Ten UCI wins, the overall victory at the Exergy US Gran Prix of Cyclocross and a tenth place at the first World Cup this cross season for Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus). It’s not just the wins but the way they were obtained that makes it the year of Powers – and yes, the season not over.
Many of the victories came in heated duels against riders such as Ryan Trebon (LTS/Felt), reigning USA Cyclocross Champion Todd Wells (Specialized) and Tim Johnson (Cannondale pb cyclocrossworld.com), and in some Powers kept his composure after early bobbles to come back from behind.
After a very good consistent cross season in 2010 where Powers won his first USGP title, the 28-year old rider stepped it up once again this year, showing that he was able to maintain his fitness over multiple months while dealing with the pressure of headlining a team and his ever growing celebrity status. It’s not that Powers has not worked hard to achieve the victories – they all do – but this year there is something more, a quality that’s hard to name, maybe it’s an extra focus or maybe it’s a new maturity. Whatever it is, it can be seen when he waits for the start, when he warms up, when he races, in every detail.
Powers told podiuminsight before Christmas that being on a new team did bring some increased focus.
“The clowning around with Tim, we had a good time.” Powers said with a chuckle about his former teammate Johnson. “It’s not that I wouldn’t still do that, it’s not that we still don’t do that when we see each other. We’d be wrestling in the hotel room, we’re friends, jumping out from behind stuff, hiding, putting each other’s helmet in the fireplace. Just random stuff that ended maybe not taking away energy but it definitely didn’t give us any more power or wattage on race day doing all that stuff.”
“It’s probably a little bit of that for me.” he admitted. “I don’t think it probably affected Tim as much because in my opinion, he looks at that and yeah this is just us having a good time but for me, I’m always thinking of something to do, to do this, do that, doing that on top of 20,000 other things, I think it’s that one little piece of being alone more and focusing just that little bit seemed to help.”
Obviously, there was motivation to do well for his new team, Rapha Focus. “They invested a lot into me and into the program and I wanted to give them that return. I felt like I had a real connection with those guys and they made some sacrifices to have me and to support me and I wanted to do the same for them, so I gave everything I had including some more attention to details in my training and also in my pre-race stuff.”
“Just every year you have to refine and make adjustment if you want to continue to win, I had a lot of competition from Ryan this year, and Todd, Bart Wellens and Tim. I had to race with all those guys and I felt being consistent all year long and winning races all year long is something that I’m good at.”
Flack. With two of his wins, Powers took some public flack over his early celebrations. The first one happened on the second day of the Exergy USGP Derby City Cup in Louisville where Powers had quickly drop to his drops to sprint to the win ahead of a charging Wells. Then, again on day one of the Exergy USGP Deschutes Brewery Cup in Bend, Oregon in a heated duel with Johnson.
After his win on Sunday to sweep the Bend weekend, Powers said “it feels right today, yesterday it didn’t feel right” – very telling.
Did he still felt the same way more than a week after the USGP finale in Bend? “Definitely in the moment I felt that way because of the early celebration. I felt like I kind of skanked that win a little bit by not celebrating properly or mis-timing that. Tim has gotten in front of me, and then I had gone by him by a bike length and I thought okay, the race is over.” Powers replied.
In all his years of racing, Powers is not known for early celebrations and yet it happened twice. “With Todd, I really did believe that I had won the race. Maybe when it was just Ryan and I, you race so hard before it, and I was racing with Ryan so much all season, if he’s won the race, he’s won the race. We race all the way until we get to a point.”
“I mean no disrespect to Todd, I felt like I had a significant gap there that wasn’t able to be closed down, I just felt in my opinion that the race was over. I looked back, I thought I saw he was done and he had said enough was enough and I felt like okay this is victory salute time and so I was going to slap some hands on the way down, do a victory salute but then I glanced down, I got to go and then I thought if I go, he’ll sit up and then I looked back, he was going so alright, now I need to sprint for the line. I thought that time, man that will never happen again.”
But then it happened again a few weeks later. “With Tim, I don’t know, I think I just get really excited at the end, really want to make it perfect. ‘oh man I’m so excited, aaahhh in my head, ahhh’, and next thing I know I did it a second time.” Powers sighed.
“There could be so many worst things. People were really upset on the social web that I was doing that and well, guys there are a lot of things to focus on and I really don’t have a lot of time for this kind of thing because it’s not like I wronged anybody. Tim and I worked that out, I apologized to Todd and it is what it is. It’s pretty much over as far as I’m concerned especially with those guys and that’s the thing to me that matters that they didn’t think I was clowning and being disrespectful to them. It was just really me being Jeremy, and getting ADD’ed out. You know, I just got excited.” he laughed.
“It was one of those things that I was really disappointed with myself, it happened two times in such a short period, I’m really just upset with myself for letting that happen again, that’s the reason I felt that Saturday wasn’t as good. But winning both days and winning the overall, it was quickly forgotten. That was more than enough to make me feel that I had made things right with myself at least. Although I probably lost some fans.” Powers added. “If you know my personality, that’s not totally out of the cards although I had not done that in the past but to do it twice in a row, it was dumb.”
But Powers did savor the sweep of the Bend finale and his second consecutive USGP title. “I’m going to try for as many things I can get in Europe but that is the biggest thing that we have right now in North America that’s been my place, that’s where I’ve kind of been growing up and to me, that’s the pinnacle of the career that I’m in.”
“Had I been racing in Europe my entire life, the World Cups would be what I believe I would be competing in every weekend but we live in North America. Whatever anybody says, the reality is that we’re the ones that are doing all the travel, we’re the ones that are going to all these events, we’re the ones that are dealing with it on a day to day basis and to beat 10 guys that really want to win it, that could potentially win it, that are world class athletes, Olympians, World Cup winners, National Champions is awesome, it’s incredible. I’m so happy that I’ve been able to do it twice, I feel lucky too.”
