By Jonny Long published
Neilson Powless outsprinted Matej Mohorič to win Clásica San Sebastián 2021, the American's first-ever professional victory.
Holding off the peloton, it was between Powless, Mohorič and Deceuninck - Quick-Step's Mikkel Honoré into the finale, Mohorič leading from the front and opening up his sprint first before Powless persevered, bringing the Slovenian back and pipping him on the line.
It was a breathless finish after a crash in the closing kilometres, Mohorič unclipping on a bend but managing to stay upright, Honoré behind him crashing into a wall and his bike rebounding to take out Lorenzo Rota (Intermarché - Wanty Gobert).
That allowed Powless to take another gap out at the front of the race, he had already attacked a few kilometres previously after hard work from team-mate Simon Carr, before Mohorič brought him to heel before the summit of the final climb.
Powless' joy was infectious after the line, fist-bumping his way past fans to the podium as Alessandro Covi and Julian Alaphilippe led the peloton across the line a minute in arrears.
How it happened
After 100km of racing a dozen or so riders were up ahead in the day's break, including UAE Team Emirates' Valerio Conti, Lilian Calmejane (Total Energies) and José Joaquin Rojas (Movistar), but it was Astana Premier-Tech's former triathlete Javier Romo who launched an attack on the Jazkibel climb from the front of the race, the first of three climbs in the latter half of the race.
One and a half minutes further back in the peloton, Romo's team-mate Yuriy Natarov almost crashed, the rain making the roads on the descent hazardous.
50km to go and Jumbo-Visma fought to close a small gap that appeared in the peloton, the space to the front of the race starting to shrink, before a trio of Bora-Hansgrohe riders, including Wilco Kelderman, were brought down in a crash that looked to have also involved two motos.
UAE Team Emirates took up pacing duties in the bunch before Bahrain-Victorious' Mikel Landa attacked, EF's Simon Carr following and Romo brought back quickly on the Erlaitz climb.
Carr was then solo up the road, 15 seconds ahead of Landa and half a minute on the bunch. The wet descent once more made it sketchy as Carr's advantage began to stretch, a poursuivant group then going off the front of the peloton containing Honoré, Mohorič, Rota and Powless, who soon bridged the gap to the Brit.
Ineos joined Trek-Segafredo on the front of the bunch, 51 seconds the gap and less than 20km to the line. This had come down to half a minute with 16km to go but 3km later was back out to above the one-minute mark.
A crash in the peloton involving Mikel Landa then occurred just outside the 10km mark, as up ahead Mohorič drove the pace for the front group, Simon Carr dropping, his work done, and Powless then going with a little over a kilometre to the summit, no response coming immediately from Mohorič or the others. Behind, Giulio Ciccone attacked the peloton, 1-11 the gap and time running out.
Slowly, Mohorič upped the speed behind Powless, the American out of his saddle trying to increase the gap with 300m to the summit as the Basque fans went wild at the roadside.
But with 150m on the steep gradient Mohorič had single-handedly made it back to Powless, Honoré on his wheel and Lorenzo Rota dropped momentarily.
On the descent, disaster. Mohorič round a corner unclipped, the surface slippy, Honoré crashing into a wall but staying on the right side, his rebounding bike taking out Rota.
Powless, unaffected, found himself off the front once again, this time with 3.5km to go, Mohorič then getting back once again to the EF rider’s wheel, with Honoré further behind.
Mohorič then came through to pull but it wasn’t enough to stave off Honoré into the final 1.5km and a three-up sprint would now decide it.
The Slovenian continued to keep the pace up, the trio spreading out into the final kilometre, before it came back together as they swung round to the left into the final 500m.
Mohorič, Powless, Honoré, the Slovenian on front checking behind him. Round the final bends and Mohoric went from the front, Powless slowly but surely gaining and then passing the Tour de France stage winner to claim his first professional victory.
Clásica San Sebastián 2021: San Sebastián to San Sebastián (223.5km)
1. Neilson Powless (USA) EF Education - Nippo, in 5-34-31
2. Matej Mohorič (Slo) Bahrain-Victorious
3. Mikkel Honoré (Den) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, both at same time
4. Lorenzo Rota (Ita) Intermarché-Wanty Gobert, at 30s
5. Alessandro Covi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates, at 1-04
6. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck - Quick-Step
7. Odd Christian Eiking (Nor) Intermarché - Wanty Gobert
8. Jonas Vingegaard (Den) Jumbo-Visma
9. Gianni Moscon (Ita) Ineos Grenadiers
10. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo, all at same time
Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.
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