As expected, the battle for the U.S. national cyclocross crown amounted to one between master and apprentice — between Powers and his protégé.
And on Sunday, in Asheville, North Carolina, it was Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) in command, deftly warding off his friend and former apprentice, Stephen Hyde (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com), to take a fourth career title.
Powers rode smoothly and steadily at the front for almost the entirety of the 60-minute, seven-lap race, occasionally swapping pulls with 20-year-old phenom Logan Owen (Cal Giant), who started brilliantly but faded in the second half. Hyde was able to match the pace, but made several small mistakes on the slippery, technical course that ultimately cost him dearly.
Owen pushed the pace early on, and the three riders separated themselves from the rest of the field halfway through the first lap. After one lap, Powers, Hyde, and Owen had a 15-second lead over chasers Jonathan Page (Page-Fuji), Kerry Werner (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies), Jamey Driscoll (Raleigh-Clement), and Ryan Trebon (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com)
On the third lap Hyde made the first of three significant bobbles, losing contact. Powers accelerated, putting Owen on the defensive. It was all back together soon enough, but both Owen and Hyde had burned valuable energy to chase back on.
Owen struggled on the course’s most significant climb, and lost contact on the fifth ascent. Shortly after, Hyde crashed navigating a tight lefthand turn around course tape.
“I heard that he’d slipped a pedal, bobbled, something like that, and yeah, I was capitalizing on those mistakes,” Powers said. “We’re good friends, but that’s cyclocross. I think everyone had a little something happen out there today. Stephen came back. He was riding strong, so I wasn’t surprised to see him come back. I just rode my race.”
By the end of five laps, Powers was clear for good, though his lead was a tenuous five seconds over Hyde, with Owen another five seconds back — victory was far from assured.
Hyde slipped again on the sixth lap, on an off-camber section, and that was the final blow. Powers slowly opened his lead, to 10 seconds with one lap remaining, and finished with the same winning margin — the closest of his four titles. [In 2014, Powers won by 43 seconds; in 2015, he won by 31 seconds.)
“I never knew I had it won [until the end],” Powers said. “ I tried to race from the front. I knew the guys behind me would make mistakes. And in a race over 60 minutes, that wears on you. I wanted to ride my own race, and I was more comfortable at the front. In those off-camber sections, I didn’t want to be tied up with someone else’s mistakes.”
Owen finished third, 41 seconds down on Powers, with Page in fourth, 2:32 down.