Worlds. But there’s no time for Powers to reflect on his tremendous year so everything is put away in his Massachusetts home. “I hang on to all the jerseys, I have all the trophies and everything that I get from the events and I think that at some point I will look back. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t have a lot of time, I’m not like ‘oh man I’m awesome’” he laughed. “I do really and obviously have a lot of passion for it and at some point, I hope that I can put them somewhere so somebody can look at them, I don’t know.”
You see, there are more races to come. But one race that Powers is not singularly focusing on this year is the upcoming USA Cyclocross National Championships even though he is the favorite going in. After two heartbreaking years, he simply can’t afford it mentally.
“Truthfully I’m just looking past Nationals now.” Powers explained. “I haven’t won it yet and I’ve been doing fine without it, if I were able to win this race it would be fantastic, a huge relief but I’m seriously not going to cry. I can’t put that much energy into it, I actually have bigger fish to fry if I want to go to Europe, if I want to do a lot of things. It’s certainly big, I’m going to treat just like any USGP or any other race I’ve done this season but to put the emphasis on it that I’ve been putting on it the last couple of years mentally at least, is unrealistic for me. I actually have to pull back, this is just another event.”
And there is one big race looming, the 2013 World Championships in Louisville, Kentucky. “I’m putting everything on that, I don’t know what I’m going to do, I’m going to have to go into therapy for the amount of pressure I’m going to put on myself but I will make sure that I’m A game, the best I can be there, the best Jeremy Powers, the best I’m going to be in my whole career. I’m going to train religiously, I’m not even going to pick up the phone I’m going so in the zone.” he laughed. “I’m going to do like a monk.”
Europe. After Nationals in Madison, Powers will be heading to Belgium for two World Cups and World Championships. “I still have a couple of races left in Europe that I’d like to really show myself in, and try to break another line in the sand that I’ve made. I’d like to get past that top 10, I’d like to do a little bit better, just keep whittling away at that top 10.”
Two trips were already made to Europe this season, the first one, successful with a top 10 finish, at the first two World Cups in the Czech Republic and the second one, to race at the Koksijde World Cup in November on the same sandy course that will be used for the 2012 Worlds. The same course where Johnson got lapped last year, the same brutal course that kicked Powers’ butt this year where he finished 32nd, six minutes down from the winner.
Not only was he going to check out the course but Powers also wanted to get some type of result. “Clearly I’m in it to get something out of it, keep my World Cup ranking, get some points, get an experience, etc. And the course is just so different than US stuff.” he explained. “It’s hard, we don’t do anything like that, it’s just specificity, that you’re on, off, on, off, hard, easy, hard, easy and you need to know how the rhythm of the course goes and a lot of races tend to have that type of rhythm. We don’t have that here, we have long straights at x amount of watts which is what me, Ryan, Tim, Todd, even probably Ben (Berden) at this point, all these guys all have that program, that’s the way we race here. It’s hard in its own respect but the way the races are going down over there are just different.”
“I know you’ve heard it a thousand times and not to beat a dead horse but I’d have had to make adjustments to the way my position is, I’d have to do some very specific training with the running, getting on and off the bike and different stuff like that and I just didn’t have that when I went this time. It didn’t have a lot to do with my fitness, it had to do with no knowing what the hell I was doing and that’s pretty sad considering I’m ranked 11th in the World. It was certainly disappointing, I felt that I had my end of the bargain to hold up, we put a lot of time and energy to get over there and money too.”
Powers is hoping to make good use of what he learned when he returns to Belgium in January. “If I don’t, then we’ll have to say okay that was what it was, we tried our best. That’s what I’m hoping for when we go back in January, that I try my best and do a good job because it’s really hard for people to understand what we’re not exposed to here in the States. They look at at a cyclocross race and say that’s a cyclocross race but if you look closely you would see that there’s quite a bit of difference in the way the courses are mapped out, not just the competition. Clearly those guys have a really high level but we have, I believe, a high level as well which is not being exposed to the same type of obstacles and terrain than those guys are, it makes it more difficult.”
And so, building from his disappointment, Powers spent some time doing some specific training in Georgia in December.
“I’m not really training for Nationals, I’m training for Worlds now.” he said. “Coming into Nationals probably a little bit over trained, hope for a really good last two World Cups and Worlds. I’ve been racing since (USA Pro Cycling Challenge in) Colorado, mentally I’m just really trying to stay focused with everything, since July I’ve been training and building up - Colorado, Vegas and you go all the way until now. Pushing it again really hard in training, got to have a renewed focus and that’s why those breaks in the middle of the year were really important for me, just to keep my head on straight.
One thing that he has learned is to take a break during the Holidays to spend time with his girlfriend Emily, his family and friends, all the while traveling with his bike and trainer.
“It’s great and I cherish it. These are the days that mean more to me than racing at this point because I’ve missed so many of them and I know that there’s actually an expiration point on them with all of my family. I really do cherish these moments and I don’t think that I’ll go back to Europe and race during Christmas maybe ever again because I missed it so many years and it kinda messed me up. I think that it’s important to me, as a person to be home for the holidays and it’s important for my family. At certain point we’ll see, but right now number one is making sure that I’m home where everybody else is.”
“I’m going to try to not eat myself to death trust me.” Powers concluded with a laugh. “My biggest enemy is going to be any pie, or any cookie. I actually told Emily that there are too be no cookies at any point in the house where I get home because I’m just a cookie monster, I am just a bulldozer of cookies.”
Before Nationals, Powers will be racing the two Chicago Cyclocross Cup New Year’s Resolution races on December 31, 2011 and January 1, 2012.