Finally Jeremy Powers (Rapha Focus) won the USA Cyclocross National Championships in Madison today. He came into the pavement surrounded by a wall of sound from the crowd and raised in arm in victory. Finally, after years of coming close but never getting the Stars and Stripes – until now. The emotions came pouring out, it’s been a long time coming.
“Oh man. It’s not totally sunk in, I am in the National champion.” Powers told podiuminsight 15 minutes after winning his first National Championship.
“There are just so many people to thank.” Powers continued. “I’ve been doing so long and trying to win this race for so long and now to finally do it, to wear the jersey when I feel I’m at a really good point in my career. I don’t know, to bring it back and continue to grow US Cross.”
The 28-year old didn’t believe he had the win until the last minute. “I didn’t even look back, I just blocked everything out, it was tunnel vision until the last absolute minute. I didn’t think about it, I didn’t look back, I didn’t stop to see, I just kept pushing and pushing because I didn’t want to, you know, it was slimy, one little mistake, ten seconds is gone.”
And he knows exactly that a small mistake can bring disaster. It’s happened to him in the past when he seemed to be finally on his way to the title until a bobble, a crash and the title disappeared in a heartbreaking second.
“This is everything I ever wanted, it’s such a great moment for me. My friends and I, everybody is going to be so happy and so proud and they’ve all done so much to make this moment come through for me, not just one year, this has been 4 or 5, 6, 7, 8 years trying to get this title. It’s been worth the wait because it feels like,” Powers paused and with a slow smile said, “incredible, I’m so happy.”
Battle of the heavyweights. The nerves were showing on the start line as one by one the riders were called up. With highest UCI standing, Powers was first and he chose the lane on the outside, next up was Tim Johnson (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) who took a middle lane. Then Ryan Trebon (LTS/Felt), Jamey Driscoll (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com), Jonathan Page (Planet Bike), Justin Lindine (bikereg.com/Joe’s Garage) until the final name on the front row, Zach McDonald (Rapha-Focus). McDonald took the lane next to Powers. Then the other rows, while everyone waited, trying to get into the zone, legs shaking and shifting trying to stay loose. The pressure was on.
As soon as the gun went off, so did McDonald.
“I holeshot’ed it which I was a little surprised, I’m not the best starter but when on the front row, I have a better snap and Powers was on my left and I saw him get on my wheel and I was like f*ck it, dug in pretty deep, hit the rut I wanted.” said McDonald who then overshot the corner and went into the spectators. “But then, I never tap my breaks on the start straight and went to grab my breaks, and there was not braking action just because I wasn’t prepared. It is my fault one hundred percent, I’m glad no one got hurt from my stupidity. I just came in too hot, tried to slow down and couldn’t slow down. It would have been nice obviously if no one had been there, I could have probably broken tape and come back in but got knocked out.”
Or in other words, “Zach went bananas and then I luckily avoided that.” Powers said.
Then, Trebon went to the front and hit the gas and got a small gap. It was on immediately from the first lap. “Just trying to stay at the front, especially before the first big climb. There was a lot of sliding around and I wanted it to be nice and clean. I didn’t feel like I needed to pit and change bikes because the mud wasn’t really heavy and it wasn’t sticking too much, the bike was still working good.”
“Ryan had gotten a gap and I thought “crap, this guy is going again’, he’s going to go bananas. I just kind of got my stuff together.” said Powers who added that one thing that actually reduced the pressure was going down early on. “I’d already gone on the ground, I was like ‘okay’. I tried to go around Dylan McNicholas on the inside and I didn’t make it so I fell, and I thought ‘well I got that out of the way early’, the first minute and a half into the race, I’m already on the ground so I got that going for me, and then Chris ran into the back of me, so anyhow we got that out of the way.”
But Trebon was soon caught and the head of state of US cross were off the front together to duke it out. In the lead group, were Powers and his teammate Chris Jones, Trebon, Johnson, Driscoll and Page.
Riders took turn at the front of the lead group, with all except Powers launching attacks.
The chase. Meanwhile, McDonald was putting in the chase of a lifetime. After crashing and breaking his derailleur on the first corner of the race, he made his way to the pit.
“I was just on my biggest gear to the pit, grabbed a new bike, wrapped up the chain on the first climb, so I had to get my chain back on. I decided I wanted to go further back because otherwise it wouldn’t be as much fun,” laughed McDonald, “so went further back. I was also 30 seconds down after the first lap.”
The newly crowned U23 National Champion put his head down and flew on the course putting in the fastest lap so far, a 8:07, on the third lap. “I tried to not piss off too many people while passing, I tried to pass clean. I came up underneath a couple of people just because sometimes you have to make the pass.”
McDonald caught on while Driscoll had faded out and Jones was yo-yoing off the back.
“I figured if I was riding up to the group, I might as well ride through the group and then I realized how pissed off Trebon gets when someone like a U23 attacks him so I was able to ride by him ‘oh wait that’s a bad idea’ because that would just light a fire under Trebon’s ass and Powers was ‘easy buddy, easy buddy’ because Powers knew what was going to happen. ” McDonald said with a smile. He remembered distinctly what happened when he attacked in a similar circumstance at the Cincinnati3 race. “Alright, Cincinnati don’t do that. So then I backed down, and just let that roll out.”
Attacks and counters were flying as the riders made their way around the course which included three tough climbs, one with stairs, fast descents, and greasy corners. Everywhere, fans were cheering, enjoying the amazing show that was going on.
Then Powers decided it was time to go, you see he knew.
“When we got Ryan back, I was like ‘nice’ because I hadn’t gone into the red real bad and I just knew. I just knew.” Powers said. “Guys were in the red, guys were going hard. I just thought everybody had thrown down an attack and when the time came for me to finally do something at two to go.”
And he did, putting in a massive attack before the pit. ” I came into the pit by myself, then I had five seconds going into the hill and then I extended that on the climb and I just kept on going. That was it.”
Powers went on to set the fastest lap of 8:03 on the penultimate lap.
Behind him, Trebon was close but not close enough to shut it down. “It was a few seconds with him and me going ‘oh Christ slow down just a little bit’. I was just hoping to hang on for second honestly, I was trying to keep him in sight in case he made a mistake but I knew I wasn’t going to get him. You could tell the way he was pedaling, I was forcing the whole time. ”
Powers came on the pavement solo with enough time to enjoy the victory. He raised his arm in his trademark victory salute, but then raised his other hand to hold his helmet, and the overcome with emotion, he bowed down his head as tears started to come.
Trebon took second and Page, third. McDonald held on for a very strong fourth and Johnson came in fifth.
“I didn’t really have the course figured out all day, I felt like I was in the backfoot the whole day that’s why I’m so happy to get second. I thought for sure I was going to get dropped everytime up that climb. For some reason, I always ended up going first or second wheel and got a gap, I guess if I was suffering everybody else was suffering. I’m glad I was able to hang in and finish second.” said Trebon.
“I was just trying to keep out of trouble.” Page said of riding at the front of the lead group. “When you’re in a group and you have two teammates together, that’s when problems happen. Jeremy rode really well, he was strong, he capitalized on the race, like I would, he deserved to win, he was the strongest at the end.”
Top 5 Elite Men
1. Jeremy Powers (Easthampton, Mass./Team Rapha-Focus) 1:05:57
2. Ryan Trebon (Bend, Ore./LTS-Felt) 1:06:14
3. Jonathan Page (Northfield, N.H./Planet Bike) 1:06:23
4. Zach McDonald (Bainbridge Island, Wash./Team Rapha-Focus) 1:06:35
5. Timothy Johnson (Topsfield, Mass./Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com) 1:07:03