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When the U.S. national cyclocross championships wrap up Sunday in Asheville, North Carolina, it’s extremely likely that either Jeremy Powers or Stephen Hyde will wear the stars and stripes jersey of elite men’s champion.
And whichever man wins, it will be an emotional day for both.
For several years, the relationship between Powers, the three-time national champion from New England, and Hyde, the upstart from Florida, has been one of master and apprentice.
In 2012 Hyde was invited to participate in the JAM Fund, a Massachusetts-based program designed to develop cycling athletes through grants and mentorship, which Powers helped set up a decade ago.
Hyde, who has a background in BMX and mountain biking, moved to Easthampton, just down the road from Powers and JAM Fund coach Alec Donahue, to absorb as much knowledge as possible, taking a job at a local bike shop to pay the bills. He spent the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons dutifully listening to any and all advice Powers would impart.
Hyde won four UCI races during the 2014-15 season, and finished an admirable sixth at nationals, with an ankle injury, while Powers took a third title. The pair traveled to Europe together twice last season, with Powers (Rapha-Focus) showing Hyde the ropes on the sport’s biggest stage.
The dynamic between the two has changed over the past few months, however.
In his first season racing for Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com, Hyde, 29, has made remarkable progress, beating Powers twice in November at the Derby City Cup weekend in Louisville, Kentucky. Powers dealt with a litany of mechanical issues on the first day, and made a late-race mistake the second day, but it was still a seminal moment for both men.
“I don’t want to lose to anyone in the U.S.,” Powers told VeloNews. “That said, we are proud of what we’ve been able to do. Seeing him come up, he’s making a living racing cyclocross bikes, and that makes us all happy. It’s a mixed emotion — I’m a bit bummed I lost a race, but that comes back to me. I’m also proud to have helped someone change his life.”
In December, Powers and Hyde traveled to Europe, staying together at the USA Cycling house in Sittard, Netherlands, racing the World Cups in Namur and Zolder. Both men rode admirably in Europe, with Hyde finishing 23rd, ahead of Powers, in Namur, and Powers finishing 16th, ahead of Hyde, in Zolder.
At Namur, Hyde said he’d worked on pacing himself, calling it a “practice in patience.” At Zolder, he said he “threw himself into the fire,” making the front group on the first two laps before a front wheel puncture, just after the mechanic’s pit, caused him to drift back to the mid-20s before again finishing 23rd.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Hyde said he’d taken time off after Zolder, relaxing with his family in Pensacola, Florida, and was feeling “well rested.”
“I’m feeling really good, just coming off the European racing,” Hyde said. “The training has been awesome, I feel well rested. I feel great, as good as I can feel.”
And though they traveled together for two weeks in December, Powers and Hyde are not staying together in Asheville. Powers is staying with others from JAM Fund, and Hyde with the Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com team.
“We stayed separate for this trip,” Powers said. “We trained together in Spain, and afterward it was like, ‘let’s go to race, let’s go kill each other.’ Now we’re back into regular mode. We don’t have the ego battles people might think we do. It is very unique to our situation. Tim [Johnson] and I had that as well. When I was on Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld, Tim was an owner of the team, as well as a friend, as well as a competitor — so that draws some parallels, and I’ve put those in motion with Hyde.
“We do have a good balance,” Powers continued. “We race head to head, but we’re also training partners and friends. Stephen drills it if he sees me chasing, and anyone who has seen us racing together can tell you, it’s not all ‘kumbaya.’ It’s ‘I want to beat you.’ But we’re great friends. It was fun, going to the World Cups and both doing well. That is very important to me. That has been the goal of mine all along, to bring him up, to train together, to have that camaraderie. That’s the dream. We’re both pushing each other, and it’s been excellent. In my opinion, it’s been the story of the year.”
What’s clear is that Powers enters the race as the hands-down favorite. Hyde has never reached the podium at nationals, although, barring disaster, that will change on Sunday. Both Powers and Hyde acknowledged that they view themselves as the standout favorites, and both cited Logan Owen (California Giant-Specialized) as a threat.
The 20-year-old Owen is racing his first elite national championship after winning 10 consecutive titles in the junior and U23 categories. Though he hasn’t beaten Powers, Owen rode with Powers and Hyde in Louisville, finishing third. At the Jingle Cross race in Iowa City in December, Owen finished second to Powers, just ahead of Hyde.
“I’ve been racing with Jeremy consistently, and each time I’m learning more about him and his racing,” Hyde said. “Logan as well. I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve, on how to deal with these guys, I just have to execute a well-oiled plan. But I can do it. I just have to stick to it, and I think it will work out.”
Other podium contenders include Danny Summerhill (Maxis-Shimano), Jamey Driscoll (Raleigh-Clement), Zach McDonald (Streamline Insurance Services), and Hyde’s teammate, Ryan Trebon, who has won the national title twice and has six silver medals.
On Monday, Trebon posted on Facebook that he’s been struggling with a herniated disc.
“I have been training and getting ready for nationals as best as I can this past few weeks,” Trebon wrote. “Do I think I’ll win? Most likely not, I respect my competitors too much and know just how good you have to be to be at the top and in all honesty I am not there right now.”
Four-time national champion Jonathan Page (Page-Fuji) should not be discounted. Though his results this season have been a bit inconsistent, Hyde said that Page could benefit from the rain that is forecasted for the weekend, expected to turn the hilly, off-camber track into a monstrously difficult course.
“If it gets nasty, you can’t count out Page,” Hyde said. “Last year, the conditions were bad, and Page was there, duking it out pretty hard.”
In 2015, Page finished second to Powers in Austin, Texas. In total, Page, who is 39, has been on the podium at ’cross nationals a staggering 12 times since 1998. (Update: On Thursday morning, Page, a father of three, tweeted “Excitedly preparing for late arrival to a reportedly awesome cxnats AND for the birth of our last baby! #highonlife #whatadiffayearmakes.”)
Powers, 32, is currently the undisputed king of U.S. cyclocross. However it wasn’t long ago that he was the underdog, battling against the national champions of the last generation — Page, Trebon, Tim Johnson, and Todd Wells — who shared the title between them for 11 years, from 2000 through 2010.
“I’ve had a great run,” Powers said. “If you told me at the start of my career that I would win three titles, I would have taken that and walked away from the table, no question.”
Powers is aware that it’s just a matter of time before the stars and stripes jersey is taken from him. And it’s clear he wouldn’t mind Hyde being the man to do it — just not this year.
“Hyde has made an incredible rise,” Powers said. “I don’t think anyone would have predicted that he’d be making the front selection in a World Cup in his 10th race in Europe. That’s unparalleled. I’m certainly proud, and I am thinking about him as a serious threat, but I’ve never been one to think about what the other person is doing. Adam Myerson taught me to worry about yourself, don’t focus on other guys, so I am focused on what I’m doing. In all truthfulness, if I’m the best I can be, and fully prepared, you can’t ask yourself to do more than that.”
Asked if he’d thought about how winning might impact their relationship, Hyde said that he had.
“Jeremy is very mature, and I think he’s come to terms with the fact that someone will take it from him eventually,” Hyde said. “What it comes down to is that this is our job. When you run a smaller program, like he does, his success carries the whole program, so that it would impact, him. That said, I won’t take it easy on him. If he doesn’t win, I’ll feel for him. But I’m also showing up to win. Of course when you do that, you also show up with the idea that you could lose it all.
“What I can tell you,” Hyde said, “is that we’re going to shake hands and hug after the race, no matter what happens.”