New riders set to make their mark

Tour Down Under preview

When Neilson PowlessNielson Powless, Kristoffer Halvorsen, Jens Keukeleire and Jonas Rutsch take the start line at the Tour Down Under in Australia on the weekend, they’re showing up for their first day at a new job with the eyes of millions of spectators on them. Most new hires  at most jobs are afforded the opportunity to settle in a bit. Not exactly the case for the new riders on the team.

 

Powless, for one, is ready to go.

 

The American is one of cycling’s brightest prospects. He was recruited from Jumbo-Visma, where he spent his neo-pro (or rookie) seasons. He helped Primož Roglič win the Vuelta a España, one of the sport’s three Grand Tours, and earned podium places at the Tour of Poland and US national championships. Powless said his move to EF Pro Cycling “feels like coming home” and is excited to embrace more of a leadership role at The Tour Down Under.

 

The Tour Down Under is the southern hemisphere’s most important race and the first event on cycling’s most important calendar, the WordTour. The six-day stage race, centered in Adelaide and with stages around South Australia, is Australia’s only opportunity each year to serve as the center of the cycling universe. The sport’s biggest stars make the trip Down Under to put on a show for the hundreds of thousands of Aussie cycling fans who will line the roads, sausage fresh off the barbie in hand, to cheer on their cycling heroes.

 

Once the racing begins, there is no easing into things. There are valuable points on offer, and the Australian pros, who have just raced their national championships, are flying.

 

In other words, “You have to show up ready to rock,” Powless says.

 

The versatile 23-year-old can rock on nearly any terrain, and his adaptability earned him a leadership role in his first appearance in EF Pro Cycling pink. He plans to target the climbing stages, three and six.

 

 

“First Paracombe and then Wilunga—we’ll see where the cards fall. I’m hopeful that the training has paid off,” Powless says.

 

The other stages – one, two, four and five – offer up chances to the sprinters and the all-around riders. Halvorsen sits at the center of the team’s sprint stage ambitions.

Like Powless, Kristoffer HalvorsenHalvorsen is eager for the season to get underway. The former U23 world champion, Halvorsen jumped at the chance to join EF Pro Cycling following his neo-pro seasons with Team Ineos.

 

“The goal is to win a sprint stage, but it’s also important to take it step by step,” the Norwegian explained. “I haven’t won WorldTour races before, but I really hope that I can here. The training has been really good for the last three months, so I’m really looking forward to the start.”

 

Halvorsen’s ambitions will be supported by serious horsepower. His sprint train will include Keukeleire and Rutsch, also new to EF Pro Cycling, along with Mitch Docker, Lachlan Morton and Tom Scully.

 

 

Jens KeukeleireKeukeleire is a veteran Belgian classics specialist, who excels on the windswept cobbled roads of northern Europe in spring. The experience he brings will be invaluable during the hectic sprint finishes in Australia. Keukeleire has taken the younger Jonas RutschRutsch under his wing. The Tour Down Under will be Rutsch’s first race in the top ranks, but he has already shown himself to be a powerful classics rider. Last year, the young German won the Kattekoers, one of Belgium’s most prestigious one-day races for U23 riders, and finished fifth in the U23 Tour of Flanders (Ronde van Vlaanderen).

 

In the build-up to the big day, EF Pro Cycling’s Tour Down Under team is focused on staying relaxed and adapting to both the Australian time zone and heat. Training rides take on a dual purpose. In addition to fine-tuning their fitness, the riders are also acclimating to one other.

 

Scully and Keukeleire have fallen into natural leadership roles during training sessions.

 

“It’s nice having guys like Tom and Jens. They are a bit older and can give us younger guys direction,” Powless says. “We can feel their confidence and their experience a bit more—when to cool down, when to really focus and get the work done, and when to keep it calm and shut it down.

 

“Down here, obviously it is a big race—We all want to come down here and do well, and the team wants to be as prepared for it as possible,” Powless says. “At the same time, Tom and Jens are always saying, ‘We need to be professional and do our jobs, but that doesn’t mean that we need to take away all the fun from it.’”

 

Sport director Tom Southam echoes the message: “I like to keep things relaxed through this week, as it’s still a long time in the hotel before the race starts. Gradually we’ll start to focus as we get towards the weekend. We usually go out for dinner during the week, as it’s nice to break things up, and Adelaide has great restaurants. We don’t do mobile phones at the dinner table, so this gives them another chance to get to know each other a bit better.”

 

They celebrated Scully’s birthday earlier this week with dinner at a Mexican restaurant and surprised him with a cake. Everyone sang before Scully blew out the candles.

 

When the team’s work begins, as they are launched into high-stakes racing with the world watching on, the EF Pro Cycling riders will be in it together. And the time they share now eases the pressure.

 

“From day one, I had the feeling that there was a really good atmosphere in the team,” Halvorsen says.  “It was really easy to feel that you were a part of it.”

 

EF Pro Cycling’s new riders take to the Tour Down Under