American Neilson Powless nearly rides into Tour de France lead

Neilson Powless
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American Neilson Powless nearly cycled into the Tour de France lead in the fifth stage.

Australian Simon Clarke, who turns 36 later in the Tour, won the stage, which included 11 sections of cobblestones totaling about 12 miles.

Powless, part of a four man breakaway with Clarke, went for the stage victory with a little more than a kilometer left. But he was caught by the other three men and ended up fourth, four seconds behind Clarke.

Still, Powless improved from 25th place in the overall standings to second behind Belgian Wout van Aert, who crashed during the stage. Powless is 13 seconds behind van Aert, a gap he would have made up if he won the stage in Clarke’s time given the 10-second bonus given to stage winners.

“If we [the breakaway] kept it steady all the way to the line, I definitely would have had yellow, if we all finished together,” Powless said before he learned where he was in the standings. “But 2K to go, the other three guys, they all started playing games. They didn’t want to work anymore.”

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Greg LeMond is the lone American to officially lead a Tour de France. The three-time Tour winner last did so in 1991.

Four other Americans wore the yellow jersey after LeMond, but all had their results retroactively stripped for doping (Lance ArmstrongDavid ZabriskieGeorge Hincapie and Floyd Landis).

In 2018, Tejay van Garderen missed the chance to wear the yellow jersey due to a tiebreaker.

Powless is not considered a contender to finish on the podium once the Tour finishes in Paris in two and a half weeks.

One of the contenders, Slovenian Primoz Roglic, lost nearly two minutes on Wednesday. Roglic was runner-up to countryman Tadej Pogacar at the 2020 Tour. Pogacar is in fourth place, 19 seconds behind van Aert, but ahead of all of his rivals.

The day saw several incidents, and Van Aert was one of the first to take a tumble but his crash came as the riders were racing towards the first of the 11 cobbled sections. He was able to get back on and catch up with the peloton – although he almost went down again as he clipped the wing mirror of his own team car.

“In my opinion the roads were way too dangerous, everyone expected some stress because of the cobbles but then there was also a lot of narrowings and things on the road,” Van Aert said. “I didn’t want to take risks and the moment when I thought it was necessary to start moving up to the front I immediately crashed because of a narrowing.

“I hurt myself a bit but also I lost a bit of confidence to go really in a fight for position, and it’s a shame because at that point I let down the other boys, and I also was in the back chasing instead of having a good position on the cobbles. So for me from then on it was a fight the whole day.”

Van Aert admitted he didn’t think he would still be in yellow.

“It was a big surprise for me after the finish because I was so much in the back that I was not actually thinking about the jersey anymore,” he said.

Peter Sagan and Caleb Ewan were also involved in incidents as nerves set in. Ewan’s crash came as he hit a hay bale that had come loose from the barriers and that also affected Roglic.

Thursday’s sixth stage is the longest one of the race and is a hilly 220-kilometer route from Binche — in Van Aert’s native Belgium — to Longwy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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