Étoile de Bessèges: Neilson Powless claims first pro GC victory in TT comeback

Mads Pedersen wins final TT and U.S. star Neilson Powless claws back enough time to win the overall at the five-stage Étoile de Bessèges.

Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

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Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) powered to his first professional stage race victory Sunday at the Étoile de Bessèges final-stage time trial.

Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) won the 10.6km test against the clock in Alès, but the GC came down to a one-second difference between Powless and overnight leader Mattias Skjelmose (Trek-Segafredo).

“That was painful,” Pedersen said. “I wanted to go full gas to make some good split times for Mattias so he had something to race with and against. That was basically the main plan of today.”

Skjelmose started the final stage four seconds ahead of Powless after beating him at the top of Saturday’s summit finish.

Powless turned the tables Sunday, and stopped the clock for eighth at 21 seconds slower than Pedersen, but he was five seconds faster than Skjelmose.

That was good enough to push Powless to the top of the GC leaderboard, his first overall title of his ever improving trajectory.

“I am disappointed that I miss out by just one second but that’s cycling sometimes,” Skjelmose said. “I didn’t have super legs, this was the first race of the season for me and I still need some more anaerobic efforts to improve the recovery a little bit but it wasn’t bad today either.”

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S4: Skjelmose out-foxes Powless on summit finale

Mattias Skjelmose (Trek-Segafredo) got the better of Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) on the Mont Bouquet summit of Étoile de Bessèges.

Skjelmose bridged across to Powless in the final kilometers of Saturday’s stage after the U.S. ace attacked early at the bottom of the steep 5km kicker climb to the line. The Dane led the two into a sprint and went from the front for the win, his first victory of the season.

The result gives the rising 22-year-old a narrow four-second lead over Powless on the GC heading into the explosive 11km TT that will decide the standings Sunday.

“I think it’s the best situation for me to be in,” Skjelmose said. “I’m really motivated after today and I just want to finish it off so I can pay back the guys for all their work.”

Pierre Latour (TotalEnergies) and Pavel Sivakov (Ineos Grenadiers) came across third and fourth Saturday after they had gone chasing after Powless with Skjelmose.

Overnight leader and sprinter sensation Arnaud De Lie (Lotto-Dstny) couldn’t match the pace on the Bouquet climb and was left to rumble home more than one 90 seconds back. The Belgian now drops to fifth in the standings.

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S3: No dropping Arnaud De Lie as sprinter sensation wins hilly final

De Lie took bullish victory Friday. (Photo: Getty Images)

Arnaud De Lie made it two from two Friday at the Étoile de Bessèges.

Lotto-Dstny’s supersprinter-in-the-making outkicked Valentin Ferron (Total Energies) and Sam Watson (Groupama-FDJ) in downtown Bessèges to remain undefeated in this year’s French race and tighten his grip on the leader’s jersey.

The victory marks De Lie’s third victory in four competitive race-days this season and comes hot of the back of him amassing nine wins in his breakout 2022.

The lumpy 170km leg-sapper in and out of Bessèges saw an all-attacking final Friday.

Two sharp climbs in the final 20km ahead of a flat finish saw the climbers looking to pile pressure on the sprinters, with Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost), Mathias Skjelmose Jensen (Trek-Segafredo) and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) all on the move in the wild, full-gas final.

Classics and sprinter ace Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) was dropped in the flurry of accelerations, but De Lie clung on with the climbers and even had the audacity to try an attack a few kilometers from the line.

The Belgian sensation was inevitably reeled in as the reduced peloton rumbled into the final kilometer, but there was no stopping the 20-year-old when he went on to blitz the small-group sprint.

Racing resumes Saturday for stage 4 and its potentially decisive hilltop finish on the 5km, 9 percent climb to the line on Mont Bouquet.

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S2: Arnaud De Lie keeps lead as stage neutralized after crash

Crash during stage 2 of Etoile de Besseges
Crash during stage 2 of Etoile de Besseges

Stage 2 of the Étoile de Bessèges was cut short after race organizers were left with no ambulances following a major crash in the bunch.

Both of the ambulances following the race were called into service when several riders crashed on a narrow bridge with 22km left.

Race organizers had no other choice but to neutralize the remainder of the stage with the peloton riding to the finish behind the race vehicles.

No winner was declared for the stage, meaning that stage 1 winner Arnaud De Lie maintained his race lead.

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S1: Arnaud De Lie rips to second win in 2023

Arnaud De Lie keeps adding to the win column, adding his second victory in three races to open his new season with Lotto Dstny at Etoile de Besseges in France.

A short but punchy rise to the line on the third passage on a circuit course broke up the lead pack as they roared in for the sprint in the opening day of the five-stage race.

De Lie out-kicked Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) for the win, his second in 2023.

Benoit Cosneyfroy (Ag2r-Citroën) crossed the line third, with Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) safely in the top-10 with seventh in the 162.akm stage in Bellegarde.

The race continues Thursday with the rolling 169.6km second stage from Bagard to Aubais, with another bunch kick likely in the cards.

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