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Neilson Powless needed four seconds and a bit more in Sunday’s 10.6km individual time trial at Étoile de Bessèges, and he snatched back five.
That was enough to deliver the American on EF Education-EasyPost his first career stage race GC victory.
Powless was over the moon in the important career milestone.
“This feels amazing,” Powless said. “It gives me a lot of confidence and it makes me feel very proud of how far I’ve been able to come and develop as a bike rider and show my standard as a bike racer, not just as a climber or a time trialist or a puncheur.
“Here, I was able to show my ability to really be a part of the race across any terrain.”
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The victory was not only Powless’s first GC victory of his pro career, but the first North American to win the early season French race since its debut in the early 1970s.
The victory is also the first GC win for an elite male U.S. rider in a European stage race since Brandon McNulty won the Giro di Sicilia in 2019 with Rally UHC.
On Sunday, Powless poured everything into the pedals in the 10.6 individual time trial in Alès. The five-day stage race was decided by a single second across hilly terrain, headwinds, crashes, and tactics.
Mattias Skjelmose (Trek-Segafredo) started the day four seconds ahead of Powless after winning the mountaintop finale Saturday.
Powless was still smarting after getting nipped at the line by Skjelmose the day before, and was determined to put everything on the line for the win.
“I knew I would have to ride the TT just off of feel,” Powless said. “At the end of a stage race, it’s all just about what you feel and how much you have left in the tank. I’m just so happy I could repay all the hard work that my teammates gave and get some redemption for myself.”
Two wins already in 2023, with Paris-Nice up next
The victory is the second in 2023 for Powless, who kicked to the win at the Grand Prix La Marseillaise last month in spectacular fashion with a solo flier.
“It feels amazing to have two wins now already,” he said. “I think that’s my strength, my ability to be a part of the race no matter what.”
The GC win is an important milestone for Powless, now 26, as he moves into the most productive part of his career.
A pro since 2018, Powless moved to EF Education-EasyPost after two seasons with Jumbo-Visma. Unlike some of his younger peers, Powless is taking a more traditional and steadier trajectory upward.
In 2020, he lit up breakaways in his Tour de France debut, twice finishing in the top-5 on stages.
He roared to his first pro win in 2021 after winning out of an elite group at the Clásica San Sebastián.
In 2022, he was fourth at the Tour de Suisse and rode to 12th overall at the Tour de France after coming within a whisker of the yellow jersey in the first week. A win at the Japan Cup in October capped a superb season.
Powless said he’s ready to take what he’s learned so far and translate it onto the road with higher ambitions.
“I’ve grown a lot in terms of my ability to follow my teammates well and use them well,” Powless said. “I think it’s really created a nice atmosphere in the team and now I have that confidence to start to lead the team better.”
After two big wins early, up next is Paris-Nice.