Neilson Powless had to stop to catch his breath just after the finish of the 2014 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships. In a crash during during the descent on the final lap, just meters from the finish, the young American had gotten the wind knocked out of him.
Nonetheless, as he assessed his damage post-crash, Powless was all smiles after what was a strong performance in the junior cross country world championship in Hafjell, Norway. He rode to eighth place.
Showing wisdom beyond his years, Powless said, "The start was super intense and we were running almost the whole first climb. I tried to stay calm - I knew that was going to happen. I had practiced running my bike up that section, including where to get off and where to get back on."
"I told myself it was no biggie, it would be a long race, and I'd have time to make it up, and I did. There were some big groups forming early on and I was able to pass people in bulk. I figured as long as I could stay on my bike, I'd be good."
He did just that, steadily working his way up and finishing eighth place - almost seventh, until he lost one spot in the final crash.
"I just rode my own race, kept my own rhythm and didn't go outside of myself. It paid off and it was a good day," he said. "When I crashed at the end, my adrenaline was going so hard, I didn't even feel the fall. All I could think of was getting back on my bike and getting down that last little wooden section. I'm glad it wasn't worse and I only lost one spot."
Powless has had some strong international results this season. In Albstadt at the junior race associated with the World Cup, he was 10th and in Nove Mesto, another junior race at a World Cup, he was sixth.
His eighth place at Worlds was a big improvement over finishing 32nd last year at Worlds in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.
"Three top 10 finishes at the biggest races in the World with the toughest competition makes me happy," he said.
About the only big race that didn't go well this season for Powless was the US National Championships. "At nationals, I was 30th. I got a flat on the first lap and had to run a full lap because six guys on our team had already flatted and used up all our team's wheels at the lower pit. I had to run another half lap to the pit at the top of the course to get a wheel."
Showing his positive attitude despite the misfortune, Powless said, "It was still fun to get to ride with some of the U23 guys and figure out their riding style. I move up to U23 next year and I'm excited for that. I hope to get over here and do some World Cups. I want to see what I can do in that age category."
Powless kicked off his Worlds in Norway the day before the junior cross country race as one of the members of the US Team Relay squad, which finished fourth place.
"The team relay was a fun day and it took some of the pressure off today. Finishing fourth in a team relay in the worlds helped me today," he said.
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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews. She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.