Neilson Powless shines on first go at Roubaix cobbles
Early break pays off for the American
Neilson Powless was at the front of the fifth stage of the Tour de France with a kilometre to go after 11 sectors of Paris-Roubaix’s roughest cobbles.
He’d already gained time on GC, avoided the crashes. His rivals were behind him, chasing desperately. He’d put them under pressure from the start of the race, when he and his teammate Magnus Cort joined the early break. Now, he could only think of one thing: the stage win. Just before the red kite, he attacked up the side of the road. His former break mates looked at each other. It was a well-timed move. All the soigneurs in the finish paddock caught their breath. So did the millions of people who were watching the race at home on television. Most were willing him on. It was a bit too much to hope for. The break took up the chase and brought Neilson back just before the line.
He now sits second on GC, 13 seconds back, as the Tour heads closer and closer to the mountains. Nevertheless, Neilson had achieved what he had set out to do.
“I’m very, very happy,” he said afterwards. “I accomplished my goal of getting into the breakaway ahead of all the mess. I was able to move up a few spots on GC, which was a bonus. In the end, I was just happy to be up there and safe.”
That was his plan from the start.
“We had some long chats last night with Matti and Tom and Andreas and we kind of fizzled around various different options, trying to work out how to achieve what we wanted to achieve,” said EF Education-EasyPost sports director Charly Wegelius. “And when we have those talks, we usually try to throw everything in the pot and in the end we rearrange things until we see something that we like. Towards the end, we came up with the idea of: why not get them out ahead of it?"
That's what Neilson did, and once he was away, he only had to focus on riding the best line over the cobbles. That had a lot to do with Magnus Cort’s efforts. He is the Tour's King of the Mountains at the moment, but he joined Neilson in the break and rode like a lion to keep him out front. It was his fourth day in a row in the break.
“Magnus was taking longer pulls than anyone all day just trying to help us stay away,” Neilson said. “Especially after the Tour he’s already had, when he’s spent so many hours off the front, I’m really thankful to him for all the work he did for me today.”
Magnus was happy to work for Neilson.
“Our main goal was for me to keep Neilson safe and win time on GC," he said, "so it was all in all a good day. He was close to yellow and a stage win. It would have been nice to get those two things as well, but you can’t win everything.”
Maybe. But Neilson still has more work to do.
“He’s extremely focused,” Charly Wegelius says. “I don’t think he’s doing cartwheels, because I think he’s aware of how close he got, but he’s very ambitious.”
After a tricky day tomorrow in the Ardennes, Neilson will have another chance to do just that Friday, when the Tour hits its first mountain-top finish at La Super Planche des Belles Filles.