"Pogacar seems unbeatable, so we must aim for stage victories": What can EF-boys Powless and Van den Berg do in the Tour?

Like countless other teams ( including Visma | Lease a Bike), EF Education-EasyPost is currently in a tough position. During the two most important preparation races for the Tour de France, the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour of Switzerland, the American team saw almost all its intended Tour leaders drop out. And as luck would have it, the team had a lot of confidence in these specific key riders...

When it comes to those who dropped out, we're talking about Neilson Powless, Richard Carapaz and also Alberto Bettiol. The former had to withdraw a few days after the now infamous horror crash in France, while the Ecuadorian and the Italian crashed simultaneously (and sort of together) in Switzerland, with the South American even hitting his mouth on a part of the South European's bike.

Fortunately for Carapaz and in-form Bettiol, the Tour does not seem to be in jeopardy, although it's certainly not an ideal run-up. The situation of Powless is a bit more uncertain. At the beginning of the Dauphiné, before the bad luck started, the 27-year-old American geared up for an interview with IDLProCycling.com, during which his ambitions for the Tour were evident. With some restraint (as current events have overtaken everyone and everything), we highlight several quotes from the Native American, as well as some from EF team director Andreas Klier, with whom our website also had a conversation.

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Powless emerged mentally strong from his injury period (knee issues) after the Tirreno

After a calm start to the season, things went wrong for Powless for the first time in March, when he had to withdraw from the Tirreno-Adriatico with knee issues. These issues ultimately kept him out of rotation for a long time, causing him to miss almost all the classics. And that was obviously disappointing for the man who had decided last winter that he was done with riding for the general classification for a while. It was only two months later that he made his return in Eschborn-Frankfurt, with a participation in the American championships shortly thereafter (he finished third in both the road race and the time trial), followed by the Dauphiné. "I actually feel pretty good," he said at the start of the French stage race, clearly in good spirits.

"I have ridden a number of races and enjoyed myself there," continued the San Sebastian winner of 2021. "I am especially happy about the fact that I'm back in the peloton. My knee injury is almost completely gone, so I'm fully ready to go again. In the Dauphiné, I can see if I've trained well enough during the weeks when I haven't raced much. And with that, I can already estimate whether I will be in good form for the Tour. I certainly hope so, but a Tour de France participation doesn't come easy. It's never a certainty. After this week in France, I will have more clarity regarding my exact form. If I had to say now, I would say that I'm ready. I felt very good in the last trainings."

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Powless wore the polka dot jersey for a very long time last year

With what we know today, that statement also seemed correct, since Powless was doing well in the Dauphiné. His seventh place in the time trial in particular looked strong. "Setting goals for the Tour de France is still a bit early," he said in the Auvergne. "First off, that participation is not a given, and besides, I want to first see how I perform in the Dauphiné and how I feel there. But I am someone who always starts with solid ambitions. Wherever I start, I always want to compete for the victory."

In between the Tirreno and Eschborn-Frankfurt, Powless was without racing for about two months. A situation like that would take a heavy mental toll, you would expect. "Indeed, I have been off the bike for a long time. However, I can say that I have also taken a lot of positive things from that," he said characteristically optimistic. "That's how I approach life. For example, I was able to spend a lot of time with my family. Sure, it was sometimes frustrating to have to follow beautiful races on television, out of necessity. Of course, you would have liked to be there yourself. But overall, for me, it's about making the best of that somewhat less pleasant time."

Pogacar is nearly unbeatable, so EF Education-EasyPost seems to be aiming for stage success in the Tour

Ex-pro Klier, winner of the 2003 edition of Gent-Wevelgem, also had the necessary (Tour-specific) confidence in Powless, although the German also expressed his confidence towards the rest of the Sierra Nevada group. "The high-altitude camp went well. I wasn't there myself, but from the stories, I could tell that everything went smoothly," said the now 48-year-old man from Munich. "We consciously went on a training camp with a large group. So there were also many guys who are not going to the Tour. We actually did that to prepare a bit for the rest of the season already. In the Dauphiné, we have a number of potential Tour contenders, although those are mainly racing in Switzerland."

The Dauphiné, but especially Switzerland. All with an eye on La Grande Boucle, where the team seems to be mainly aiming for stage success. "Like every other team, we of course have to admit that beating Tadej Pogacar is nearly impossible," said Klier. "It's not realistic. So what remains? Indeed, perhaps a stage victory, or whatever else might be left."

Continue reading below the photo.

In 2018 and 2019, Powless rode for the current Visma | Lease a Bike (then Team LottoNL-Jumbo and Jumbo-Visma)

"I find it hard to tell, but I do suspect that Neilson's form will continue to grow as we build towards the Tour," continued the man from Bavaria, specifically about the American rider. "At least, that's what I assume. Keeping past results in mind, we can conclude that Neilson's form tends to improve very quickly in the two to four weeks following a first race. So, I'm definitely not worried about that. Actually, I'm not worried about anything, haha! At the moment, everything is okay."

When addressing his upcoming goals, Powless expressed his ambitions quite forcefully and seemed to put quite a bit of pressure on himself (something that might be inherent to athletes). "When you go to the biggest cycling races in the world, there's always a certain amount of pressure," Klier agreed. "In my opinion, it's also healthy to put some pressure on yourself, although not too much, of course. When external pressures start to mount, that's a different story. I think we in the team have enough expertise to determine how much pressure we put on the guys. As long as it's a healthy dose, then it's good. Last year that worked out well, with Neilson being in the polka dot jersey for a long time."

What can sprint and hill captain Van den Berg do in the Tour?

And then, finally, Marijn van den Berg, who has indeed developed rapidly over the past few seasons. It seems likely that the 24-year-old Dutchman will head to the Tour as a sprint and/or hill captain. "If Marijn indeed goes to the Tour, he will definitely be in the mix," Klier pointed out. "He's fast, but exactly how fast? That's an important question, especially considering the level of the sprinters' field in the Tour. We'll have to see which stages suit him well and which don't."

"Marijn is definitely a great guy to have on the team, in the broadest sense," continued the German DS in a praising manner. "He's a cool guy, who fits in well with the team's culture. I hope his development continues in this way. I'm very curious to see where it can take him, as I believe there's still quite a lot of growth potential. He's very professional and that will certainly help him, although it's hard to gauge exactly how far he can go and where it will exactly take him. We will certainly give him all the support possible in his development trajectory."

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