American cross racer Jeremy Powers took the leap this year to headline the Rapha-Focus after four successfully years on the Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com and in the first month of racing, the 28-year old has shown that he’s come into his own. He has handled the mantle of being team captain all the while under the increased scrutiny of Behind the Barriers. With a very clear goal of making it to the top of UCI standings, Powers stacked his early season with races every weekend and even on some Wednesdays, more than any other racer. He raced aggressively, taking risks with bunny hopping and riding certain sections, sometimes it worked but sometimes it did not. In the end, he came out with four UCI wins, all in C2s and is preparing to head out to Europe for the first two World Cups of the season.
In Sunday’s USGP New Belgium Cup, Powers took off in his trademark fast start, took the holeshot but then waited, bidding his time to time his attack. Then a bobble had him on the defensive having to chase down a resurgent Ryan Trebon (LTS/Felt). The two then went to went in a fantastic duel, not their first this year and certainly not their last, until Powers was able to drop him with enough time to enjoy his victory salute when he crossed the line.
During his short stint at home before flying to the Czech Republic on Tuesday, Powers took the time to answer our questions on his season, his approach to racing and so much more. Here is part one of our chat earlier today as part of our ongoing One-On-One series of interviews where we go in-depth with riders. (Read part two)
podiuminsight: What were you thinking when you raised your arm yesterday in victory?
Powers: Oooh I was really just happy. I think a lot of people are very critical of my racing this year and a lot of people have opinions about my racing this year and I guess that comes with the territory of doing well but it’s also frustrating for me. There’s a lot of things going on, a lot of stuff that people don’t see necessarily but they draw conclusions and it’s not always a fact. I don’t know, I’ve been just really, really frustrated at how I’ve been getting second and third places that I do feel that I’ve been strong enough to win and I haven’t been so that’s really hard to deal with. It’s a very tough thing when you’re saying oh I’m good enough to win but I’m not winning. So then you have to step back and say why am I not winning? My coach was there yesterday and the day before and he was watching everything. Just to put everything together to have a nice where I won at altitude and where someone else wanted to win as badly as I did and I was the person that won, that always feel great. That was really what you were seeing yesterday, a lot of excitement and pride.
So you’re right I have seen a lot of people commenting, ‘he’s going too hard, he can’t ride in the mud’, a of stuff, so how do you handle all these criticisms? All these very public comments?
I don’t know, it’s a little bit new. I guess it started last year with Behind the Barriers and I knew that that would happen, people either making assumptions on my lifestyle, this or that which is fine, I opened myself to that a little bit. But at the end of the day I try to not let it affect me too much, if anything it motivates me. Someone says I can’t do something that immediately makes me think ‘oh really?’ (chuckles)
But I like to quietly put pressure on myself, I truly don’t get down about it, I’m not like ‘oh I’m bummed out that that person said that’, sometimes I’m like sad that they think that because that’s not the fact. ‘Oh how he sucks in the mud’ but I don’t really care about that. That’s your opinion and it’s fine that you have that but other stuff like he made the wrong decision about moving teams, he’s never going to do this, he’s never going to do that. There’s a lot of just crap being written but that’s fine too, it’s all good. I’m happy that people have an opinion because that means that they’re paying attention. I want them to have their favorite rider, I want them to have Tim (Johnson) as their favorite rider or Ryan as their favorite rider or whoever. I want there to be rivalries, so it’s been great, at the end of the day, I’m happy, they’re happy, Ryan is winning, Tim is coming onto form. We’re having a real sporting event.
Yeah we are. Let’s follow that one. With Behind the Barriers, the blogs, the interviews, you do show and tell a lot about your life, you did open that curtain a bit. Is there anything you won’t talk about or show?
(laughs) You know me and I think you actually know that pretty much that’s out there is how I actually do live my life, there’s not a fake Jeremy Powers that people are seeing. Maybe I’m swearing a little less or I’m being a little bit reserved in terms of how I speak openly but besides that, everything is the same. I don’t have anything to hide, I try to be as down to earth, I’m just a bike rider. It’s cool that people are fans of mine and that they enjoy watching my work and being fans of my work, I’m a fan too, I love doing this. This is my dream and my passion, it’s not really work, I just like to have a good time and create something that people can be part of and have fun and hopefully grow the sport and do my part in the meantime.
I think that Behind the Barriers is fabulous but don’t you wish sometimes that people would just leave you alone? (laughs)
Sometimes it does get stressful but people use the phrase ‘living the dream’ and that’s really what it is. It’s great. Sam (Smith) is being paid to do that work, I’m having a fun time promoting cyclocross, everybody seems to be happy with what they’re doing. Sam’s job is not easy, he’s running around, red eye flights every weekend, editing, posting, going through the stuff with me, we’re doing a lot of work. The blog stuff is fine but that’s why some of the journals and other things I’ve been doing have fallen off a little bit because I’m only one man (laughs).
With so much around you, how do you stay focused?
