by Molly Hurford
As Jeremy Powers sits in the kitchen of the Rapha-Focus team house in Louisville, sipping coffee and laughing, it’s hard to believe that he has the biggest race of the year coming up in just a few short days. But the clock is ticking down to Worlds, and while his race at Nationals may not have been his most stellar result of the season with a just-off-the-podium finish, his successes earlier in the season in both Europe and domestically make him a contender for a solid finish at Worlds, especially since it’s a course that he’s familiar with, having raced on it for years. We haven’t talked to Powers in several weeks, and were eager to find out just what’s been happening with his season, and more importantly, how he’s feeling going into the biggest cyclocross race ever to hit the USA.
Jeremy Powers: Wait, before we start this, I have a question for you. I saw you talked to Niels and those guys at Cincinnati and I have to ask: is Radomir Simunek cool?
Cyclocross Magazine: He definitely is.
JP: He’s a really good kid. He’s always been nice.
CXM: And Niels said that he feels for you, always having to travel over to Europe to race. He gets it.
JP: Oh, he gets it? That makes me feel good.
CXM: OK, big question: are you psyched about Worlds?
JP: I am really psyched for Worlds, definitely. It’s going to be exciting; there so many people coming. For me it’s been the end of a long season and this is really, really nice, and I can’t believe it’s here and we can cap this off. We’ve been talking about it for a long time. I’m very excited. Not overly excited that I’m going to throw the race out like I did at Nationals, but excited because there’s a lot of things to look forward to now that the season is almost over, and you can just see on the Internet and around that people are just really happy to be part of this event. For me it’s going to be go out there, do the best that I can, and hopefully that’s a good result. And if it’s not, regardless, everyone there is going to have a great experience and more than anything, that’s sweet. I’d love to smash it though.
CXM: It does seem like the entire New England community is caravanning down to watch.
JP: And that will be cool. It’s going to be fun to show the Europeans that there really is a cyclocross scene. I think in Europe, people don’t really understand how large the country is. It’s impossible to realize how spread out the racing is compared to Europe. [Ed. Note: Powers' assistant Jake confirmed that the main countries that host cyclocross races in Europe, combined, are 1/12 the size of the US.] The US is huge. It’s impossible for people to drive out every weekend. They’d have to have a zillion dollars to be able to fly to all of the races; it’s just not possible. So a lot of people will watch online. So not being there doesn’t mean that they don’t follow it, that they aren’t fans. There are a lot of people in the US who follow cyclocross but just can’t get to races, but for this race, I think you’re going to see a lot of people make it. And that will be really cool.
CXM: So has that changed your mental game, how you’re approaching it?
JP: No. It’s not any different. And once you demystify the race and just go do your thing, it’s a lot easier to be part of it. And if you put it up on this pedestal… that’s a hard lesson that I learned at Nationals. If you do that, it’s better, when you can go out and do your thing and just race your race.
CXM: So you know I have to ask about Nationals. What happened?
JP: Just bad legs. I had a lot of pressure on myself to repeat and that was the expectation that I had. Putting that race really high up on my wants and to-dos and just psyching myself out, more than anything. The really hard thing is that I had great form. And it’s kind of sad for me. It’s a true loss. I mean, I didn’t even factor into the race at all. I was zero. I didn’t even show up to be part of the race. Mentally, I just didn’t have the kill; it just wasn’t there. So I pretty much threw it out. I tried to go, and my legs were just really bad. But I was stronger going into the race this year than I was last year, even the day before with the efforts I did before. Everything was pointing toward me being better, but I just didn’t have the right day. Whether that was predetermined or was in my head or was just what was going to happen, I don’t know. The positive side to that though is to reflect and see what happened and say, for Worlds, being a bigger event with press conferences and interviews, it’s extra important to keep your head on. And that’s the bigger lesson for me. There are things that can come as a pro – there’s not a lot of pressure for me to perform at a USGP or a World Cup, it’s just ‘go and do your thing and how you finish is how you finish.’ There’s not a lot of pressure from the team or the fans. But for Nationals, there is a lot. And if I take that on, I don’t do well in that kind of environment. It’s better for me to have fun and enjoy myself, so basically that’s the story. I just wasn’t having any fun and I completely threw that race out. Flushed it down the toilet.
CXM: I have to say though … when I first got into cyclocross and went to Nationals, it was the year you lost to Todd Wells with that crash in Bend. And you didn’t make it out to the after party. This year, despite not having a great race, you were out afterward, looking cheerful and chatting with people. Do you think you’ve matured in the past two years, to be able to take that in stride?
JP: Yes. I think it’s good. What would that look like if I wasn’t out? I’m happy for all the guys who are working hard to do this. The community stuff is important to me, to show, ‘hey guys, we’re still out here even though today went badly, things could be a lot worse.’ I mean, I lost a bike race. But we still have a great group of people here and I was happy to be able to be part of the after party, to hang out, say hello to people. I know a lot of people came out and would have like to see me win, and those are the people I wanted to get five minutes with; if I didn’t talk to them before the race because I was in my zone or whatever. Definitely just going out and having a good time and trying to put it behind me was good too. I wasn’t out very late though. I made that promise after last year, that even if I did win, I wouldn’t go out very late. Last year, I might have thrown away a few watts.
