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by Michael Better
September 15, 2016
Photography by Wil Matthews
Over the past few years, U.S. national cyclocross champion Jeremy Powers has become the face of American cyclocross. This is due to his now ubiquitous stars-and-stripes jersey — he’s won the title four times in five years — as well as his high-octane personality, put on full display across computer screens, beginning in 2010, with his “Behind the Barriers” web series.
The cycling community has watched Powers go from high-energy, all the time, to simply unleashing his energy on the race course, with a noticeably calmer demeanor off the bike of late.
Now 33, Powers says that racing all the time, just for the love of competition, is no longer applicable. The 2016-17 season will not be his last, nor will 2017-18, but what lies beyond is anyone’s guess. His main sponsors are Rapha and Focus, however his team is Aspire Racing, which he launched in 2014. For the 2016-17, Aspire has brought on U.S. U23 national champion Ellen Noble, a graduate of the non-profit JAM Fund program Powers helped launch in 2009.
“I think two more years,” Powers told CyclingTips in late August, during a training camp in Boulder, Colorado. “I won’t say 100%, but I have contracts that run two years, this year and next season. I fully plan to give 100% through that and then I’ll make a decision on what I want to do.”
In the United States, Powers is indisputably number one. At the World Cup level, however, he’s still fighting for that elusive podium finish. Photo: Wil Matthews.
Boulder has become an annual pre-season stop for Powers to fine-tune his form ahead of the brutality and longevity of the cyclocross season. One of the first times Powers trained in Boulder was prior to the 2011-2012 season; he went on to earn his first national cyclocross title that season.
And while Powers’ palmares is a laundry list of U.S. victories, an examination of those wins also reveals what’s missing — podium appearances at the big European races. The World Cups, the Superprestige series, the BPost Bank Trophy series — these are the races that keep Powers striving for more.
Yes, he finished eighth in the UCI rankings last season. Yes, he would like to have a strong ride at the world championships — his career-best is 16th in Germany in 2011 — but his focus, and what drives him, is a podium at a World Cup. His best result came last year, when he finished sixth, alongside Lars van der Haar and Kevin Pauwels, at the season opener in Las Vegas. He was able to see a podium finish in the latter stages of the race, a first for him at the World Cup level.
“I think I have a better chance, and better odds, at doing something in the World Cup,” Powers said. “I know what that feeling is, I know what it takes, I know how to train for it, I know everything I need to do and I just need those chances to be able to do it. I have them and I am going to try. Unless you have been in the situation and are looking at the result and there is the opportunity to get, do you actually know the feeling? So, last year I was actually looking at the podium, I could see it. That’s a huge thing. You have to see something, before you actually grab it.
“At nationals a lot times I was looking at that win, I was staring at that win, I was in a position to win, I was winning and things happened and I didn’t win,” he continued. “I look at this as an evolution and a maturity and I will take notes of previous years of Cross Vegas and races I have done against Europeans in the United States. I have had the most success at bettering them at those events.”
September is a critical month for Powers, with Cross Vegas returning as the World Cup opener, followed three days later by a new World Cup stop in Iowa City, at the venue home to Jingle Cross. Prior to that is a UCI weekend in Wisconsin, at the Trek CXC Cup, where several top Europeans, including world champion Wout Van Aert, will compete.
Powers swept the opening round of North American UCI racing in Rochester, New York. Photo: Wil Matthews.
UCI racing in the U.S. swung into action in Rochester, New York, over the September 9-10 weekend. Powers won both days, narrowly beating out friend and JAM Fund graduate Stephen Hyde (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) in a sprint on the second day. But more importantly, he was satisfied with his sensations.
“Coming [to Rochester] is always nerve racking, but [Saturday] I did a lap that was sub-eight minutes with two to go and I was really happy with that because that is kind of what I am going to need to do for Vegas,” Powers said. “It shows that I am going in the right direction for what I am hoping for happens in the next 10 days, which is a pretty big spike in power output, and a peak if you will.”
Last year Powers overhauled his training regimen—fewer hours on the bike and more hours in the gym and longer runs. Did the changes pay off?
“No, I don’t think it paid off,” Powers said. “I went in another direction completely with my training, which involved a lot less riding and a lot more focus on other things and I just didn’t see the gains from it.
“I almost felt like I was carrying around extra weight and I also felt like I was playing catch-up in a lot of ways because those workouts are really hard to recover from in a different way from just riding. We have backed up from some of that work and I have come back to some more of what I was doing, changing that a little bit and doing strength work and things that I had a lot of success from.”
Powers has been decked out in red, white, and blue four times over the past five years. Photo: Wil Matthews.
Powers appears relaxed and confident after beginning the season with a weekend sweep. He’s refined his regimen to what fits him and is comfortable talking about retirement and the future, even though he’s mostly about the here and now.
“I’m not afraid of my next career,” Powers said. “I don’t know what that is going to be, but I’m excited for that. I’ve said this in a couple of interviews: ’I’m ready, I’m excited.’ Whatever that may be, marketing, or owning a team, or starting a bakery. I don’t know what that may be. I’m throwing random things out there, but I could be a horse whisperer. I have no idea, but I’m not afraid of those. I know that whatever I go to or what I do next is going to be fun, and it’s going to be really impactful.
“I think a lot of riders get caught up with ‘Man I don’t know what I am going to do and I’m really nervous or I’m going to retire and I don’t have a job.’ I don’t have any of that. Seriously do not. I think about it, but you’re not going to know until you get there.”
Instead, Powers is focusing on what he can control, and that means he’s all in with the heavyweight Europeans coming to the U.S, for a string of five races over nine days.
“Friday we will fly out to Madison for a showdown with the Euros,” Powers said with a smile as the sun dipped low in the sky in Rochester, closing the door on the opening to his 2016-2017 cyclocross season. “Any time they set foot on American soil, I don’t play games. I want to throw down and represent. I plan to bring it, the best I can.”