I Came Within 4 Seconds of Wearing the Tour de France’s Yellow Jersey
In his latest VeloNews journal, American cyclist Neilson Powless explains what it was like to come agonizingly close to leading the world’s biggest bike race
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American cyclist Neilson Powless of team EF Education-EasyPost is writing a journal for VeloNews throughout the 2022 Tour de France. Powless recently came within four seconds of the Tour’s coveted yellow jersey, and his latest entry—written after Thursday’s sixth stage—discusses his close call.
Another stage chalked off and after a medium-length transfer I’ve made it to my hotel room for the night. So far the accommodation at the Tour de France hasn’t been too bad actually although the Wi-Fi sucked last night. To be honest, other than the fact that I couldn’t speak to my family, a lack of connectivity was probably for the best.
It meant no social media and frankly less stress after what happened on stage 5. A lot has happened but if you want me to sum up the last two stages in a word it would have to be ‘rollercoaster’. It’s been an incredible ride.
- Neilson Powless’s Tour de France blog: The power and wisdom of a dragon
- Tour de France stage-by-stage guide
Honestly, I don’t know how else to describe it. I keep having random rushes of emotions. At one moment I feel like I could break down and curl up into a ball and then the next moment I feel like I’m on top of the world and realizing that I’m achieving childhood dreams. My mind keeps going back and forth from those alternate states but when I’m in the race I feel like I’m still able to focus on the task at hand and racing with my EF Education–EasyPost teammates.
I can push it to the back of my mind when the flag drops but as soon as I get off my bike I flip between thinking ‘wow I’m second at the Tour de France to ‘man, I could have been in yellow’ and then to ‘but I’m just four seconds from yellow’. It’s so hard to describe. It’s a tug-of-war in my head.
I guess I also want to just set the record straight on a couple of things. Firstly there’s no bad blood between Alberto Bettiol and me. We were both racing for the team and I think the race was so chaotic with everyone operating with limited information. Bettiol and I are pretty good friends and we’d never intentionally race against each other. He just showed again today on stage 6 how much of an incredible teammate he is. He was always putting his nose in the wind for me and always yelling out for me. He was an amazing teammate today. I’ve never doubted him.
Today we threw everything at it and tried to take the jersey but at the end of the day I came up against Tadej Pogacar, and the dude is the best cyclist in the world. He’s an incredible cyclist and it’s unfortunate that I couldn’t take yellow. I have no regrets and the team put all their effort into it for me. I was proud of them and we’re still second in the Tour de France.
Behind the scenes the directors are just telling me to stay focused. They’ve realized that I’m a very practical person, so I don’t dwell on the past much. I’ve learned my lesson in previous races to just trust my body and keep my emotions in check because the differences now between getting dropped and winning all come down to split second decisions that you make throughout the day. All they can do is keep me calm and relaxed because I can get overexcited.
And looking at the overall picture, if you’d said to me during the Tour de Suisse, when there was COVID-19 and all that uncertainty, that I’d be second to Pogacar at the Tour after six stages I’d have asked you who’d crashed out. So far, as a team, we’ve made it pretty far and I just like to race my bike. I enjoy tactics and thinking on my feet and that’s what this race has been about for the last five days. Now all I have to do is trust my body that I’ve trained well enough for the mountains.
Looking ahead, my job is pretty simple. I just need to conserve my energy as much as possible and then essentially race with the favorites. To be honest, that feels like a pretty big privilege. If that plan changes in the coming days, that’s fine. I’ll adapt but I’m going to take pride in racing with the top riders.