CXM: You must have been really stoked for teammate Zach McDonald at Nationals though.
JP: That was great. I think we know that that track is very good for him, after last year. In my own personal little crazy world, I would have liked to see him win U23 Nationals because that opportunity is never going to be there again, and I guess it doesn’t matter to say that you’re X-time National Champion, but I lost a lot of those titles. He rode a great race, he was very happy with second. He put a lot of pressure on himself and he performed. He performs well under that, I do a better job when I’m having a good time. So to see him actually go out and want to do the elite race and factor in it, that was a great day. We were all really proud. He’s shown glimpses of what he’s going to be able to do a couple years down the road. I’m happy for him…but I’m going to have to race him, so I can’t be too happy!
CXM: We all had this hope that the Euros would come over and be subjected to the same situations that our guys find themselves in when in Europe. Jet-lagged, not knowing where things are… and that maybe we’d see a flip in results. But then, as we saw last weekend, it doesn’t seem to be hurting guys like Niels Albert. So what are your predictions for the Euros at Worlds?
JP: Some will deal with it fine, others won’t. You see that even with me or anyone. I know it very well. You fly and sometimes you come out of it and have four or five great nights of sleep and feel awesome, and then for some reason, a week after that, you’re up at 3 AM. I don’t know why or how the body decides it’s going to wake up at 3 AM, but things, for some reason, always come up when you’re not at home. And I know that probably better than all those guys. I don’t wish them bad luck though! Even if you take all the strength out of them, this race is suited to us. The race in Cincinnati was, in all honesty, a lot of pedaling. You had to pedal in a straight line in slick mud and just go hard. For those guys, it was slick enough. For me, that’s not my ultimate track. I can compete but if it had been dry or had more corners, I’d do better. So I look at Louisville and it had a lot of things that I know that I’m good at; it’s very much what I train on all the time. They know. I’ve read some interviews, I’ve seen what they’re saying. They know now that it’s most likely not going to be muddy, that there are a lot of turns, and what they’re saying about the track is probably true. I read an interview with Sven Nys where he’s like, ‘This track’s not going to be muddy and I don’t like it.’ And he doesn’t like it because it’s got a lot of turns, and it’s fast. But that’s the difference. The Euros that have come over here have seen that style of course and they know. I was hoping for something different at Cincinnati. I was hoping he [Albert] wouldn’t ride off the front. But the guy’s got a set of pipes on him. He’s the World Champion. It’s hard for me to sit there and say, ‘Aww, he beat me.’ He’s the World Champion. There’s not another dude that can be like, ‘This guy is just OK.’ This is a guy who’s been groomed and manicured since he was 15 to do what he’s doing now.
CXM: But you’ve been doing a lot of travel too. It’s been mainly continental, but still.
JP: It’s easier than being in Europe definitely. But do I miss Moose [his dog]? Yeah, I miss Moose.
CXM: But Emily [Powers' fiancé] has been coming to the races.
JP: Yeah, she’s been on a lot of quick flights. It’s still 1000 times cheaper for her to fly down here for a weekend than it is for her to come to Europe. And she can be here in three hours. I think the decision to be here [in Louisville] was a good one; it’s 30 degrees in New England and I’ve been able to see the track for the past 10 days before anyone else got here. I think I made the right decision. Is it a sacrifice to come here? Certainly. Would it be better to be home with my friends and training out of my house? Absolutely. But that wasn’t the reality and this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I think everyone understands that. The end of February and March and April, I’ll be home.
CXM: Speaking of friends, you’ve been training a lot more with [Cycle-Smart coach] Al Donahue lately. How’s that been?
JP: Al and I have been friends for a long time. I used to have Rick [Crawford, Power's old coach] come and motor pace and now he’s out of the game and Al’s filled that roll.
CXM: That was during the season, right?
JP: Yes. We [Crawford and Powers] hadn’t been working much together in the beginning of the season. And I needed someone to fill that roll. Al lives right down the street for me and he’s stepped up in a way I never would have seen. It’s 30 degrees out and we motor paced for three hours last week. It’s really cold. You have to pretty much wear an Abominable Snowman outfit to motorpace and have that work. It’s been really good. Al’s my best friend and it’s been great getting to spend time with him. That’s something I miss: Mukunda [Feldman, the M in JAM Fund, the team he, Donahue and Powers run], Emily … I see a lot of people who are in my life regularly but not my closest, best friends. I brought Mukunda to Roubaix World Cup with me. It’s been great. It’s been a good year and those guys have been able to be part of events with me and understand it really well. And for Al as a coach – we talk about coaching but he’s not giving me every single workout. We’re bouncing ideas off of each other and just jamming. That’s good for me. As an athlete you should be thinking about how you feel, and take into consideration how you feel.
CXM: So will Al continue to “coach” you?
