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Neilson Powless: "I'll set the spring Classics as a more serious goal in 2024"

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

After an impressive season, the pro peloton’s Captain America Neilson Powless joined us for a chat on the Domestique Cycling Podcast. We learnt more about Neilson’s life outside of cycling, we discussed his 2023 season and looked forward to his 2024 goals.

© EF Pro Cycling

Hi Neilson! Are you enjoying offseason?

Neilson Powless: "Sure! We recently welcomed our first daughter Charlotte Ann to the world so it has been pretty busy. There have been some big life changes, but it’s very exciting. I’ve been happy to be back in the USA for a while having some family support. The time at home has been incredible."

How is your newborn daughter doing?

"She’s doing great. She is growing like a weed and by next year she is going to become a well-travelled baby. My wife took her on a little ‘test run’ as she flew out from Texas to California for the weekend and apparently she took it like a champ. She was completely silent for the whole flight. I hope that will bode well for the 15-hour flight back to France."

We saw on Instagram you've participated in a gravel race recently. How did it go?

"It was loads of fun. I actually rode on a mountain bike because I didn’t have a gravel bike, but I did manage to end up sneaking onto the podium which was really cool. It wasn’t the biggest of events in the world, it was pretty grassroots but still so much fun. We finished just ahead of a brewery and I brought back some fresh sourdough bread from the farm the race finished at."

You signed a long extension with EF Education - EasyPost until 2027. Did other teams reach out to you?

"I was getting some interest from a few other teams, but when that happened, EF had already mentioned that they were wanting to extend my contract. My relationship with the team has been nothing but positive over the last four years and when they offered me the extension, I was super happy to continue my journey."

Have you met all of the team's new signings yet?

"I met all of the new guys at the recent training camp. I actually got back just a few days ago. It was a busy week, so I was just taking it all in. We were there with the Men and Women’s team so there was around 200 people and about half of them were new to me. I feel like the team has taken on a new form for next year, trying to integrate the women’s team to the men’s team. Furthermore, there are so many new young riders coming into the team. We have just enough of the older guys to wrangle all the young kids together. I think I will be taking on a shepherding role when it comes to the younger guys. I'll try to teach team. The faster they learn, the better it will be for everyone."

I will be taking on a shepherding role when it comes to the younger guys. The faster they learn, the better for everyone

How much did you learn yourself from Rigoberto Uran?

"I learnt a lot from him. Every time we have gone to the Tour de France together, I was there to help him out. Last year was different circumstances of course, but for my first three Tour de France’s, I was going there in support of Rigoberto. He certainly taught me a lot about how to become a great leader and how to be someone that people want to hurt themselves for."

Will Rigoberto get a role as a staff member?

"Last year at the Tour de France we kind of developed a new role into the team. I don’t know if every team does it, but we would always have one sports director in a hotel room watching the live coverage. This was so they could always have an overhead view of what was happening in the race, because in the team cars the TV coverage cuts out a lot. The member watching would be on the phone with the guys in the car so they could be relaying information. Last year Rigo was joking about how that would just be the perfect job for him. He could just go to whatever hotel he wanted to, watch the Tour all day and chat with the directors."

What was it like to be a part of the early years of Team Jumbo-Visma?

"I was helping Primoz when he won the Vuelta. Back then I could already tell that the team was going to be a powerhouse eventually in the peloton. We had a lot of super strong guys and you could clearly see the direction the team was moving in. Unfortunately, with having those strong guys comes along limited chances for riders like me. I wouldn’t have had the success I have had at this point without the freedom EF has given to me. In terms of leaving Jumbo-Visma, I really wanted to see what I could do in the big races if I was given the chance. At the end of the day, I want to win races and to give that a shot, I’m really happy with how it’s going."

What did you learn from your time there?

"I learned a lot about nutrition during my time there. They did a lot of great work with me. I also learned a lot about my physiology, about the way different training plans affect me personally because everyone’s different.

The culture shock was pretty big and I think it was good to get it out of the way quickly because moving from America to Europe is a pretty big change. Even bigger when you’re racing for a Dutch team on a Belgian work visa."

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You are the World Tour's first and only tribally recognized indigenous North American cyclist, being 25% Oneida heritage. Can you tell us a little more about that?

"My Grandfather was 100% Oneida indigenous, my dad is half, and I am 25% myself. My Grandpa lived on the reservation pretty much his whole life and my dad spent time on it, but didn’t live on it his entire life. He spent most of his childhood with his mum off the reservation. My dad went into the military at the age of 18 and was always proud of the indigenous culture as it was very important for him. He made sure we would always fly from Wisconsin to California although it was a 4 and a ½ hour flight. We would go and spend time on the reservation reconnecting with family and our roots."

How did you get into cycling?

