Neilson Powless (Axeon Hagens Berman) was on the receiving end of some good news last week when LottoNL-Jumbo announced it had signed the 21-year-old American to a two-year deal. The Dutch WorldTour team was not Powless' first pick, however. Cyclingnews looks into the mechanics of this promising neo-pro's WorldTour deal.
The California native told Cyclingnews he had been talking with Jonathan Vaughters at Cannondale-Drapac since last year. They came to an agreement, Powless said, and the team was supposed to send him a contract on August 1 while he was racing at the Tour of Utah. The contract never came, however, and it still hadn't arrived in the last half of August when Powless was in France with the national team at the Tour de l'Avenir.
Then news came that Cannondale-Drapac, the US World Tour team owned by Slipstream Sports, might not return in 2018 and all riders were released from their 2018 contracts.
"So basically [Vaughters] called my agents Alex and Caleb Fairly and told them that the team was folding and I didn't have a job anymore," Powless said by phone from Norway, where he is preparing to compete at the UCI Road World Championships in the U23 time trial and road race.
Vaughters publicly asked riders to give the team two weeks to find a new sponsor, but Powless' agents immediately went to work putting their rider back on the market.
"They had four offers on the table within a week and a half," Powless said. "That was really impressive on their end. They had multiple riders who were going through the same thing, and to be able to put something like that together in a week and some change is really impressive.
"They did a super job of communicating with me the whole time and keeping me calm, telling me to focus on the task at hand, which was Tour de l'Avenir, so that's what I did," he said.
Powless finished second on the race's mountainous final stage, coming in 2:31 behind winner Pavel Sikavov, who recently signed a three-year deal with Team Sky. Powless finished alone, half a minute ahead of a group that contained overall winner Egan Bernal, who also recently signed a three-year deal with Team Sky.
The result certainly didn't hurt Powless' negotiations, and after multiple phone calls with multiple teams, he reached a deal with LottoNL-Jumbo. Soon after, Cannondale-Drapac announced it had found sponsors that would keep the team afloat.
"It was definitely super weird for me at the time, because I felt like Cannondale was going to be my team, and then I had come to an agreement with another team after I had been released by JV," Powless said.
"At the end of the day, I think it was really terrible what was happening to Cannondale, and it put a lot of guys in a pretty stressful situation. But I'm super happy the team was able to continue. I'm really happy for JV, too, because at the end of the day he did a lot of work to save his business, so respect to that."
But Powless also thinks the situation worked out well for himself as well.
"I'm confident I landed on the right decision," he said, "definitely landed on my feet."
Powless could be joining another American on the Dutch team. Alexey Vermeulen, 22, is in the second year of a two-year deal with LottoNL-Jumbo but hasn't announced if he'll return. Powless said Vermeulen, who he's been friends with for several years, gave the team top marks when they spoke about it.
"I've talked to a couple of other guys on the team, and, seriously, nobody has anything bad to say about the team, which honestly scares me a little bit, but is also really cool," he said.
The idea of joining a new team at the sport's highest level is obviously exciting, but at the moment Powless is focused on Monday's U23 time trial in Bergen and the road race that follows on Friday. His only thoughts about next season involve "going with the flow" of his new situation and thinking about the possibility of returning to the big race he missed out on this year.
Powless finished ninth overall at the 2016 Tour of California and was the best young rider, sharing podium space with the likes of Peter Sagan, Mark Cavendish and Julian Alaphilippe. The California kid didn't get a chance to return to his "home race" this year when Axeon Hagens Berman wasn't invited, however, and he seems to have unfinished business there.
"They mentioned California," he said when asked about a potential race program next year with LottoNL-Jumbo. "They just said that I'd probably be going to California. They said it's a really great race for newer guys and I've done well there in the past. It's a home race for me, so I'd love to do that race."
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