The Tour takes on Roubaix
Neilson Powless hopes he can gain time on the Tour’s fifth stage
Neilson Powless doesn’t quite know what he is in for today
The fifth stage of the Tour de France will cross 11 of the roughest cobblestone sectors from Paris-Roubaix and, while Neilson is a climber, he can’t wait to try his luck on the rugged farm roads of Nord-Pas-de-Calais.
“I see it as an opportunity,” he says. “It is going to be pretty nuts. There is going to be a lot of fighting for position and jostling in the bunch. At the end of the day, some guys are going to come out in front and some guys are going to fall behind. If you are talented and fit and super strong, you are going to be there. Then, it will be a matter of how good you are at reading the bunch and how much risk you are willing to take.”
EF Education-EasyPost sports director Matti Breschel thinks that Neilson is going to be fine.
“I’m not too nervous about Neilson to be honest,” he says.
Matti was a classics rider himself and still loves the rough and tumble races that are held every spring on the worst farm roads in Belgium and northern France. Neilson might be more at home in the Pyrenées and Alps, but “he is a great bike handler, and he has got a great team to back him up,” Matti says.
Jonas Rutsch finished 11th at Paris-Roubaix last season, while Alberto Bettiol is a Tour of Flanders champion. Stefan Bissegger loves racing on cobbles. So does Owain Doull. Magnus Cort is the Tour’s King of the Mountains right now, but he’s a classics rider at heart.
Whatever happens, they are going to be there for Neilson.
Nevertheless, it will be chaotic, especially if the wind is blowing. GC riders like Neilson will have to race on the limit and risk their overall chances to gain time on their rivals.
“The cobblestones are brutal, and anything can go wrong, so you just have to prepare for the worst,” Matti says. “Today will be a stage like no other in the Tour de France. You have to race the cobblestones from the front. We have a good team. The goal for Neilson is to get to Arenberg safely without losing time. A lot of GC guys are going to lose tomorrow.”
Neilson is determined not to be one of them.
“I am definitely just looking at it as an opportunity and hope that I have the skillset to get in the right place at the right time,” he says.
Neilson knows that if he can get in the right move on the cobblestones, he’ll be in a much stronger position when the Tour reaches his favourite terrain. By the end of the week, he'll be flying up mountains, but today he's got to race like a classics rider.