As of Friday, Neilson Powless will be riding his third Tour de France, and even though he's not turned a pedal stroke in anger yet, the EF Education-EasyPost pro already knows one thing he likes about this year's race: the team kit.
Already famous for being the cycling team that made Argyle-pattern socks a positive fashion statement (in certain circles) and whose Donald Duck kit brought them praise and fines in equal measure (as well as ultra-rapid sell-outs of said kit), earlier this month EF Education-EasyPost revealed another striking Tour de France design, aimed at highlighting the links between men's and women's cycling.
"I'm digging the new kit, I've sent a lot of pictures to friends and families and they're all pretty big fans because of how much it stands out," Powless said at his team's pre-Tour press conference.
"The idea behind it, in terms of how to bring awareness to the women's Tour being back on and celebrating that is a super-awesome thing to do. It's really cool the team took that initiative.
"My sister [Shayna] is a pro cyclist [with L39ION of Los Angeles - Ed.] and she just got fourth in Nationals which is pretty cool, pretty exciting. I'm hoping one year she can do the women's Tour [Tour de France Femmes] and she's hoping for the same. So I feel like I'm super happy to be a part of the team that is taking a step forward trying to transfer some those eyes on us into women's cycling."
Even before he made it to the Tour, it's been a good year for Powless, with fourth in the Tour de Suisse as well as eighth in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, two standout results. But his breakthrough moment was undoubtedly taking the Donostia San Sebastián Klasika, or Clásica San Sebastián as it was formerly known, last year.
Dig back further, though, and it turns out Powless has already racked up two top five places in Tour stages back in his debut year of 2020. So after completing the Tour de France for a second time in 2021 and breaking into the top 50 in 43rd place overall, the aim is to shoot higher in 2022.
"I'd like to win a stage, that's probably the highest personal priority, but we're coming here with Rigo [Urán] again as the main leader," Powless added.
"In the past few weeks, both Ruben [Guerreiro] and myself have been getting stronger in the mountains, so hopefully we'll be there to support and backup for Rigo'. And beyond that, I just need to make it through the first week safely. I think that's what a lot of guys have on their agenda, just getting through Denmark and Roubaix."
In terms of inspiration, though, Powless will surely be looking as much to how his sister Shayna has managed to battle to a fourth place in the road race at the USA Cycling Pro Road Nationals, and her tenacity and determination to get there, as he'll be looking at his own results.
Certainly, he told reporters, her fight to continue as a professional racer was something he drew strength from himself. And if the EF jersey provided the theory of the potential for unity between the two sides of the sport, his lengthy description of what she'd had to go through to get there and why that mattered to him so much - given in full below - highlighted that connection in a practical and much deeper way.
"My sister definitely didn't have as many opportunities as I did to make cycling to have a real sustainable career path for herself," the 25-year-old said about his sibling, three years his senior.
"She continued cycling through college, she went to UCLA [University of California, Los Angeles] for four years. She continued training throughout the whole period but she had a pretty tough workload with kinesiology and psychology degrees.
"She was still so passionate about it. It was crazy to see her pushing through exams and the workload that came with going to a good school and she put a lot of work into being able to keep her cycling up through her schooling," her brother noted.
"But that's mainly because she did not have the same opportunity as I had when I was 19, 20 - being able to go straight to Europe and make my living. So in a lot of ways, it's super-inspiring to me, just to see what she's been able to do with her cycling career.
"She's got her degree and continued cycling the whole time. Now there's a really good chance she would have been national champion if the break had been caught because she won from the group behind."
Last Sunday in Knoxville, Tennessee, Emma Langley (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB) won the US Pro Road Race Championship for elite women by sprinting ahead of breakaway companion Lauren De Crescenzo (Cinch Rise) in the final 500 metres. Powless almost chased down and caught defending road race champion Lauren Stephens (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB), who finished six seconds in front of Powless for the final spot on the podium.
"And being able to race at that level, after being in school and moving around different states with her fiancé, who's in the NFL, and she's also coaching 10 athletes. She has a lot of things going on the side, has to supplement her income, basically just to continue income.
"It's super-inspiring that she can continue to pursue her passion and has made it work. It's a big inspiration for me but it hasn't come without its own difficulties."
The here and now in Denmark
Going back to the here and now for Neilson Powless, he admitted that the start in Denmark was going to be a tricky one, but interesting as well. Kicking off with a time trial, he pointed out, would give the race some structure, but he warned that it would not be straightforward all the same.
"It's still not going to take away the hectic fight for position if there's wind and if there's a technical finish.
"Even this riding around for the last few days, the wind has not felt comfortable, it's felt like it's been swirling around. So even if somebody says there might be a headwind or there might be a tailwind, it's going to be so unpredictable, we'll get echelons anyway. And that bridge [on stage 2] looks pretty intimidating."
Powless argued that in any case, the attitude he needed to bring to the Tour this year was the same as ever: "throw your hat in the ring, be aggressive, and get yourself into position."
"Looking at the team we've brought here I'm pretty confident we can do some damage, not just hang around but really initiate something. So hopefully that happens."
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