Neilson Powless: I don’t want to pigeonhole myself

American aims at the Ardennes Classics and Tour de France in 2024

Clock08:45, Sunday 17th December 2023
Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) at the 2023 Tour de France

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) at the 2023 Tour de France

It felt like Neilson Powless was everywhere in 2023. From the cobbles of the Tour of Flanders to over 700km spent in breakaways at the Tour de France and everything in between, if Powless was at a race he was almost certainly on the offensive.

That gung-ho approach netted the versatile American wins in the Etoile de Bessèges and the Grand Prix Cycliste de Marseille, fifth in Flanders, and a respectable challenge for the mountains jersey at the Tour. There were a string of top-10 performances elsewhere, but the word to sum up Powless’ season was consistency.

Next year, the 27-year-old’s approach will be somewhat similar with an adaptable and all-round schedule of races that will focus on the Spring and the Tour de France for EF Education-EasyPost.

Read more: EF Education-EasyPost Team Talk

However, unlike in 2023 and the previous years, Powless will tackle 2024 with a more finessed view to the early season before aiming for an absolute peak at the Ardennes, and then another high point at the Tour de France, where a stage win or a more robust assault on the mountains jersey will hopefully follow.

“So far the winter has been really smooth and I’m feeling good on the bike. I started a bit earlier than last year, with about five weeks off this time. It feels like the fitness has come back quickly but I just need to manage that because I want to be fresh for later. In 2023 I felt a bit tired once we got to the Ardennes, so for 2024 I want to be more careful and not get overworked,” Powless told GCN at EF Education-EasyPost’s recent training camp in Girona, Spain.

Powless’ aim for the coming year is to retain his versatility and vigour but not spread himself too thin when it matters most. In the past, it’s been an easy pitfall due to the nature of his aggressive style and his willingness to tackle any objective the team gives him.

“Every year I’m learning and trying out new training techniques. I’m fine-tuning things and maybe in 2023 I made a few mistakes but overall I hope I can keep myself fresher for longer. I just need to hold myself back and ensure I don’t overdo things. In training, I’ve often done something extra but just because I can doesn’t mean that I should.”

At the end of the day, however, Powless can’t escape the talents he was born with. He’s an elite all-rounder and one capable of winning the biggest races in the world, but he’s not a pure sprinter and he’s not quite at the same level as the purest climbers. Instead, he falls into the catchment of a puncheur, and that’s certainly not a criticism. It just necessitates that to win more consistently, he needs to tailor his peaks in form.

“I feel like the term puncheur is pretty hard to define. It could be Julian Alaphilippe or Benoît Cosnefroy. Alaphilippe can win mountain stages at the Tour like he did in the past but Cosnefroy could probably not do what Alaphilippe did. So it’s a hard term to nail down, but that is the sort of rider that I am. That allows me to race on almost any terrain and have fun racing my bike all year.

“Next season I’ve got two general peaks, with one in the Spring and then hopefully one more for the Tour. Within that, I want to be good in a few one-day races. I have about three to four weeks in each block where I want to be in top form. It means that I’m playing the first few months of the season a little bit by ear. This year I came into the season a bit hot and heavy so we’re looking for a slower start in 2024 with some races in February.

“One of the things that I learned this year is that I just said yes to everything. I just wanted to keep racing but all of a sudden it caught up with me so in 2024 I have to be more realistic after I come out of either Paris-Nice or Tirreno.”

Tour de France ambitions

July, all being well with regards to selection, will represent Powless’ fifth Tour de France participation in a row. In that time he’s been within a second of the yellow jersey, led the mountains classification and come within a whisper of winning a stage.

Read more: Richard Carapaz: I’m starting from zero but the Tour de France is my ambition

At times it’s felt like that all-out approach has hindered him, but Powless will travel to next year’s Grand Depart in Italy with similar objectives to previous years, just with his focus a little more dialled in.

“I’d like to win something at the Tour, whether it’s a stage or a jersey. I also have a mind towards the Olympics and I’d like to go there with the shot of a medal, and that might be on my mind at the Tour. At the end of the day, I’ll have to go after the goals the team wants me to chase but with the abilities that I have, I’ll get an opportunity one way or another,” he said.

“One day I’d like to go full-on for the polka dot jersey but I don’t know if that’s next year or not. We might need to ride for Richard Carapaz on GC. A stage win is a massive aim too and I’ve been close several times but just missed out.

“I don’t want to pigeonhole myself. One day a race like Flanders would be a dream to win and I’d like to win San Remo one day and Liège. I’d like to win all of them because in my mind I can see myself winning them if the stars align.”

The stars will align for Powless. Next year, though, he’ll just have a little more focus on seeing them.

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