healthy and how I’m feeling, hopefully I can race E3 [Saxo Classic] and Dwars door Vlaanderen and then the Ardennes [Classics].

“I’ll be trying to win any one of those. So hopefully I can do one.”

Few riders – aside from Pogačar and Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) – have been able to beat Van der Poel and Van Aert when they show up, but Powless is gaining more self-assuredness with each positive result.

“I don’t have as many bullets as them so I have to be very smart about the choices I make,” he said.

In the past few years, Powless has filled his spring calendar with week-long stage races such as Paris-Nice, the UAE Tour and Volta a Catalunya. So far this year, he has raced O Gran Camiño but the rest of the campaign is exclusively one-day races.

He emphasised that he has to take more time to recover in between races. “Even though it’s only one-day racing, it still takes a lot out of you. I think I may have tried to try to train too hard between some of the races and it caught up with me. So hopefully this year I can manage that better.”

With the Paris Olympic Games on the calendar this year, Powless is also likely to lead Team USA in the men’s road race, where he will be facing all of the top one-day racers in pro cycling.

Powless is one of several US riders who are poised for breakthroughs along with Matteo Jorgenson (Visma-Lease a Bike), Magnus Sheffield (Ineos Grenadiers), Kevin Vermaerke (DSM-Firmenich-PostNL) and Luke Lamperti (Soudal-Quickstep).

SOURCE: CyclingNews   (go to source)
AUTHOR: laura@cyclingnews.com
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