Ten San Sebastián Takeaways: Neilson Powless finished off a great days work by the EF Education-Nippo team to win a wet Clásica San Sebastián on Saturday. A wonderful result for Powless, his team and US cycling. Spencer Martin has his ‘Ten Takeaways’ from the Basque one-day race.
Neilson Powless ended a decade-long US drought
The USA’s Neilson Powless ended a decade-long drought for American riders in one-day Classics by winning this weekend’s Clásica de San Sebastián, the extremely difficult and historically prestigious one-day classic races on the calendar. Powless won Spain’s biggest one-day race in a three-up sprint ahead of Slovenia’s Matej Mohorič and Denmark’s Mikkel Frølich Honoré after the lead group used the typical Basque Country cold and rainy weather to their advantage by riding clear of the peloton on a difficult climb and ensuring technical descent, in the race’s final 40-kilometers.
When the eventual podium, plus Lorenzo Rota, hit the final descent, everyone watching expected Mohorič, one of the sport’s fastest descenders, to rip away for a solo win. But instead, Mohorič misread a corner, sent Honoré into a barrier, and Rota onto the pavement, and essentially sealed the chances of a sprint finish against Powless. Honoré impressively clawed his way back to leading duo before Mohorič opened up the sprint from a long way out. While he appeared to have the better of the other two at first, he ultimately couldn’t hold off Powless, who displayed an impressive surge of speed to come around the two-time Tour de France stage winner to take one of the biggest American one-day victories in decades.
1) Neilson Powless gets the biggest, and first, win of his pro career, and at 24-years-old, he starts to emerge as the biggest US talent in the peloton after starting his career with two lost years at Jumbo-Visma.
- With this win, Powless became the first American to win this race since Lance Armstrong in 1995.
Great win for Powless, Ef Education-Nippo and the USA
2) EF didn’t have a five-star favorite but won the biggest Spanish one-day race of the year.
- The team rode a great race by getting Simon Carr off the front with around 45km-to-go, which put pressure on the other teams and riders and meant Powless had a teammate inside the final 20kms when his breakaway companions were isolated.
- EF picked up Carr from the second-division Nippo-Delko squad before the season after Nippo came over to sponsor the team, and this low-key pickup is just looking better and better as the season progresses.
- Carr is emerging as one of the biggest talents on the team and the 22-year-old could very well be one of the team’s major assets going forward.
Matej Mohorič as strong as ever
3) Matej Mohorič rode a great race and was a picture of technical class when he used his superior descending skills to break the race up, but, instead of riding away from the rest on the final descent for a beautiful solo win, he biffed it in a corner, and while he didn’t go down himself, he has to be incredibly disappointed to miss out on this win.
- After a great season so far, he is straight-up beaten by a rider who before the day, didn’t have a single professional win on his Palmerès.
- It seemed like something about either Powless or Honoré got into his head and caused him to be far too aggressive in the final 2kms.
- He threw down a brutal acceleration with roughly 1.2km-to-go in an attempt to win solo, but failed to distance either Powless or Frølich Honoré.
- This attack certainly blunted his sprint, but he still opened his sprint from a long way out, which allowed Powless to come around him as he faded in the final few meters.
- Also, the way he overcooked the corner on the final descent was reminiscent of how he crashed out of the Giro d’Italia earlier this year.
Trek-Segafredo – Less than the sum of their individually impressive parts
4) Once again, the Trek-Segafredo team had numbers in the finale but failed to walk away with the victory.
- Like we’ve seen before, it seemed like the three-headed monster of Bauke Mollema, Giulio Ciccone, and Gianluca Brambilla had trouble consolidating behind a single leader.
- This continues a recent trend of the Trek squad seeming to be less than the sum of their individually impressive parts.
Mikel Landa – A long way to go
5) Mikel Landa made his comeback to racing after his brutal crash early in the Giro d’Italia. However, he was dropped by Carr a kilometer after forging clear of the peloton with him on a climb, which tells us the Basque rider has a long way to go before he can recapture the form he had heading into the Giro.
Honoré – The star for Deceuninck – Quick-Step
6) Deceuninck – Quick-Step gets a podium position with Mikkel Frølich Honoré, but in my opinion, their tactics left something to be desired.
- They headed into the race with the five-star favorite, Julian Alaphilippe, yet chose to back a relatively untested rider in Honoré after he got up the road instead.
- I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around the decision to not chase down a breakaway with a journeyman teammate instead of pegging it back to allow your superstar one-day rider to attempt to win the race.
- Perhaps Alaphilippe, who has struggled in the cold in the past, simply wasn’t feeling up to the task on the cold and rainy day.
- And it is possible Honoré could have won the sprint had he not crashed on the descent with 5km-to-go.
A lackluster Alaphilippe
7) It may seem like a nitpick, but this lackluster race from Alaphilippe continues a downward trend since he won the opening stage of the Tour de France.
- It won’t be remembered as such due to his spectator win in the World Championship Road Race, but his 2020 season, where he only won three races, was also a major regression from his form in 2019, where he won a total of 12 races and held Yellow at the Tour of 11 stages en route to a stunning fifth place overall.
- This regression, as absurd as that sounds, is something to keep an eye on as this season winds down and 2022 begins.
This would be an absurd criticism for nearly any other rider, but we have become accustomed to seeing such brilliance from the current World Champion in recent years that a season with only three victories and a single day in Yellow is a ‘down’ year.
The first ‘major’ one-day win since Tyler Hamilton won Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2003
8) It is hard to overstate how big this win was for American cycling. While it will barely register with US-based cycling fans, let alone the general public, by my tally, this is the first one-day Classic win for an American since Tyler Farrer won Scheldeprijs in 2010, and the first ‘major’ one-day win since Tyler Hamilton won Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2003.
- This ends an absolutely dismal run for US Cycling in one-day Classics, and hopefully, marks the beginning of an era where American riders can more regularly compete with the best outside of stage races.
Egan Bernal clearly didn’t have the one-day fitness
9) Egan Bernal gets 16th place in his first racing appearance since winning the Giro d’Italia and while he clearly didn’t have the one-day fitness he showed at this Spring’s Strade Bianche, he looks to be building form for what could be an epic Vuelta España showdown against Tadej Pogačar and Primoz Roglič.
The beautiful Basque Country
10) The Basque Country is a beautiful region with immense cycling passion, and this race offers great parcours and almost always serves up an interesting race, but it suffers from a highly forgettable time slot, which was made even worse this year by the Olympic Games Road Race occurring in its normal time slot.
- This meant the race suffered from a slightly disappointing start list and featured a diluted field that lacked a ton of major names.
- This could cause Powless’s win to be quickly forgotten and cause him to be underrated in future races that suit his wide-range of abilities.
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# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #