Neilson Powless will go all-in at De Ronde
The American made a powerful cobbled classics debut at Dwars door Vlaanderen
Neilson Powless said he was coming to Flanders with ambitions
In his cobbled classics debut, the American finished third with a very strong ride in Dwars door Vlaanderen. The Belgian press is now raving about Neilson. They already knew he was an explosive one-day racer. Wins at San Sebastian and the Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise proved that. Now, Neilson has proven that he can race over their cobbled bergs too. Belgium is wondering what he might be able to do this Sunday in De Ronde. Neilson’s performance in Dwars door Vlaanderen impressed them.
Neilson went on the attack with 50 kilometers left in the Flemish classic. His teammates had led him through the chaos of the first two-thirds of the race, chasing down splits in the peloton, and making sure that he hit the climbs at the front. On the Côte de Trieu, Neilson responded to a move from Tiesj Benoot and broke clear over the top. Six riders joined them, including Neilson’s teammate Mikkel Honoré. From that moment on, it was a drag race to the finish, as Mikkel and Neilson’s group caught and passed the remnants of the early break and gave everything they had to hold off the charging peloton. Knowing that they would probably be outmatched in the sprint, Neilson and Mikkel couldn’t gamble. The two EF Education-EasyPost teammates took huge turns in the wind to make it to the line ahead. When Jumbo’s Christophe Laporte attacked in the final kilometers, Neilson took off in pursuit, but couldn’t quite close the chase, despite second-placed finisher Oier Lazkano’s help.
Neilson is happy with his performance and is now stoked to take on the 110th Tour of Flanders.
“I was coming to Dwars with the ambition to try to win, so it was really nice to be up there,” Neilson says. “I guess it just confirms my ambitions that I have had ever since the Tour de France last year on the Roubaix stage. I felt strong over the cobbles, and I could still push pretty hard. I felt fluid and solid, so I hope I can be at the front of these races on Sunday. I am really excited to take it one step further on Sunday.”
After finishing third on Wednesday, Neilson was full of praise for his teammate Mikkel Honoré and sports director Andreas Klier.
“We had Andreas in our ear, telling us exactly what was going to happen, and he basically predicted what was going to happen in the race. I think we divvied our roles up pretty well. For the same money, I think Mikkel could have been in my place, but we just worked really well together and came away with a podium spot. That gives us a lot of confidence going into Sunday. I think Mikkel and I both know that we can be up there with the best, so hopefully we can just find ourselves in another similar position for the big one. You always want to win, so it is leaving me hungry for more, but all in all it was a pretty good day.”
It sure was. But De Ronde on Sunday is going to be a bigger beast. It is 90 kilometers longer than Dwars door Vlaanderen, with 19 short, steep hills on the race course. Most are cobbled. Once the peloton hits the first after 114.7 kilometers, they come one after the other. And it is a bunch sprint into each one. All of the top classics riders will be revving to go, ready to take risks and put their bodies on the line to win Flanders.
Mikkel Honoré can’t wait.
“If you thought that the crowds at Dwars were great, wait till Sunday,” he says. “The Belgian people just love these races.”
Sports director Sebastian Langeveld will never forget his first Tour of Flanders.
“You cannot compare De Ronde with any other race,” he says. “The number of spectators is crazy basically. It is unbelievable. My first Flanders that I did I had goosebumps the whole way even though it was pouring rain. It is that one day a year that it is only cycling in Flanders.”
All around the race course, from Brugge to Oudenaarde, people will gather in town squares and out in the hills to barbecue and party and watch the peloton speed around their farmland.
Neilson Powless already loves the atmosphere he has discovered in Belgium.
“It is really good fun,” he says. “They know how to put a good bike race together. They are beautiful races on real racers’ courses. The courses suit me really well. I don’t think I’m just a climber or one-day specialist. I think I am just good when a bike race comes down to endurance and it is hard throughout the day.”
You couldn’t describe De Ronde better. Sebastian Langeveld only hopes that Neilson doesn’t get carried away by the party he is about to experience on the roads in Flanders.
“Neilson is totally capable of doing a really good Flanders, but it is his first Flanders, and there are not many races out there with that many spectators and that history, so for him it will be key to be not racing on adrenaline, just doing his race as much as possible, but also to enjoy it and try to treat it as a normal bike race, even though it isn’t a normal bike race. He was totally in the picture in Dwars. We can have ambition. Not just with Neilson, but with Mikkel, who did a really nice race in Dwars door Vlaanderen. Alberto, who won the race in 2019, is a classics specialist, but had a few problems with his knee, but hopefully he is on track and can also play a role on Sunday."
Good luck at De Ronde guys. It's going to be fun to watch.
Update March 31: Our 2019 Ronde van Vlaanderen winner and classics ace – Alberto Bettiol will be unable to start Flanders this Sunday after developing a fever overnight. He will head back to his home to allow time to recover and to focus on the next races. Julius van den Berg will start in his place on Sunday.