National Native American Heritage Month: Neilson Powless, Professional Road Racing Cyclist

In 2020, Neilson Powless became the first Native American from the United States to compete in the Tour de France. As a child, he had first aspired to take part in that prestigious multiple-stage bicycle race. “It was so exotic and powerful that even before I turned 10, I dreamed of one day competing in the Tour de France,” he recalled in a 2020 interview with ESPN.com.

Powless was born in 1996 at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. He is of Native American ancestry on his father Jack’s side of the family. Jack’s mother is of Cherokee descent and his father Matthew is a member of the Oneida Nation.

Neilson Powless has grown up in an athletic household. His sister Shayna, who is two years older than him, is likewise an accomplished professional racing cyclist. Their mother Jen Allred-Powless is a Guamanian long-distance runner whose achievements have included competing for Guam in the women’s marathon as the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

Jack Powless, for his part, is a former nationally ranked triathlete who strongly encouraged both of his children to pursue their interest in sports. As he recounted to EPSN.com, his son demonstrated early on the ability to combine considerable cycling skills with an easygoing nature. “During local races, he’d stop midway through the race, pick up a stick and start sword fighting, just for giggles,” noted Jack Powless. “Then he’d get back onto his bike and fly through the rest of the route and win. He just loved life — he was silly and competitive at the same time.”

By his junior year of high school, Neilson Powless had become even more focused on cycling and how he could further improve his performance in races. In 2016, he made his debut in the world of professional competitive cycling when he took part in the Amgen Tour of California (This road cycling stage race was held annually between 2006 and 2019.) After finishing ninth overall and first in the young rider classification in that eight-day competition, Powless steadily amassed similarly formidable performances in various other major road cycling stage races across the globe.

Those performances resulted in Powless being recruited for EF Pro Cycling (now known as EF Education-Nippo), an American professional cycling team. It was as a cyclist for this team that Powless both realized his childhood dream of pedaling in the Tour de France and achieved a historic breakthrough for Native Americans in that longstanding annual athletic event. In the Final Young Rider Classification for the 2020 Tour de France, Powless emerged as the highest-ranking American and finished ninth overall; EF Pro Cycling finished fourth overall in the Final Team Classification for that year’s race.

“You can’t really force anything, it really just has to be something you really want to do and pursue,” said Powless while discussing his enthusiasm for cycling in a 2016 Oneida Nation News interview. “If you don’t really love something it’s going to be pretty hard to be successful at it . . . I’m so successful with cycling [because] I love being on my bike and I like the places it takes me.”

Photo Credit: Ray Rogers (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en)

For more information on Neilson Powless, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neilson_Powless

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