Powers would fade after an impressive start but still finish fifth in thestacked field. © Cyclocross Magazine

Powers would fade after an impressive start but still finish fifth in the stacked field at Nationals. © Cyclocross Magazine

by Christine Vardaros

While most cyclocross racers hung up their bikes directly after Nationals, Jeremy Powers (Cannondale/ took his to Belgium to start the second half of his cross season.  After successfully completing two weeks of an intense racing period during Belgium’s infamous holiday block of events, he still didn’t hang the bike up.  Instead he headed home to New England to recharge for a couple of weeks so he can compete in the last World Cup and the World Championships to be held in Hoogerheide, NED and Tabor, Czech Republic respectively.

When Cyclocross Magazine asks about his post-Nationals trip to Belgium, Powers responds, “Overall it was good. But this year was hard with really muddy conditions. If it had been frozen it would have suited me a little better.  I always get more motivated here because the level is so high which forces me to compete outside my comfort zone.  I get to see the guys who are the major leagues of cyclocross – to watch the World Champion [Niels Albert], Sven Nys and Zdenek Stybar come through and hit a certain section really fast or to do something different. Just to see it is humbling but a good way to learn.”

With his support crew from not making the trip to Belgium until the second part of Powers’ European schedule, he had to rely on his own resources to get the job done. “We [he and teammate Jamey Driscoll] had a mechanic I met back in 2004, Luigi.  We also had Chris McKinney from SRAM. Both came only to the events.  It was a little bit stressful getting our bikes dialed with the back-to-back races.  Sometimes we’d have to do a little bit of work ourselves which doesn’t help after these races because they’re so hard.  It’s a whole day thing when you come to Europe. You go to the race so early in the day, then you’re there all day, then you come home and it’s night.  It’s just a lot of work.  Then my clothes have to be cleaned  – the whole 9!  We didn’t have a van this year, so we had to rough it a little more.  But overall the support was good and it’s going to be better the next time I come here. I am looking forward to it.”

As for his atypical trip mid-season back to the States, Powers comments, “Usually I would stay here [in Europe] and train somewhere warm but this year I’m going home to spend time with my girlfriend. First time I’m doing this so we’ll see how it works out.  I just bought a new home in East Hampton [Massachusetts] so I’m looking forward to working on the project with this old house. Even though it’s going to take a little bit of time to get home, it’s going to be equally as good and less stressful than going to somewhere foreign – like a third home away from home in some place like Spain or South of France. Belgium is of course my second home away from home.”

To get the workouts in during the dead of winter, Powers is set.  “We have a cyclocross course close to my house.  I am going to see if I can get it ready to do some intervals on it to keep my technical skills up.  It’s been gliding into the 30’s and 40’s at home so a lot of my friends are still training. We also have Computrainer sessions that go all week long and I have really good friends who have tons of rollers and big studios. And my girlfriend will motorpace me on nice days.  Hmmm…my mountain bike just came back from the shop.”

Going into his last couple of races, Powers keeps his ambitions in perspective.  “I keep reminding myself that the part of my season here in Europe is a bit secondary to racing in the U.S. where my results are more important to my sponsor.   So I look back at my season and I am psyched and for these two upcoming races I am motivated.  Some of my best rides at a World Cup were in Hoogerheide.  Also last year at Worlds [in Hoogerheide] I had a decent race.  And then Worlds [in Tabor] is a course I’ve done well as a junior.  If it’s snowing and fast, that will be good for me.”  As for his expectations, Powers adds, “My goal is just to have a good race – one where I don’t have any problems or break anything and do the best that I can.  Now that I have been here [in Europe] this season, I think a definite realistic goal is probably in the top twenty-five.  An amazing day would be in the top fifteen.  I’d be over the moon with that!”

After his last two ‘cross races, he turns his attention immediately to the road.  When asked how he feels about the two disciplines, he responds, They are pretty equally weighed but I am definitely better at cyclocross.  I do take road seriously though. I race for Jelly Belly, a continental professional team.   We have a great group of guys and its fun. Obviously I race for a team in cyclocross as well but as the sport is more individualized, we still race each other.  It’s not like, “Hey Tim – that would be great if you could win today. Here let me help you out.” It’s more like, “We’re gonna rip each other’s legs off until the last lap and then figure it out.”  I love cross. It’s always what I’ve been into and always what I look forward to at the end of road season. But at the end of cyclocross, I think it’s going to be great to get back to training in warm weather and doing the road races.”

It may sound like fun to extend cross racing straight through to road season, but it can also test your mental strength.  “After Nationals, there’s a shutoff in my brain so I get a little bit burnt at the end of the season. I think it’s harder after the U.S. season stops – when the main focus of our season is over.  If the US season continued past Nationals into January it would be a lot easier for the us to get medals at Worlds and for guys who are coming over here for racing to stay motivated.  I have this problem less during road season coming into cross because I am really excited.  And if I get good results early in the cross season, it helps propel me mentally.”

When asked about the possibility of racing only cyclocross like the top guys do in Belgium, Powers responds, “If I were able to make a living strictly from cyclocross then I would stop racing on the road or do a modified road schedule.  In the U.S., it’s getting where it can be a possibility. More people are coming to the races and taking cyclocross seriously. There have been rivalries this year that propelled more media and people to take notice.  Or maybe it’s just from my perspective. I’m always talking to people and they’re like, “It seems so awesome out there.  It’s really crazy that Ryan [Trebon] is saying this about you guys and you guys are just smashing him, and this and that is happening, and new guys coming up like Chris Jones – can he do it?”  There are a lot of good rivalries that have developed so the racing has been fun to watch. At least when it’s really throwing down. The Portland races were really great. Everyone was there and wanted to win. Nationals it was the same.  I do think it’s possible to make a living at it. Not next year and probably not the year after that. Before I retire I would say yeah, definitely.”

If the development of U.S. cross racing were in the hands of Powers, he wouldn’t be short of ideas.  “If I were the guy in charge tomorrow, the first thing I would do is move Nationals to January from a completely sports performance side of things. If my goal were to make sure we got medals at the World Championships I would copy the European model. U.S. cyclocross is a short season. If you make it 5.5 months it becomes a legitimate season so people will have to focus on it. That can drive the younger kids to start saying, “I want to be a cyclocross racer”.  It would no longer be this fringe sport – the red-headed stepchild of cycling.”  Powers adds, “In the U.S., events have to be held where people are into cycling. Here in Belgium it’s so easy. No disrespect to event organizers in America, but when they hold a race where there isn’t a big cycling community and they don’t get a lot of racers, they’re disappointed. It’s kinda like, well what did you expect?  Did you expect people to randomly be like, “Oh that seems cool. I’ll go to that.” That’s not why people come. They come because they’re interested beforehand and they want to see something.”

Lastly, Powers offers advice to those who are considering taking their cyclocross racing to the next level.  “If it’s not fun then don’t do it. If it’s going to be a constant struggle and you’re just not getting the results and you’re always hating yourself because you’re not making it, then you have to think about it in a different way – or you have to try something else.”