Mention cyclocross to Jeremy Powers of the Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com team and you’ll get a quick reaction: his frequent smile gets bigger and more awesome’s get peppered in the conversation. While he loves all things cycling, the 26-year old has an obvious passion for cyclocross.
This year once again, after a season with the UCI Continental Jelly Belly Cycling team on the road, Powers went straight into racing cross. He started off strong, winning is first UCI cross race at the Planet Bike Cup, the first event of the US Gran Prix of Cyclocross series in Madison WI.
“It was just my form, I haven’t been training at all since before Missouri. I took a break before Missouri, it’s just my form, I’ve been trying to let it go away a little bit, trying to feather it out but it’s just not that happening.” Powers said after winning the race.
“Every year I keep saying, I’m going to come out slower and not try to go as hard at the start and then the Tour of Missouri happens and I come into September and these races are dry and fast and it just happens to be…”, Powers continued after a short pause “you just can’t change when you’re good, you got to go when you’re good.”
After winning the muddy, slip-slidding Darkhorse Cyclo-Stampede in Covington KY, the first of three races of the Cincinnati UCI3 Cyclocross Festival, JPow sat down to answer my questions as I continue to learn from and about the people that inhabit the world cross.
Little did either of us know at that point that he would go on to sweep the 3 races of the UCI3 and win the Sunday race in Toronto last weekend. (See video of Powers bunny hoping the barriers on day 2 of UCI3)
Obviously, you love cross from the top of your head to the tip of your toes. What is it about cyclocross that you love so much?
When I was younger cyclocross was all the rage in New England, everyone was doing it. Adam Myerson was probably the first person that told me ‘hey man you have to start doing this in the winter and start training with it’. Tom Masterson was another guy who went to the Worlds for the United States and he also told me at a young age – he was from Vermont – you need to be doing cyclocross. And I was ‘okay, what is this cyclocross?’ I was racing junior mountain bike races at the time. I started off first on my mountain bike doing cyclocross races in a lime green skin suit, which is cool, we have a picture of that in my family. And then eventually we upgraded to some type of Trek that we got and then after that, it was just my mom and I ripping across cross races in our big green diesel pickup truck. There were so many in New England at the time that it was just a grassroot thing, it was awesome. We had so much fun. Honestly, I was just great one hour or 45 minute bike rider, I’ve always been, I’ve never been a 6-hour bike rider although when you get older you get better at this type of thing. Honestly, my strength is in very short power burst oriented efforts like cyclocross has. So for me, that’s really where the success came from, not that I have the most success but in the most modest way that’s why I’ve been able to do well in cyclocross.
So did you study the history of cross? You seem to know a lot of it.
I knew a lot about cyclocross, I almost watched it from its inception, kind of grow. I was definitely not that first guy, that would be wrong of me to say that when these guys were doing this stuff in Europe where it was created. But as far as US cyclocross goes, I’ve watched it grow quite a bit and I definitely been part of what I consider a really cool movement and something that I’m really proud to be of.
In a previous interview, you talked about road guys poo-pooing cross.
Mostly, it’s just guys like Mike Creed that you’ve written about, guys like to take shots and jokes, the Andy Bajadalis, guys that I’m friends with, like to take shots ‘that thing that you guys are doing’, this and that. Some people don’t realize that it is very hard and that you can’t just show up. I think that what’s I like to emphasize that I would love anyone of those road guys to come out and do anything like a race like today. I don’t think that would go very well, and if it did well kudos to them, I truly believe that cyclocross is unique and that it takes a very specific skillset to do well at, especially at the very high level, it’s hard. It’s all fun, it’s all good, I definitely don’t hold any grudges, it’s more of a joke but I think it was at Tour of Missouri, that I said if I hear one more [in a funny voice], ‘oh yeah that cyclocross season is coming up’, it’s over, someone is getting slapped. [laughs]
You mentioned different skill sets, what are they?
