Reigning U.S. cyclocross champion Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) is at the top of his game. His physiology and mind are fine-tuned for the quick bursts and short duration of the punchiest niche of cycling. He started his season with a victory at Clif Bar CrossVegas, has won every UCI C1 race in the United States this season, and recently went two-for-two at the Trek U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross Smartwool Cup in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Powers scored his biggest result of the season on Sunday, and it wasn’t a race win.
As he focuses in on Louisville, Kentucky, in February, the site of the first cyclocross world championships ever held outside of Europe, he’s chasing UCI points across North America and Europe, from World Cups to USGPs and everything in-between, looking to gain enough for a front row start.
He’s well on his way.
After a seventh-place finish at last weekend’s World Cup stop in Tabor, Czech Republic, the best-ever World Cup result for an American male, he sits 10th on UCI points, 126 points behind Bart Aernouts, the sixth Belgian in the rankings. With third-place former world champion Zdenek Stybar racing a limited schedule this season, Powers is one place off the coveted front row and riding like he deserves to be there.
VeloNews caught up with the Connecticut native in Czech Republic, ahead of this weekend’s second round of the World Cup in Pilzen.
VeloNews: How does it feel to lay claim to the best-ever World Cup result by an American male?
Jeremy Powers: It’s awesome. The goal for me was to get into the top five. When I was riding in fifth place, I felt like anyone would after putting a lot of time and effort into something. At that moment, I was all eyes, I was looking at everything, there were a lot of things going through my mind. “Aw, it feels so good to be here, right now.” It meant a lot to me. Going forward into this weekend at Pilzen, I have another shot at doing that. When you’re fifth place, the light is at the end of the tunnel. You’re getting near the front of these races that you’ve been trying your whole life to get to. I’m starting to accomplish those goals — set them and tick them off — as I go.
VN: Why are you so confident that you can be in the top five at a World Cup this year?
JP: Because I’m not doing anything besides riding my bike [laughs]. There’s been so many years where I’ve been doing a lot more stuff like DJing that party, or going out with my friends, or having that extra beer, or eating that thing that I really knew I shouldn’t. I’ve been a lot more serious in my approach and in the time I’m dedicating to everything. I had this realization — my racing age on my license is 30, I couldn’t believe it — so there was this moment when it all clicked for me.
It really started last year with nationals and I just thought to myself, “Man, if I want this, this isn’t going to be here forever and I really need to focus on everything.” It’s just been a lot of little changes in my lifestyle and the way I approach things and the amount of time I’m dedicating to myself.
VN: What has been your inspiration for this change? Has it come from within, or is there someone out there that has inspired you?
JP: I was inspired by Bradley Wiggins’ win at the Tour, for sure. I felt like, “Whoa, holy crap, that guy”… I don’t know Wiggins at all, but from everyone who tells me, he won the Tour de France clean and I looked at that and I thought, “Wow, these are real people that are just dedicating.” When he said stuff like, “I was actually miserable racing, I wasn’t even happy, I was going to bed hungry,” yeah, I know what that’s like! I’ve done that also.
With the world championships in the States and the opportunity that that has presented with me being the national champion, it’s really been super important for me. I think it’s a turning point for cyclocross in the United States; it is something that I’m super passionate about. I think anyone who has ever watched any episode of “Behind THE Barriers” can see that it’s more about showcasing the sport and the culture that we have and what’s going on in the United States. Between the men and the women that are doing this at the top level, we’ve really created our own niche of the sport. So, when Louisville comes along, there’s this huge opportunity to make cyclocross stand out and to have people pay attention to it because of this monumental event in February.
All these things, including that stuff with Bradley Wiggins — that ability to focus and not screw off, or dick around, or DJ, or drink — all those things that seemed like they were important just don’t seem to be as important. It’s more like, “Hey, could I get a massage and have a glass of freshly squeezed vegetables… I’ll take a nap at 1:30 and then I’ll go for a run in the afternoon,” versus before, when it was “come home, play with the dog, mow the lawn, run around like a banshee, do something for my buddy, go have a beer, coach someone.” It’s just way different. It’s just being more serious.
VN: Do you wake up every morning and think about the world championships?
JP: It’s definitely out there. I’m not putting my whole life on this race and I’m not waking every morning saying, “Argh, Louisville.” I’m looking at this whole season as about being the best ’cross racer that I can be. Yes, this is a great thing and I have great fitness right now; I’ve planned and I’ve done the work and it’s coming together for me, but the goal is just to be the best that I can be and hopefully do something special in February, but also, in general, putting everyone on the map as far as taking riders from North America seriously and showcasing that it can be done.