The day that many, if not all, US cross fans were waiting for finally happened today in Bend, Oregon – the Jeremy Powers vs Tim Johnson showdown and the battle between friends and former teammates turned out to be compelling drama. The duel came down to a final sprint to the line where Powers, of Rapha-Focus team, outkicked Johnson, of Cannondale-cyclocrossworld.com team.
The last time the duo went at it was at the USGP finale last year in Portland, when Powers outsprinted Johnson for the race and series win. Though the series is pretty much sown up by Powers, the battle was fiercer today. Having raced together and against each other for many years, they each know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and were willing to take advantage of it.
“It turns out we know each other pretty well.” agreed Powers. “There was a moment at the end where I was trying to be as aggressive as possible. Tim was taking advantage of certain things that I was doing, there was one time where he caught me where I was all over the place, sliding out in a corner, legs was all over the place, this stuff was all happening and I was ‘ah he’s going to take advantage of me here’, and for sure next lap it was full gas all through that section, this is what you learn from someone after being together for so many years.”
“It was non stop the whole time, I don’t really feel that there was ever any let up from double track to single track to double track over and over again. For Jeremy and I, we had a pretty simple thing, we were just trying to hurt each other and try and beat each other.” Johnson said with a smile.
Ready, set go. The two lined up next to each other on the start grid, with Powers called-up first and taking the first spot by the barriers on the left side. Johnson, called up next, took the next spot. Oh it was on already. The two minute warning shout from the official stopped all the laughs, it was time to focus. Bang!
A quick first lap led to separation at the front of the race, Powers and his teammate Chris Jones along with Danny Summerhill (Garmin-Cervelo) had a small gap on a chasing group which included Johnson and his teammate Jamey Driscoll, Geoff Kabush (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain), Canadian Champion Chris Sheppard (Rocky Mountain Bicycles/Shimano) and Ben Berden (Ops Ale-Stoemper) who took the holeshot.
Powers was happy to play the teamwork card when Jones attacked out of the group forcing Johnson to expand energy in the chase.
“I just let an attack happen so that way I didn’t have to and force Tim to close it down and that’s the great thing of having a teammate, Chris was riding well.” Powers said.
But then Jones slid out on the turn after the flyover, a bobble that Johnson took advantage of to counter-attack. “I saw Chris slip because I was right behind him. Anytime there is an opening like that you have to take it. It’s unfortunate when things like that happen but Jones was Jeremy’s biggest ally. I figured it was going to be me and Jeremy today. It sucked for Jones for that to happen but it was good for us.”
Powers continued, “It’s unfortunate that he slid out but definitely it was a good opportunity as a team for us to work together. I know that I won’t always be in that position, if Jamey had been there it would have been a completely different thing and I would have been in that position. I took advantage of it while I could, it still put pressure on Tim and it made him go as hard as he could go to get Chris back.”
Mano y mano. Johnson accelerated one more time and only one rider was able to match him, it was Powers of course. The two were off the front, locked in a battle for the next six laps with Powers often following Johnson around the dusty course.
It was all according to Powers’ strategy. “I just always go so early in these races and it’s predictable, it’s just trying to race different and race smart. I know that Tim wants to win really bad and he was going to force it.”
Each watching each other, each trying to use any mistake to his advantage. “Truth be told he was riding the technical sections a bit better than I was so I was kind of watching his lines, trying to pay attention as much as I could to what he was doing. ” said Powers. “We learned a lot from each other a little bit out there, I know that some of the things I was doing he started to do, some of the lines.”
The conditions changed the course dramatically to last year’s muddy and snowy Nationals. What was snow and ice was now gravel and dust, making it technical in a different way according to Powers.
“You had to go a certain speed and so that means go as hard as you can but not have too much weight on the front wheel, nurse it, ‘okay, deep breath, go through this corner really slowly, if I go any faster I’m going to wash out’.” explained Powers. “That was unique, we don’t race like that typically, that’s not how you race in the mud, in the mud it’s like wet and wild and blast this thing and just see if I can make it through because there’s so much suction, today was just a completely different thing where you just go as slow as you can to get through that section because it’s a chicane on loose gravel, you just pffft.”
With no major mistakes, the two were still together as they entered the final lap. Powers took over the front as the flew by on the pavement at the finish line, the two switched again but Powers led into the barriers with less than half a lap to go and the final sprint was on.
“The last corner I came on the inside, if I had had some better sprinting legs, I think I could have had him. Jeremy does have a good kick and he’s definitely not slow in the last couple hundred meters of the race. I really needed to lead through that last corner, I needed to take that space away from him. The last 50 meters, I kind of had the chance to take that space away from him but I didn’t do it. It would have been ugly if I had.” Johnson laughed.
Ahead on the pavement with 50 meters to go, Powers started to post up for the victory but Johnson was still charging. The same move that Powers did at USGP Louisville when he started to celebrate his win but had to drop down to his drops to outkick a charging Todd Wells (Specialized). Luckily for Powers, he was able to cross the line first both times.
“I think Ryan (Trebon) and I just try to settle it out real early. It’s my bad and I apologize to everybody, it was inappropriate, I should have not tried to celebrate early. I made a mistake, what can I say?” Powers said.
Powers then added with a laugh, “I was trying to zip up.”
Johnson quickly reacted with another laugh, “Oh you bastard.”
You can bet that the two will go at it again on day two of the USGP weekend this Sunday. Forecasts are calling for colder temperatures and chances of snow – but whatever Mother Nature throws at us, one thing is certain, the race will be heated.
Top 10 Results
1. Jeremy Powers (Rapha/Focus)
2. Timothy Johnson (Cannondale/Cyclocrossworld.com)
3. Daniel Summerhill (Garmin Cervelo)
4. James Driscoll (Cannondale/Cyclocrossworld.com)
5. Ben Berden (Ops Ale – Stoemper)
6. Geoff Kabush (Team Maxxis / Rocky Mountain)
7. Chris Sheppard (Rocky Mountain Bicycles/Shimano)
8. Christopher Jones (Rapha/Focus)
9. Zach Mcdonald (Rapha/Focus)
10. Troy Wells (Team Clif Bar)