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Neilson Powless pulled off one of the more surprising rides of the elite men's road race at the 2021 World Championships with an unexpected fifth place on Sunday.
The American rider, who won the Clásica de San Sebastián earlier this season, made the right move to battle it out for the final two podium spots behind winner Julian Alaphilippe (France).
Powless, who rides for EF Education-Nippo, managed to beat the likes of Wout van Aert, Sonny Colbrelli, and Mathieu van der Poel as they marked each other once Alaphilippe attacked. It's the first time an American rider has made the top-10 at the World Championships since Tyler Farrar managed it in 2011, and their best result since 1999.
Speaking after the race, Powless said: "It was just an amazing experience being up there. I did as best as I possibly could have. It was unfortunate to lose Quinn [Simmons] to a crash."
Powless was not the main plan for the American team, with Simmons down as the number one guy in the final part of the race. But after Simmons' crash, Powless was well placed and clearly had good legs.
"I think I saw a few guys going down in the Leuven circuits pretty far out when the race was on," Powless said. "So I was pretty disappointed to lose some team-mates. But in the end, I think we rode a pretty great race, and I was so happy just to be racing at the front of the World Championships."
The US lost all but Powless and American time trial champion, Lawson Craddock (who finished 57th) but they weren't the only ones as only 68 riders out of 194 finished the race.
It was made hard very early by France's Benoît Cosnefroy and Belgium's Remco Evenepoel doing the early damage. Alaphilippe tried a move with 40km to go on the Moskestraat climb before the racing really got going.
Powless found himself in all the right moves throughout the race and managed to make his way into contention for the medals.
Team director and newly retired pro, Tejay Van Garderen, said: "I kind of decided which guys I wanted to save for the final and which guys I wanted to have move a little earlier. Nielson, I wanted to put in that earlier move. We lost Quinn, and I had wanted to save him for the final.
"Unfortunately, he got caught up in a crash, but we had Nielson up there. He anticipated the big move, and I knew that if he got a little bit of distance between those big guys that he has a big enough engine that he's not going to get dropped.
"Coming off what he did at San Sebastián, I knew he had a good shot, very good result here, and he played it perfectly."
Powless is now expected to head over to Italy to be part of the team for the Italian Classics that close the season, beginning with Tre Valli Varesine on October 5.
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