Oak Glen, California – Neilson Powless finished fifth for the Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team Thursday after teammate Justin Oien was in the breakaway for more than half of the 122-kilometer stage of the Redlands Bicycle Classic.
By finishing seven seconds after stage winner Sepp Kuss (Gateway Harley Davidson-Trek U25 Cycling Team3600), Powless made a big move up the overall standings. The 19-year-old from Roseville, California, climbed from 52nd to 16th overall and is 43 seconds off the lead heading into Friday's individual time trial.
Two other Axeon Hagens Berman riders were in the top 25 and are also within a minute of the lead. Phil O'Donnell finished 25th and slotted into 17th overall, two seconds behind Powless. Geoffrey Curran finished 21st and is in 24th place overall, 51 seconds back.
Lucas Haedo (Team Jamis) assumed the overall lead from teammate Ruben Companioni after finishing third on the stage. Lachlan Morton (Jelly Belly presented by Maxxis) was runner-up and moved into second overall, two seconds back.
Oien spent about half of the race in a five-man breakaway while his teammates conserved energy in the peloton behind. The 20-year-old who lives in Escondido, California, was first part of a group of eight that rolled off the front on the second of six laps of a circuit around Yucaipa. But not long after, a larger group of more than two dozen riders bridged the gap to them.
Powless and Curran initially missed the move and had to chase hard to join it."We definitely burned a few matches to bridge up," Powless said.
But once on board – and with few in the large group willing to push the pace – Oien and Robin Carpenter (Holowesko-Citadel presented by Hincapie Sportswear) went on the attack again. Three riders joined them and the escape was on. Working well together, the five riders built a lead of nearly four minutes. But the gap was down to fewer than two as Carpenter and Oien – the last two riders from the breakaway – reached the foot of the climb to the finish.
"It is always something in the back of your head that you can make it to the finish," Oien said. "But I was pretty sure the pack wanted to bring it back. On the hill, they can bring back a lot of time. We were doing pretty well on the circuits because we were working really well. But once we got to the climb, it was just pure power."
As the peloton was closing in on the leading pair, Axeon's Jonny Brown and Chad Young made sure Curran, O'Donnell and Powless were well positioned for the inevitable attacks in the final five kilometers. When Jelly Belly riders who were driving the chase eased up, Curran put in a few attacks to further soften up the group.
San Dimas Stage Race winner Janier Acevedo (Team Jamis) then attacked with a kilometer to go and Powless was quick to follow.
"The whole group pretty much blew up and Kuss was on my wheel," Powless said. "I was pretty gassed after following Acevedo's move and Sepp came around me with 500 meters to go. A couple more guys came around me, but I got around three guys with 200 meters to go. I was pretty happy with how I finished."
Friday's 11.4 km out-and-back time trial climbs 610 meters to its midpoint then mostly descends on the way back to the finish. Powless said he hopes to continue his move up the overall standings.
"My time trailing has been good in the past," he said. "I know I can go uphill fairly well, so it will be a matter of how everybody else is going. I was ninth at the time trial at the Chico Stage Race, which was a fairly good showing. I think there is going to be a lot of shuffling of the GC (general classification) and I hope it is going to be in my favor."