Neilson Powless of EF Education-EasyPost Sprints to Second Followed by Hugo Houle of Israel-Premier Tech
BALTIMORE, Md. – September 3, 2023 – After a day characterized by near three digit temperatures, Team Lidl-Trek’s Mattias Skjelmose of Denmark crossed the finish line solo in downtown Baltimore to take a tough victory at the second edition of the Maryland Cycling Classic presented by UnitedHealthcare, America’s biggest cycling race Sunday.
“I was racing in my home country of Denmark just the other week and it was 23 degrees (celsius, 73 degrees F) and today it was almost 38 degrees, 100 degrees F),” said Skjelmose, who earlier in the year won both the Tour of Switzerland and most recently a stage of the Tour of Denmark. “I think a lot of guys didn’t want to sprint. Everyone was expecting a race like last year where the break at the beginning went home, but it didn’t [happen]. A smaller group went, and we caught them back with some big attacks. Toms (Skujins) was really smart. He realized what EF was doing 31 miles (50 km) before they did it. We were in a perfect position when they set a really good tempo. In the end it was full gas.”
Mattias credited the win to the combination of the heat and the course. “I think the course is really nice. I think the heat was also a big factor. The combination with the heat and the flat…made for a really nice race. If only one of them was there, it wouldn’t have really been a super hard race, but in combination it made for a perfect race.
“It wasn’t exactly the plan,” Mattias continued, alluding to the fact that they were setting up Latvian Toms Skujins for a possible win. “But we wanted to win. We knew we could use the numbers; we’re one of the strongest teams here. Both me and Toms were feeling really good. In my opinion, we rode a perfect race. Of course, it’s really sad with Toms’ puncture, but we rode a really good race.”
Skujins buried himself in his effort but following a dramatic reshuffle his teammate Skjelmose took over the lead. Skjelmose had clearly rested enough to take control, although his lead amounted to only a handful of seconds. Powless, who finished third during the inaugural edition of the race in 2022, was showing some fatigue as he desperately hung on to the wheels of the five leaders. With four miles (6.4 km) to go Skjelmose, the Danish road race champion, built a 1:45 lead up the road and confidently cruised to victory over the final lap of the race. Behind Skjelmose, Powless and Houle sprinted across the line to claim second and third place respectively.
“I knew it was most likely going to be a race for second because everybody knows how good Mattias (Skjelmose) is so I tried to do everything I could to get the best result possible. This year I did the sprint much better. I won the sprint for second place…unfortunately it wasn’t for the win, but I think it was the best result I could have expected,” said Powless.
As the riders entered downtown Baltimore, the powerful sextet of Chris Harper (JAY), Hugo Houle (IPT), Skjelmose, Neilson Powless (EFE), Skujins and Lucas Hamilton (JAY) found themselves with nearly a minute separating themselves from the rest of the race. With other riders in hot pursuit, the leaders did what they could to cooperate with one another to maintain their lead – taking turns pulling at the front to hold on to the tense 40-second edge they had on the chase. But with 18 miles (29 K M) to go, Skujins decided to play his cards early and go with a solo attack. The Latvian rider was able to keep seven seconds between him and his former fellow escapees.
Powless added, “I could feel the support (of fans) the whole way around the circuit, even out in the countryside, it was just incredible to hear my name screamed from the side of the road. It was awesome to be able to interact with the American fans because I don’t get to do that at any other point in the year. I was really proud to have the opportunity here and feel that love the whole way around the course.”