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DUN-LE-PALESTEL, France (VN) – Having ridden the Tour de France for the last two seasons, EF Education-Easy Post’s Neilson Powless is hoping to return there this summer. First, though, he’s got Paris-Nice on his mind, then the Ardennes Classics, and also has some thoughts about the lack of racing opportunities for kids in the United States and how this could be changed.
VeloNews: How’s the season gone for you so far?
NP: My form’s been really good. I started at the UAE Tour, where I was 11th, but I felt like that was a bit of an underperformance, unfortunately. I’ve not really tried to work out what was going on there – I don’t know if it was the heat or something – but I didn’t quite get what I was expecting there, so I’m hoping for a better Paris-Nice.
VN: In terms of Paris-Nice, what are the key stages for you?
NP: It’s kind of divided into two. In the first half before the time trial, it’s going to be pretty flat and open, so hopefully, we can just race aggressively with the guys we have here because I think we have a few guys that are super good for these first few stages. Then we’ve got Stefan Bissegger for the time trial, where I’ll try to avoid losing too much time. Then, hopefully, I’ll have good legs for the climbs in the mountains. I’m really looking forward to the last few stages.
VN: What makes this race so special, especially when looking ahead to the Grand Tours?
NP: It’s a super competitive field: Paris-Nice is always a real complete riders’ race, which is the kind of rider you need to be for the Tour de France. I think it’s perfect early season preparation for anyone looking to do the Tour. Obviously, a lot of Tour contenders aren’t here, but at the end of the day, I think it’s one of the best races. It has the flat stages at the beginning, there’s crosswinds, so you have to be decent at positioning and you have to be pretty punchy there, and then there’s a good time trial so you can continue working on that aspect of racing. Then, at the end, the climbs around Nice are always pretty technical and super tough, so you’ve got a bit of everything here. I think it’s the perfect prep for the Tour.
VN: You’re the GC leader for the team this week?
NP: Yeah. Simon Carr was a late addition to our team, so it’ll be nice to have some climbing support there. Hopefully, I’ll have better legs than UAE because if I’m the same as I was there, it’s gonna be pretty tough. But I’ve been feeling pretty good, so I’m hoping to put in a good result here.
VN: What are your objectives beyond this race?
NP: Definitely the Ardennes — so Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège — are my biggest targets for the first half of the year. Then we’ll have to see about the Tour de France, because our team always selects a bit later. So hopefully the Ardennes and then later the Tour. After the Ardennes, I’ll maybe rest a little bit and try to build a nice program heading for the Tour.
VN: Switching to the U.S. racing scene – there’s an issue now for kids coming up because of a lack of races. What’s your perspective on that?
NP: I’m disappointed about it. I think that racing in general across the US has kind of taken a nosedive in the past few years, unfortunately. At the same time, the gravel scene has definitely blown up, which has been nice. I was able to enter one of those events and I reckon that they can be a nice way into the sport if they start catering more for kids, organizing something for them alongside the longer races in the same event. That could be a nice way to offer some more racing for kids because you definitely have a ton of fun.
I feel like it was reminiscent of the Xterra off-road triathlons that I grew up racing, just a super relaxed environment and everyone’s there just to have fun. So I’m hoping that can develop a little bit because the road racing scene in the U.S. just doesn’t look super great right now. I’m hoping other types of racing like gravel will offer young kids more opportunities to race because, at the end of the day, they just need events that they can go and be active in. It doesn’t necessarily have to be road racing, just as long as they’re competing.