JP: Yeah. I don’t have a new coach lined up for February 1st. I’ve enjoyed having him. He was in Arizona with me, motor pacing, sitting in the car while I was riding. He was in Massachusetts while I was doing intervals, driving next to me and giving me my warm jacket and tea. He’s been busting his ass to help me out and he understands this world very well now and he’s been a massive help. I can’t see that stopping. If he could have a roll with the next program that I’m with…
CXM: So what could have been a stressful situation turned out to be a blessing in disguise?
JP: Yeah. And like I said, not just for me, for him too. He’s gaining a ton of valuable experience in cyclocross. He knows US cyclocross very well and coaches a lot of amateur and just-under pro level athletes. So the knowledge and experience that he’s getting … I’m paying him for his help and he’s getting the experience and he’s really excited about it. It’s a win for everyone.
CXM: What’s your road season looking like with Jelly Belly, and are you still going to mainly focus on cyclocross?
JP: I haven’t made that call yet. I haven’t signed a contract for ‘cross so I don’t know what’s going to happen. My contract goes through February so I’m going to find out how things are working. I’m going after this to JellyBelly camp. From here I go to San Diego and then fly out to Japan, finish that race up, and come back the 15th. Then I have some time off. I’m very much looking forward to that. Then, we start my training again somewhere in March. Take off there or four weeks, just relax.
CXM: I call BS on you relaxing.
JP: Yeah, I’ll probably rip the house apart or start a demolition project or something where I’m taking out all the concrete.
CXM: Speaking of new projects, you had the cyclocross DVD come out, you’ve been doing Behind THE Barriers, what’s next?
JP: There’s always projects on the horizon. If Behind THE Barriers continues on, there’s going to be some fun changes. There’s a lot of things that have to line up, but we’ve been talking a lot. The show, if it’s going to continue, won’t be in the same exact format. It won’t follow me. It’ll have other stuff in it. That’ll be fun. I think people will really enjoy it. But like with everything, you can’t continue to do the same thing. You gotta refine, make it better, try new things. I’d say there’s a lot of irons in the fire.
CXM: This season has really stretched out. Are you ready to get back on the road bike?
JP: I’m not ready to get on any bike at this point. I’m ready to put a bike away. And that’s why I’d like to bring my road commitment down. This is a long season. I was doing camps and cyclocross stuff in August. So I was training for this by the end of July. And I was racing in Korea in April. I took off 10 days in July and that was my break for the season. I bit off a lot. I definitely, truthfully, just stopped and knew I’d have to bury my training and put up a Hail Mary for after Nationals because I couldn’t plan anymore. It’s a long season. There’s been so much racing. There’s only a certain amount of going hard you can do before your body just can’t. I don’t know how many races I’ve done. Probably 25-30. I did a lot of one day races though.
CXM: If you could go back and redo anything, would you?
JP: I would not have done anything differently. I might have changed some of my training going into some races. Roubaix, for instance, was one race I wasn’t going to originally do but wanted the points. And it would have gone really well if I hadn’t had a mechanical; it would have been a top 10. And I wouldn’t have gone so quickly from Arizona to Europe. That was an oversight on my part. I needed a week to recover from that massive block of training and didn’t get the recovery I needed and went into those races flat. You can’t race World Cups like that. It was a massive oversight and I was pretty pissed off at myself. I thought I would recover quicker but the flight was difficult and I just didn’t sleep at all. I never recovered. That’s what I would do differently, but how could I? I was trying to get points in the World Cup.
CXM: The big question: are you going to be DJing the foam party this Sunday night?
JP: I am going to be DJing this Sunday night. Well, the helicopter entrance hasn’t been confirmed, so we’ll see. We asked for a helicopter entrance. There’s a reputation to live up to. Let’s say I don’t win the race, and Niels Albert goes to the foam party and I don’t show up in a helicopter…
CXM: That’s just embarrassing for the Americans.
JP: So let’s set the standard. This is a national pride issue. We asked for a lot of things. Champagne, a helicopter entrance… I want to get dropped off by the helicopter wearing a Scooby Doo outfit with Batman wings. And I want to drop out of the helicopter on a rope, through a window.
CXM: Can there be a disco ball at the end of this rope?
JP: Good point. Jake, take a note. Disco ball.
CXM: I heard you were doing it if they donated a certain amount to junior development. [All profits are going to junior development.]
JP: Yeah, we talked about that. I’m really glad someone is doing it and I can be part of something like that. It’s great for the community. I’ll go DJ for an hour, it’s a perfect scenario for me. I think it’ll be a lot of fun.
At Worlds? Saturday and Sunday, stop by the Rapha Focus tent and give a donation for the JAM Fund developmental team and walk away with a cupcake, JPow stickers and a JPow yelling cone.
Don’t miss our LIVE STREAMING VIDEO of the 2013 Cyclocross World Championships. And for all the latest news, results, photos and videos from the 2013 Cyclocross World Championships and Masters World Championships in Louisville, KY, keep checking our 2013 Cyclocross World Championships page.