Sign up for our newsletter


Neilson Powless on Rigoberto Urán and inspiring Native Youth of America at the Tour de France

Cyclist catches up with Neilson Powless during the second week of the Tour de France

Robyn Davidson
14 Jul 2022

It’s currently Stage 12 of the Tour de France and the peloton is set to scale the famed Alpe d’Huez.

Neilson Powless attacked from the flag drop to get away in a solo breakaway before being joined by a chasing group.

He sits 20th overall for his EF Education-EasyPost team.

To simply recap the events of the past day alone would be akin to writing War and Peace, but if you can, cast your minds back to Stage 6.

Powless came within just four seconds of wearing the yellow jersey.

‘It’s a shame I was just four seconds too short,’ Powless reflects, ‘but in the end, it was still a massive privilege to be second overall in this race.

‘It changed my goals a little bit when I found myself in that position and it’s been exciting just racing with the top guys. I didn’t think I was going to be there this year. But here I am.’

As EF Education-EasyPost’s highest-placed rider on general classification, Powless is in a protected role. The team will try their best to position him correctly, chase down moves and ensure he saves energy for when it matters most.

Photo: Michael Steele via Getty Images

He explains that it’s a role he enjoys. Not just because of the competitive aspect, but because ‘the days are shorter’.

‘Riding in the gruppetto in the last few years on some of the mountain stages... it crushes you. You finish 20 minutes down, just completely empty.

‘But after being there, all it is, is getting through a few pivotal points in the race. Then you get a free ride in the wheels until the final climb or final pivotal moment.’

Today is the famed Alpe d’Huez – on none other than Bastille Day – a combination certain to produce a flare-waving, fan-running, party-going treat for the eyes.

Powless is sure to relish the atmosphere too, but he’s mindful to look beyond the drama and not let the occasion get in the way of tactics.

‘Beyond those days, I have to conserve energy and get from A to B as fast as possible. I’m hoping I’ll be able to take back time in the [Stage 20] time-trial.

‘It’s a long one with a false flat descent most of the day, which is going to be good for me compared to a lot of climbers.’

Sylvain Lefevre via Getty Images

The 25-year-old says the biggest lesson he is learning at this year’s Tour de France is to keep a cool head and save watts wherever possible.

‘At least in the mountain stages, I feel like I have to race with a little bit less emotion and think about things in a very practical and mechanical sense. How can I save every watt throughout the day?

‘On days that are flat or more mixed terrain, then it’s a bit more of racing on instinct and choosing when to use your energy.’

But in a sense, Powless isn’t alone in this endeavour. He’s on a team with Rigoberto Urán, a man with experience in abundance, and one who Powless says is as much teacher as leader.

‘He’s such a seasoned pro. I don’t think there’s anybody else that I could learn more from.

‘Urán moves like butter through the peloton. He always seems to be where he needs to be, but at the last possible moment, because he loves to save every ounce of energy possible.

‘That’s something I’ve tried to be better at over the last few years. I’ve definitely learned a lot from him. The way he rides, the way he races, and just the way he acts on and off the bike.

‘I wish I could be as cool as him.’

Not through lack of trying. To mark the historic nature of the upcoming Tour de France Femmes, EF collaborated with Palace Skateboards again to produce an attention-grabbing pink jersey resplendent – depending on who you ask – with dinosaur graphics.

Powless wears the iconic kit throughout the Tour de France, as the women’s team will wear it for their Grand Tour.

‘I love them. The message is great. It’s perfectly flashy. If you have a message you want to get out, you have to do something wild.’

The importance of messages and representation cannot be understated. Powless is the first tribally recognised native North American to ride the Tour of France and says he’s happy to be in a position to inspire the Native Youth of America.

‘Any chance that we can get to inspire is massive.

‘It all just starts with a role model. If you can see somebody else doing it, then it’s really motivating to you as a human being.

‘I’m really happy that I can be a role model for tribal nations and hopefully I can play a more hands-on role in development over the next 10 years.’

For all coverage, head to our Tour de France hub

Main image: Tim de Waele via Getty Images

Read more about: