While many have picked either Zach McDonald (Rapha-Focus) or reigning U23 US National Cross Champion Danny Summerhill (Felt-Holowesko Partners) as the favorites but Jeremy Ferguson (California Giant/Specialized) is coming to the race to win.
“I think top 3 is doable but I’m going there to win for sure.” Ferguson said a few days ago.
The 20-year old from California calls this year his best cross season ever which included taking second-place overall in the Greenware US Gran Prix of Cyclocross. All following his goals for the year.
“My main goals were just to try to be one of the top under-23s, do well in the USGPs and then do well at Nationals with a goal towards making the under-23 Worlds team.” he explained. “I feel like I’ve been top 3, top 5 consistently all season and to keep doing that and have a good ride at Nationals will help me to get onto the [Worlds] team.”
Who? Ferguson is a bit of an unknown nationally but he’s not new to the racing scene by any means. “I’ve been around the scene a long time but not traveling and racing or anything like that.”
He started racing cyclocross at the age of 9 where he won his first ever race which happened to be the US Cyclocross Nationals in 1999 held in the Presidio.
Last year’s U23 Cyclocross National Championships was the best day of his career where he claimed a fifth-place finish.
“That sticks out in my mind. I think because I hadn’t done much traveling last year and I was kind of an underdog and maybe no one really knew who I was and coming into that race and getting onto the podium was, I felt, was a good day for me.”
After joining the Elite program at CalGiant, Ferguson has traveled and raced nationally this year, tackling all four USGP weekends and the four UCI races in Southern California. Not only nationally but internationally as he made a brief trip to Europe right before the final USGP weekend.
“It was good,” he said about his racing in Europe, “the courses that we did were super-hard. It was a quick trip so we had to adjust as quickly as we could possibly do and I was there with two other U23, Jerome Townsend and Danny Summerhill and the racing was tough. I don’t know if it was just the quick travel going in there but I definitely learned a lot because there were some of the hardest courses I had done, one of them being the Koksijde course which is pretty much all sand. That was a learning experience and it was a good one because it’s going to be a Worlds course for next year. I was glad to recon and see what that one is all about for next year.”
As for the worst day, well actually make that two days, the USGP Derby City Cup in Louisville. “ don’t know if it was the heat, the dust or just me but I was just feeling I was pulling squares that day, it went horribly. Both days that weekend, it was just not good.”
How did he recover from those two tough days? “I just focused and took a little break after that, and I rested that week and then put in some more solid training to try to ramp back up for the last part of the season.”
And it worked as Ferguson is feeling better and stronger towards the end of the season.
Like many other in the U23 category, Ferguson is still in school and has had to learn to balance his life and works with a coach. “I have understanding teachers which is nice, and being smart about my scheduling also, picking races so that I don’t overfill my schedule, being able to handle that workload , I’ve been doing it for a couple of years now so I know what I’m doing.”
As for the best way to heckle him at a bike race. Ferguson laughed and replied, “The team’s new way to heckle is to use my nickname which is Fergy and yell Fergylicious. They just acquired a megaphone so we can usually hear that halfway around the course.”
One of his competitors for the U23 title this year is his teammate Cody Kaiser, but that’s not a problem for Ferguson.
The two have been racing together and against each other for many years.
“We knew each other when were like twelve, something like that. We’ve been on the same team since we were both around thirteen so we’ve been pushing each other pretty much consistently and I think we both pushed each other’s level to where we’ve gotten to today ever since back then.”
And Ferguson can race to win against his teammate. “I can do it. The same thing with any other team like the Cannondale team, they both want to win but they understand the team thing too.”
It’s about cross. Ferguson, who has one more year as an under-23 rider, admits that the transition from Junior 17/18 to racing with the Elites was difficult.
“The first year or two years were hard. My first year getting into the traveling was, as a second year of 17/18 so I was still getting used to it but as an under-23 and I think just now, last year and this year, I’m getting more comfortable at these bigger events and I feel like I’m getting where I should be.”
While many American cross racers are focused on the 2013 World Championships in Louisville, the timing is not great for Ferguson. “Unfortunately, that is the year that I turn Elite. That will get rougher.”
His goal for the next three to five years is to “be at the top of cyclocross. I want to focus on cross, I want to be up there fighting for the podiums, and in five years I want to be up there on the elite podiums.”
He would love to be able to be a full-time cross racer while staying in the United States but is keeping his options open. “Hopefully it grows to that level where you’re able to stay here and do it full-time. But if opportunities come I would go over there for racing and I would consider that an option.”
One way would be to focus on World Cups in Europe while residing in the USA. “I don’t think that I could pick up and jump ship like Jonathan Page and live full-time over there. I do like the way that Tim Johnson is doing it where he’s picking up a little bit more of an active schedule on the European scene. He made quite a few more trips this year, that would be something I’m interested in, being able to go to all the World Cups but not having a full-time [schedule there], I think that’s what I would like to do. I wouldn’t be able to pick up everything and leave.”
One thing this is very clear when talking to the soft-spoken Ferguson is that cross is “absolutely” his focus. “That’s what I started on, that was the first race I ever did.”
And he might be quiet off the bike but he was quick to answer when asked if he had the killer instinct. “Yeah, definitely. Quiet off the bike but once I get one, it’s a different story. “