Powless testing his limits at Tour of Utah

Axeon Hagens Berman 20-year-old climbs into best young rider jersey

In 2016, Axeon Hagens Berman's 18-year-old Adrien Costa impressed with his second-place finish at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah ahead of Grand Tour veterans Andrew Talansky and Darwin Atapuma.

With Costa currently taking a break from cycling, all eyes turned to his 20-year-old teammate Neilson Powless, ninth overall in last year's Tour of California and the current US under-23 road race champion.

Powless has put together another successful season so far this year, winning stages at Le Triptyque des Monts et Chateaux and the Baby Giro, where he wore the maglia rosa for two days. He also won the one-day G.P. Palio del Recioto in Italy.

Powless excelled at US nationals, finishing third in the pro time trial and second in the road race, then going to the U23 races, where he finished third again in the time trial and won a stars-and-stripes jersey in the road race.

It was only natural that expectations would start to grow around Powless' potential for more success in Utah, but the California native says he's not really feeling any pressure to live up to Costa's 2016 result.

"Adrien had an incredible ride last year," Powless said. "He's just an incredible rider in general. I think that Utah really fits his rider build. I think that I'm the type of rider who could do well here as well."

Powless proved he's a contender Tuesday during the stage 2 mountain top finish at Snowbasin Resort. Powless finished seventh on the stage won by BMC Racing's Brent Bookwalter, two seconds down in a group of nine riders. Rally Cycling's Sepp Kuss leads the overall race, followed by Bookwalter and Elevate-KHS' James Piccoli, who are all tied on time.

Powless made the select group of about 20 riders on the final climb, then slugged it out as attacks flew and chasers countered.

"It wasn't a crazy-steep uphill finish," Powless said of the final climb. "It was a bit more tactical. It was a bit more explosive. Every now and then I was trying to meter the attacks by letting them go a little bit, because I'd look at my power meter and be like, 'OK, there's no way they're doing that for 3km. They're going to have to slow up at some point.'

"I just tried to keep it more steady," he said. "I tried to go a couple times, but no one was really letting me go either. I had one teammate, Jhonatan Narvaez, in the group, which was really nice. He went early on, and then when we caught him he went again before the finish, which was really impressive and helped me out a lot, too."

Piccoli put in the final major attack and held a gap that looked like he might take the upset win, but Bookwalter put in a final burst of speed that only Kuss could follow, and they overtook Piccoli just ahead of the line. Powless and eight others came in seconds later.

It was a good ride that kept Powless in the general classification running, but the Axeon rider said it was really just a day to test his legs before the next GC challenges come over the rest of the week.

"I wasn't thinking about the pressure at all," he said while seated next to Kuss at the post-stage press conference. "I was just really thinking about finding out what I could do and seeing where my limits are. I think I've got a good idea going into the rest of the week, so the goal now is to move forward and do the best I can."

Asked what today's effort showed him, Powless seemed pleased with the day's result.

"I'm pretty confident," he said. "It's going to be pretty tough to rip the jersey off this dude's shoulders, but it will be a good time. I'll have fun with it."

He'll get his next chance during Wednesday's uphill 9km time trial and then again during Saturday's Queen stage to Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort.

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