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From the Pages of Velo: Gunning for glory on home turf

The contenders

So, who among the Americans is most likely to take full advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at ’cross glory?

Reigning national champion Jeremy Powers 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, and had won every UCI C1 race in the United States through November, including five of the six days of the Trek U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross.

But Powers scored one of the biggest results of his career in late October, and it wasn’t a race victory. As he focuses in on Louisville, 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, thanks to a seventh-place finish at the World Cup stop in Tabor, Czech Republic, the best-ever World Cup result for an American male. After years of racing at the top, including his overall victories at the USGP series in 2010 and 2011, Powers was able to grab his first national championship in Madison, Wisconsin, in January 2012. It brought him an inner peace and a new, more potent focus.

“After nationals last year, I’ve got the monkey off my back,” Powers said. “I feel a lot less stress. I’m at peace with what I want to do [at worlds].”

And, so, the goal is simple. “I want to medal at worlds,” Powers said. “If I don’t come away with a medal I’m going to be disappointed.”

In USGP races held in Louisville, Powers has won four and finished third another five times. He has the venue dialed. His confidence has never been higher.

“I’m not doing anything besides riding my bike,” he laughed. “There’s been so many years where I’ve been doing a lot more stuff like DJing a 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.”

He has surrounded himself with people who help him manage his goals, his energy, and his focus so that he can be as successful as possible. The rest of the job is up to Powers.

Most likely to succeed

On the women’s side, American eyes and hearts will be with Katie Compton. With eight national championship titles and three medals at previous world cyclocross championships — two silver and one bronze — Compton goes into Louisville as one of the five-star favorites.

After a 2010-11 season that saw her win nearly every race she entered, including five World Cups, it would be an understatement to call her silver medal at worlds a bit of a disappointment. Her 2011-12 season was also strong, though at the world championship in Koksijde, Belgium, she spent too much energy fighting back from a crash to contest for the win, finishing fifth.

This year, her plan was to target the World Cup overall title; Compton is going for broke. And that has brought her 17 victories to date, including a sweep on American soil, the World Cups in Pilsen, Koksijde, and Namur, and her ninth consecutive national title. In a word, she has been dominant.

A world championship gold medal, on home soil, would be the culmination of years of determination and a statement that American cyclocross has finally and fully arrived.

“It would be amazing. Since I haven’t experienced that, I don’t know what it’s going to feel like but I’m sure it’d be amazing to be able to win in the U.S. and just have a great race and not get second or third again,” Compton said. “I have to have everything come together, I have to feel strong, ride well, just have a good day. I don’t feel like I’ve had that year yet. Things could be better.”

In February, if all goes well, things will be much better for Americans on the international cyclocross stage.

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