Snowbird Resort, Utah —Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team’s Neilson Powless laid down an impressive late stage attack that nearly saw him move onto the podium on Saturday’s penultimate stage of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. The 20-year-old took third on the stage and remains fourth overall at America’s Toughest Stage Race.
“On the final climb, Rally was still chasing, and I let the surges go. I focused on saving every ounce of energy while Sergei, Gavin, and Rob were putting in little digs. When I felt the moment was right, I slowed down enough that when I came back with a little bit of speed, I could hit them hard,” said Powless. “I started to die at the top with about 150 meters to go, but luckily I was able to hold on to a slight gap. It seems like everybody was pretty happy with how the day went.”
Axeon Race Director Jeff Louder said the team entered the penultimate stage with some nerves due to the intimidating profile.
“There was a lot of trepidation going into the stage because it was a pretty unique day with two really hard climbs and such a short race,” said Louder. “The only thing we really knew was that it was going to be a hard day. We went into it planning for a lot of chaos, and I think that’s what we got. The guys handled it with aplomb.”
Stage 6 saw an 18-man breakaway that included Rui Oliveira escape early into the 97.8-kilometer day. As the race reached the first climb, Jonny Brown joined a five-man group that bridged up to the front group. By the time the race reached the second and final categorized climb, everything reshuffled, and a new elite front group featuring Powless formed.
“The plan was to get some guys in the break to help me on the final climb in case everything went ballistic on the first climb, which it more or less did,” said Powless. “We had Jonny up in the move with Rui and that helped. The boys led me up the base of the climb, and I tried to stay as calm as possible and wait until the last bit of the climb to make a difference.”
Louder said that his young riders played the day perfectly to maximize Powless’ chances all the way to the end. It was due to this strong teamwork that Powless finished the hardest stage of the race on the podium.
“We covered all of our bases, so we were able to ride pretty relaxed into the last climb. I think that’s why Neilson was able to ride so well,” said Louder. “I don’t think he was ever under much duress during the stage from a tactical standpoint, all thanks to the efforts of the guys.”
In addition to his podium finish, Powless retained the WCF Insurance Best Young Rider jersey for the fifth consecutive day and remains +0:35 back from race leader Rob Britton (Rally Cycling).
Sunday’s final stage is a 117.8-km circuit race around downtown Salt Lake City. Stage 7 includes an 11-lap course with a steep climb up State Street and should come down to a sprint finish. When asked he felt Britton had secured the overall race win, Louder was quick to say Axeon Hagens Berman will show up ready to race aggressively and take advantage of any opportunities.
“The GC definitely isn’t all sealed up. It’s a hard circuit to keep your team all together, especially with the climb every eight kilometers,” said Louder. “Rally has a lot of good riders breathing down their neck, including Neilson, and we have a really strong team for riding terrain like that. It definitely won’t be a parade.”