There’s one more race on the schedule to close out USA Cyclocross National Champion Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) most successful season ever, and it’s the big one, the World Championships this weekend on the tough sandy course in Koksijde. The race is held on the same course where he finished 31st at last November’s World Cup.
One difference from last November are the course conditions, while it was bone dry in November, the typical Belgian rainy weather has hit.
“I think it will be a lot different if it’s raining.” Powers told podiuminsight on Tuesday. “I think it will be easier because typically it gets packed down which makes it more ridable which means less running. When I went there last week on Wednesday, a week ago, I rode an entire couple of laps without getting off my bike once. I felt great there, I was pretty happy and felt confident in the way that I was riding and how fast I was going through the course. That’s a huge difference from the first time that I went.”
However, Powers found out today during his pre-ride that the course had been worked over, removing all the lines and making some sections unridable again – for now.
The 28-year old newly crowned champion came straight to Belgium after his win in Madison, to race two World Cups in preparation for the big race. But those races didn’t go quite as planned.
“There were a lot of commitments after Nationals because there were a lot of stories to write, a lot of people that were asking for my attention plus there were a lot of family and friends that had helped with that victory so they wanted to celebrate.” he explained.
That Sunday night in Madison, Powers was simply enjoying his long-time coming victory. “Obviously, the night after I celebrated a little bit and I wasn’t drunk but just went out and had a good time, I was in bed by midnight or one o’clock by the latest, we flew the next day and everything was fine.”
But then, the lack of sleep caught up with him. “It was just race the race, go out, only five or six hours of sleep, fly home, not that of great a sleep that night because we were at home, everybody wanted to say hello and be there so we entertained that night then I flew here and didn’t get very much sleep. I’ll never do that again, three days without sleeping for me this trip. I had nailed getting over jetlag pretty well in Europe, the first two times it didn’t affect me but this time, I was just too tired when I got here. I was just reeling when I got here, I couldn’t get out of my own way. I got sick twice from it, I got over being sick and then I got sick again. This hasn’t been the best trip for me.”
He finished 14th at the Liévin World Cup in France two weeks ago. Then, a bad day at the Hoogerheide World Cup last Sunday where he finished 29th, the highest placed American on a day where they all seemed to falter.
“I was a little surprised that I was riding the best at 29th. The course was definitely hard, no doubt.” he said. He went on to talk about the struggle of being in Europe, a struggle that the 28-year old knows full well after spending multiple seasons in Belgium as an under23 rider, learning the ropes the hard way.
“Coming to Europe I feel has gotten easier in some ways and stayed the same in others. While things have gotten easier in terms of internet and availability of certain foods and whatever the small things are that we miss from home are here and have made it a little bit easier but it’s really the same. The struggle that we have coming from the United States is the same, because there’s just not the same type of lifestyle.” Powers continued with a laugh, “But I don’t know why everyone sucked on Sunday. I don’t know how that relates to that but I know it’s definitely, we have some work to do certainly. I wasn’t happy with 29th.
One bonus of course was the fact that Powers was wearing the Stars and Stripes the past two races and introduced on the live video feed (from Sporza) as the American champion.
“I was?” asked Powers. He was.
“Even though I didn’t ride great on Sunday I gave it one hundred percent and I think that the jersey does help a little bit in terms of my motivation, even more so than before. I don’t necessarily know that I do better from it.” he said. “Even on Saturday I was still pretty sick, I didn’t feel great and so on Sunday I was just trying to put everything together to be good. While I don’t typically use that as an excuse it did take power out of my legs so I feel I’m over that now. I don’t really know how Sunday is going to be, it’s a bit of a crapshoot.”
“All that stuff being said, I’m super proud to have it.” he continued while talking about his National Champion jersey. “When I trained for this block, I trained so that I was absolutely ready to go at Nationals, even if I did nothing after Nationals I still have enough form to be top 20 in the world no matter what, that’s the way we trained for this. Now that I’m here I believe that I can race around tenth place at a World Cup every single weekend if nothing is wrong. So that’s how I feel about racing here right no. And to be National Champion, looking back at the whole year, it’s been a long season, it’s been my best season and I’m really happy with everything I did and Nationals was like the cherry on top.”
So is the goal to be in the top 20 at Koksijde this Sunday? He finished 16th at the 2011 World Championships held in St-Wendel, Germany.
“If I had an absolute great day….” Powers mused. “When we rode the course last week, (Tom) Hopper and I said the way I was riding the course was definitely a top 10, I was riding like a top 10. I don’t know what the course is going to be like, I don’t know how much running, if it suits me and I can ride top 10 at a race that I did 31st last time, I’d say that was a pretty good improvement. And to do it on a course that I looked at originally and kind of got defeated by. Before I came over and I was like, man this is going to be hard and I knew it then I was out there and got my ass kicked up and down the beach in Belgium.” he laughed.
But as we said earlier, the course conditions have changed since that race and have changed again since last week. But that’s not the only difference since that day in November.
“So then I came back, I had to do a lot of specific drills to get ready for this, off the bike big power output, off the bike, big power output, off the bike, big power output… doing specific training for that. I think that putting that to work now, if I can improve by 10 or 15 places that would be huge. If I finish outside of the top 15, I’m certainly going to be pissed. I’ll put everything into perspective after it’s down. If I get 19th, then I’m going to say ‘I was ten seconds outside of 15’, whatever. There are so many things you have to look at, it’s a cross race.”
As an example of putting things into perspective is last Sunday’s race at Hoogerheide. “Last weekend, I was 29th place but I was in the group for 20th, There was a crash and I got all tangled up in it and there was nowhere I could go. If I had absolutely the perfect race with no crashes, no one crashing in front of me, no one taking me out, I could have been 20th potentially and that would have been a perfect race but I didn’t and I got 29th. At this level, one 15 to 30 second crash is a difference between 20th and 29th.”
Ranked 11th in the world, Powers will be called up on the second row on Sunday afternoon and will have to make a decision, which of the eight riders in the front row should he lined up behind?
“I’ve always been psyched starting behind Klaas Vantornout, he’s a pretty good starter. At the start of the race, he goes pretty good, I think I’m going back to that, I’m going to start behind him.” he replied. “I consciously started behind Niels Albert last weekend, it didn’t work out for me, he kind of just sat up and let 20 guys go by in the start. I’m not going to start behind him again. Sven (Nys) is good but he also kind of plays it cautious, he doesn’t really go in the red at the start, he sits in for eighth or tenth because he has so much respect in the field that no one will try to overcome him or come on the inside of him. Klaas is usually a good guy to start behind if you can get that spot in the second row.”
As to who does he think will win the rainbow stripes on Sunday, Powers replied with one word, “Sven”.