"My parents met when racing triathlons, so growing up as a family we would go and kind of work out as a family. I call it working out, but to me it felt like we were just playing. I was racing triathlons for as long as I could remember. Cycling was always better for me than swimming and running. Eventually I started doing more and more bike races and fewer triathlons until some opportunities presented themselves to join a team. I ended up going to bigger races and being able to fight for a spot on the national team to get my name out there in Europe where I got offers from teams when I was 19 or 20 years old."

Can you tell us something more about your sister's Dreamcatcher foundation?

"Founded in 2019 the aim is to empower Native American Youths through sports, where on reservations the equipment and athletic mentorship can be scarce. My sister is trying to give opportunities in terms of having a support structure in place. If the kids have a role model, if they have someone come and explain to them how to get into sports it helps a lot. Beside the sports side of things, they also raise awareness of the underreported epidemic of missing and murdered Native American women who make up 40% of America’s sex trafficking victims."

"My sister and her fiancé Eli have been doing an incredible job in getting the message out. Eli is a professional American football player for the Buffalo Bills, so his influence is huge. He was able to secure a spot on the NFL Network to advertise their mission and they created an incredible short film. You can find it on the Dreamcatcher Foundation website."

Do you feel like you lacked equipment and mentorship when you were younger?

"Personally no. I didn’t grow up on the reservation and luckily, I was in a community where a lot of people were really great at supporting you. There were fundraise bake sales to make sure I could travel to a race. A flight to Europe was pretty expensive for my family back then. It actually gave me a little bit more motivation too because everyone helped me to get to that point. They believe in me and you know you have to show them that you deserved the money."

© EF Pro Cycling

2023 was a big year for American cycling. What is the legacy of Sepp Kuss' La Vuelta victory?

"You know he just emerged from the ashes like a phoenix, just turning into an A-list cyclist is pretty incredible. He was able to just keep a handle on the leadership of that team which is just unbelievable to do that by itself."

You were on Jumbo-Visma with him in 2018 and 2019. Do you have a good connection with him?

"We were neo pros at Jumbo-Visma together and we lived together for a few years so we got to know each other very well. Funnily enough he was teammates with my sister on a mountainbike team like 10 yeas ago. I kind of looked up to him back then because he was a few years ahead of me. We’ve been keeping in contact. He is just an awesome dude."

Let’s look back on 2023 one last time. In general, how happy were you with your season?

"I am very happy about my 2023 season. I think I learned a lot about myself during the spring Classics. That really motivates me to set that as a more serious goal this year. It does kind of feel like my season trailed off a little bit after the spring. In the Tour I was able to find some fitness again and get myself out in the front of the race. I managed that quite a few times which I was really proud of but physically I just felt off. I just wasn’t riding at the level I should have been at or felt like I could have been. There are just some tweaks I need to make there, but in general I was really proud of what I was able to accomplish. It was the greatest experience ever being on the podium of the Tour de France. That was a dream come true."

I learned a lot about myself during the 2023 spring Classics. That motivates me to set that as a more serious goal in 2024

What did you expect going into the cobbled classics in 2023?

"Before I raced in Dwars door Vlaanderen I wasn’t sure what to expect. I figured that I was just there to get to know the roads and to learn how the rhythm of the race goes. Not finishing the race would have been a shame, but as it was my first time out there, it would have been okay. I was able to crack a podium in that race and I was like 'oh man I have got to take advantage of this', because feeling comfortable in that race meant the fitness for cobbled races is there. I was like let's go to the Tour of Flanders and try and win. I enjoyed trying and I am proud of my 5th place."

What was it like to compete in the Tour of Flanders?

"I felt very relaxed going into the race because the team was still so excited about me finishing on the podium at Dwars door Vlaanderen. I think I surprised some people but I didn't feel any pressure for Tour of Flanders. I was able to fully enjoy the experience. My wife was there with a lot of our friends. During the race I had lost my head unit on my computer in a crash with about 40 to 50 kilometers to go so I had no idea where we were at or how long we were on the bike. That made it even harder. Luckily, I had a great sports director in my ear. Andreas was just telling me when all the climbs were coming and to be in position ready."

What will your 2024 season look like?

"We are still working out which classics I am going to be racing. The Ardennes have been alluding me the past few years, so hopefully I can put it together. Getting sick is the thing that tends to set me back. I would like to race Milano-Sanremo, Dwars door Vlaanderen and Tour of Flanders too. If it feels like I’m starting to lose energy I would be willing to give up competing in any of them just to keep myself healthy. Ideally, I would like to be back on the cobblestones this year and we sort of have a loose schedule made. I am very lucky the team let’s me do that."

"Regarding the Tour de France and the Olympics, the Olympics are a very big goal for me as well along with competing in the Tour again. I really want to go to the Olympics as I missed the Tokyo games. I have been dreaming about the Olympics my entire life. I really want to do everything I can to make a victory happen."

Watch the full episode with Neilson Powless below:


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