Really just coming off road season there’s not a ton more training that I need to do. I like to ride, that’s the good thing. If I’m not doing a four-hour ride I kind of get grumpy because I like to ride my bike for four hours, that’s the good news. That’s essentially what I really need to do, I just need to keep pedaling my bike and staying focused. Usually when my head is in the right place, my legs seem to be in the right place too. I’ve been really fortunate to have good people around me, good coaching, good friends, we have great mechanics this year, everything has been really coming together well. There was a little bit of time where we were kind of getting balance as far as team stuff goes but we’ve been flawless for a couple of weekends now and I’ve been really happy with everything.
The focus part that’s the job. How does anybody stay focused with the internet and so many things going on? Just like everyone else, I fall victim to the same things, it’s like going down the candy aisle, yes of course I’m going to get the M&Ms, I’m a human (laughs). But just like everybody gets up to go to work every day I do the exact same thing, I get up and go out whatever work out that my coach prescribes.
It’s been a fantastic and dramatic start to the season. What do you think of your one month of racing with four wins?
I expected to go well at the beginning. Since this interview is coming out now and nothing is going to change, I’ll tell you first that my goal for this year was to be number one in the UCI rankings, that has been my goal from the outright. I’ve always wanted to be the UCI points leader after the first World Cup, that’s been my goal since I started. We’re coming into that and that’s why I put such a heavy racing load on myself and that’s why I picked the races that I did, and that’s why some of the races, I came into them a little bit flat.
I’ve been doing so much racing, I don’t even know, I’ve done so many races at this point, I’m almost already maxed on C2s and we just started the season. I’ve already won four races and they’re all been C2s, and I’ve been in the top five of every C1 that I’ve done so I’m definitely going to be up there on points so now I have to put it together at the two World Cups. And then we’ll see what happens, then we re-assess after that and see where we’re at. It’s definitely going to shape the rest of my season after this, depending on where I am in that ranking and how many more races I really need to do, the C2s, I may not some of the races I don’t need to do anymore because I did such a heavy load early on.
Last year, you were at the top of the UCI rankings but you had to leave Europe and come back to race here. If you are number one, are you staying in Europe to be the first one called?
I think we’re going to wait and see a little bit of what happens. For this trip, I’m only doing the first two World Cups and I’m coming home. And then, if the other World Cups make sense, and I have the ability to go and do them, that can be something that we’ll talk about. But for right now, the focus is actually on the first part of the year, doing really well in the UCI ranking for the first two, coming back here, three more weekends of racing when I come back from the World Cups, taking a nice break and then re-focusing my efforts for Nationals and then the USGP is part of that block. So the final USGP will be a little bit early but it will be towards the end of a hard training block and then I’ll try to hold that for another month and change to Worlds.
I’m glad that you’re taking a break, that’s a lot of racing.
There’s a big break.
Does it matter that none of your wins (so far) were C1 races? You know that talk that you can’t win a C1.
Mmm, yeah, I think it’s just been circumstances. I think everybody knows that the mud is not my strongest suit and obviously I had some stuff, there was a lot of competition here, there was a lot of hungry guys. Christian (Heule) rode a great race at Gloucester and I wish I had won that race, it was a sprint finish so I was really close there. I was in the sprint to win at Vegas and I got fourth so that’s okay. (chuckles)
At Madison, I actually was in second place and then Bart was dropped and then I dabbed. This last weekend, I was in it but it wasn’t a great course for me, it was everything that I’m not really great at, it’s mud and at altitude, it didn’t favor me. And Ryan is riding incredible right now, he’s riding really strong, he’s very determined, and I think if you look at the results of the races and you see that we’re blowing out the people that we’re blowing out. People should be surprised, I’m every surprised at that. I know what my power meter says, I know what power we’re putting out, I’m really excited to do these World Cups, we’re going fast (laughs). Ryan is incredibly strong right now.
Are the both of you so much better than last year? Is that what is going on?
I am riding stronger than last year, yes.
One thing I noticed is that you seem to be willing to take risks this year maybe than before to go for the win, bunny hopping, riding stairs, pushing it more. Am I wrong?
I think I have to. It’s totally different now because it’s just really me. Chris (Jones) was great to have this weekend but it’s just me really and I have to look out for myself. If I can take back two, three seconds and I can ride in the front. Last year we tried to gap roll, one of our guys was off the front and we put to gap roll, and come back and then we’d go for the next but now it’s a completely different style of racing.
You’re not seeing anything watered down at this point, it’s really up to me to get every second out of the course that I can and so sometimes that mean riding this or riding that. I also feel really comfortable on this bike, that does say a lot. I think being able to handle the bike a lot better, it suits my body a lot better than the Cannondale did, it’s lower in the front end, I like the geometry. I’m really comfortable on the bike and that’s why I think you can see me jumping barriers and doing a lot of stuff that I haven’t been doing in the past because I do feel better on the bike all around.