Axeon in Action
Axel Merckx-led development team makes Amgen Tour of California its classroom
10:09 a.m. Saturday, Santa Rosa, Calif. – Neilson Powless of Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team calmly goes about what’s quickly become his pre-race routine at the Amgen Tour of California. The 19-year-old stands still as a team staff member helps thread his earpiece cord under his SRAM “Best Young Rider Jersey.” Then Powless talks with a local TV station and then does another interview. The start time for the day’s 109.1 mile (Stage 175.5km) nears.
3:42 p.m. Saturday, Santa Rosa, Calif. – Covered in road grit, 19-year-old Neilson Powless reports to the stage at the finish line for the upcoming awards ceremony after Stage 7 of the Amgen Tour of California in Santa Rosa. He looks tired but still in control. Powless was soon to be awarded another SRAM “Best Young Rider” Jersey. Powless held onto fifth place overall with just a day left.
Neilson Powless, wearing the white SRAM Best Young Rider jersey, on Saturday again was among elite company during the podium ceremony at the Amgen Tour of California in Santa Rosa. Top two photos by Tim De Waele - TDWsport.com
What happened between those two scenes is all in a day’s work for a pro cyclist. A top field raced over narrow, twisty and hilly roads. Rain fell at times. According to the team, Powless survived a high-speed tire blowout and a separate crash. He needed a hard chase to keep his lead in the SRAM “Best Young Rider” competition.
But what happens before and after the race also is all in a day’s work for a professional cyclist. Powless is the latest in an impressive line of promising young riders mentored and prepared for pro cycling careers by the Axel Merckx-led Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team. Axeon Cycling, which dates back eight seasons, has earned a reputation as the world’s most successful team for developing young elite riders (those under the age of 23) for careers as pro cyclists. Since its founding in 2009, Axeon Cycling has seen 18 of its riders advanced to the WorldTour teams, the sport’s highest level.
Look for that tradition to continue. With just Sunday’s final stage remaining in the Amgen Tour of California, the top three riders in the SRAM “Best Young Rider” competition – Powless, Tao Geoghegan Hart, and Ruben Guerreiro – are all on Axeon.
“Everybody who is here is really ambitious and knows what an opportunity it is that we’re here now, and I think they’re all doing their best to take advantage of it,” Powless said.
Powless (bottom) and the entire Axeon teammates have raced aggressively throughout this year's Amgen Tour of California, impressing fans and making the team's "graduates" on WorldTour teams proud. Photos by Wil Matthews Photo
The riders on Axeon also can draw motivation from those who came before them. Alums of Axel Merckx’s team include top pros Lawson Craddock and Ben King, both of Cannondale Pro Cycling, multi-time Olympian and national time trial champion Taylor Phinney of the BMC Racing Team, George Bennett of Team LottoNL-Jumbo, and Jasper Stuyven of Trek-Segafredo.
Past riders from Axeon root for their old team in much the same way people support their extended family's college after graduation. They keep in touch with team staff and encourage current Axeon riders “kind of like dropping in on your aunt or uncle to say hi,” press officer Sean Weide said.
Axeon competes at this high level at the Amgen Tour of California with a staff of only around 12. That is about half of what a top WorldTour squad sends to this race. Before Saturday’s Stage 7, the Axeon encampment was a beehive of action. Head mechanic Eric Fostvedt carefully applied a special wet-weather chain lube to team bikes. Axel Merckx signed promotional posters and talked with riders. Press officer Sean Weide talked with the local TV reporter about to interview Powless. Yet, despite all this busyness, the atmosphere remains friendly and calm.
That atmosphere of professionalism carries over to the riders. Powless said time management is the biggest thing he’s learned at this year’s Amgen Tour of California, especially with the extra demands of being the race’s top young rider.
“It’s really been important for me to prioritize things,” he said. “I’ve been toning down on social media… turning off all of my notifications and making sure I’m focusing on the race. I have tried to get everything done quick and efficiently as far as getting ready, so I have time for the interviews and for the people who come out to watch me to race.”
Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team rides SRAM components; Zipp wheels, bars, stems and seatposts; and Quarq power meters. SRAM is proud to have supported this team since its formation in 2009.