Mountain biking is like a slow hard burn, it takes a beating on your back, it’s so hard. I did a mountain bike race this year at Mt Snow, it’s so hard, it’s different, it’s not like the road, it’s two hours and it’s mean. And then you have a road race, and it’s 6 hours, that’s the slowest, hardest kind of race. Then you’re out there for six hours and thinking ‘when is someone going to crack, hopefully somebody cracks on this climb, hopefully this time, hopefully this time’ and eventually it whittles down and guys crack and then you get ahead. On a circuit race, that’s awesome because you get to watch guys leave every lap. And then, cyclocross is capitalizing off of other people’s mistakes and it’s also just being strong and fast through certain sections. The cool thing about cross, the course has a lot to do on how guys go so it’s not just power, there’s talent and that’s what really cool about cyclocross. And it’s also cool that we get the race sorted out in an hour, it doesn’t take two, it takes one, so we get the job done quick which I like because I have ADD so that’s easy for me. [chuckles]
You’re on fire right now. You said that you wanted to take it slow so is it the form from the road season that’s kicking in?
I’m litterally taking it slower, I’m doing less than I’ve ever had at this time of year, I’m doing mountain biking and hanging out during the week mostly, we’re having a good time. I have a new coach and we did a lot of things differently. Rick Crawford is my coach now from Colorado Premier Training, we did a huge base and he’s got me stylin’, we’ve got tons of energy in the tank, mentally I’m fresh. I’m not winning every race, I think I’m more up and down but that’s because I haven’t really been putting in the time, I’ve been doing just very little bit and just trying to keep what I have and hopefully trying to build on it for December and January. I really want to be good at the World Championships, and I want to focus on the National Championships, it’s important to try and win that race. I haven’t yet but I hope with some luck, but if I don’t, it’s okay too, it is what it is.
So if tou are not doing much now, when are you going to start ramping up again?
I have a lot of travel, this weekend we’re here in Ohio, then next weekend Toronto then Louisville then Boulder. We’re really cranking but I’ve got some blocks built in. We’re going to do some training coming up in a little bit. With the travel, it’s more important to be careful now, there’s a lot of sickness going around this time of year so it’s more important to be rested up now than anything.
Are you surprised how well you are doing right now?
It is surprising, it’s awesome. I’m truly lucky and I really love what I do, it’s just about having fun for me. I have great people around me, I truly do love the program that I’m with and the guys I travel with, all my friends back home and my coach, it’s really amazing, I have a great group of people around me that support me. That’s really what it’s all about, being able to call home and have people excited about what you’re doing. I feell really lucky to have that.
I read that you wanted to grow the sport even more in the US. What needs to happen?
I think a lot of us have a lot of irons in the fire, things on the burner, things are coming and going and people are becoming more interested in the sport of cyclocross. We don’t need to exactly replicate what’s going on in Europe to a T but if we do it our way, we can get people to come out and we have people at the race and we have shown that, we have big races here, we have more Europeans coming out every year now. It’s definitely growing in popularity here, it’s going to take something awesome like TV or live web streaming, we need the regular media involved. I just hope that that one thing comes along and it’s the one, so we’ll see what happens. Like I said, there are things in the fire, things that can’t really be said….
How important is it to get Europeans to race here?
That’s huge, I love when they come, that legitimizes the racing, that makes it real. When Erwin Vervecken comes and Christian Heule, these guys are ranked top 10 in the world. Tim Van Nuffel is a strong rider also, when these three guys are coming. Last year at CrossVegas, we had Florian Vogel, Todd Wells, Geoff Kabush is a World Cup winner, we have guys that are racing at the highest level and we’re all competing together, there’s truly the best talent out there, and we’re all racing and competing and we’re all giving it to each other, blow for blow. It’s really great racing, cyclocross is awesome because you can see so much of it. In a moutain bike race or road race you can only see a certain amount, unless it’s a short track race so it’s really awesome, and I just can’t wait for it to take off, it’s going to, it just when.
I’m curious. Obviously you love this, so why not go and compete in Europe full-time?
It’s definitely in the burner, I think I need another year to say yes. I have a lot of things going on in life but I hope in the future that Europe is going to be where I end up if that’s the highest level but like I said and I’ve said this before, it defeats the purpose if I want to make it happen here and then I go to race in Europe. Somehow, some way I have to split my time and I have say this is a focus here and that’s a focus there so, my ultimate goal is to make the level here high enough that I don’t have to leave, that would be fantastic. And if I can do that and then go to Europe, like I have been, in December and January, then that’s fantastic. So if we can grow the season here where it’s a split thing, when half the year we’re here and haf the year we’re in Europe and that’s awesome too. There’s a lot of culture and history in Europe so it’s going to be hard to change but I think we can take our share of the pie, and it would be awesome, I truly believe that.
Powers’ next race is the second event in USGP, the Derby City Cup in Louisville KY this weekend.