Cyclocross

Champ chat: Jeremy Powers talks beer, mud, and car crashes

Jeremy Powers talks about his up-and-coming rival Stephen Hyde, the 'cross nationals afterparty, and strong competitive streak.

This Sunday, Jeremy Powers will attempt to win his fifth USA Cycling elite national cyclocross championship on the muddy, slippery course in Hartford, Connecticut. As the three-time defending champ, Powers has more experience than anybody else in the field. We figured it was only fitting, then, to really dig deep into Powers’s knowledge of how to prepare for a national championship race. Do you dare butt-slide down a course to win? How much beer should you buy the losers? Yep, we hit all of the important questions.

VeloNews: We assume you’ve seen the videos of the carnage on that hill in the Hartford course. Would you ever resort to sliding on your butt if it meant another national championship title?

Jeremy Powers: Yes, I’ve seen [the video] and no, I would absolutely not do it. Absolutely not. There’s always another way to make it down a hill. You don’t have to slide down on your butt. And there were people riding it — they didn’t make it onto the video.

VN: What is your recommended method for navigating a hill that is too slippery to ride?

JP: You can run down it, or just put your weight way back and get on the brakes and get a leg out like Johnny T [Tomac]. Throw out the ‘rigger.

VN: Which is your most meaningful national championship win and why?

JP: My first one for sure [Wisconsin 2012]. For so many years I had missed the title. I just remember that feeling of finally putting everything together on a day, my family was there, and it was just the culmination of a lot of effort and mental strife. I tried so hard for so many years for it to come together, and that first time, honestly, nothing could take me off of that high. I was so elated and so happy and proud and all of the other emotions were on full-gas. Honestly, that national champion win in Wisconsin fueled the rest of my career. The ambition and passion. Everything stemmed from that success. I had won a lot of races before, but that one had eluded me. I had been wining it in 2010. I was leading the race and I had the fastest lap times, but I had a bad crash. Todd [Wells] T-boned me, and I was on my hands and knees, and that’s a photo for the books. Todd went on to win that day.

VN: What is the hardest ‘cross nationals course you’ve ever raced?

JP: Last year in Asheville [North Carolina] was pretty great and a hard course. The hardest for my skill set was probably Kansas City [2007-08]. The course that went up the side of the big hill and came down [what] was definitely the gnarliest one. It went from 30 degrees to zero on soft mud, it was like riding on styrofoam. The other gnarly one was Providence, Rhode Island in 2005. The snow and wet came in, and it was so cold.

VN: This year’s host city, Hartford, is known as the “Insurance Capital of the World?” What’s a moment in your life when you were extremely happy to have insurance?

JP: The time that I was backing up in my truck with my then girlfriend [now wife], and I didn’t look behind me and plowed into her Honda Civic and just tore the entire back end off of her car.The best part was we were going for a mountain bike ride, and we didn’t even look at the car, we just went mountain biking and dealt with it later. My truck was a bit lifted and it just tore that thing up. I was pretty happy to have insurance. I was worried about an insurance adjustor, just her dad.

VN: Who will be your biggest threat in defending your title, do they have a weakness you can exploit, and would they beat you in a game of ping-pong?

JP: I think the favorite this year is Stephen Hyde. His weakness is cookies and his strength is basically everything else. He’s got a strong start and he can make it into the front group at every European race he’s entered, and he’s extremely well-rounded. I think this course suits his strengths. But hey, I like my chances as well.

VN: What about the ping pong?

JP: Me. I’m pretty competitive. You could literally put me in front of a puzzle of the state of Massachusetts and I’ll get competitive about it, so you know I’m trying to win at ping pong.

VN: If you don’t win nationals, what advice would you give to the next U.S. champion when it comes to the nationals after-party?

JP: Every year we go out for drinks, and the winner buys the beer for an amount of time. That has been a tradition since before I can remember. So the winner has to go. Most of the riders have a bonus if you win, so if you win, you gotta put your money where your mouth is and at the very least buy a round. It will cost you a few hundred bucks, but it’s tradition.

VN: How long until American elite men can consistently challenge the Europeans in World Cup races? 

JP: Stephen has already made the front group of a lot of these races, and he’s finishing up there. His results have shown a lot of promise. So the short answer is it will be a few years, but I do think we’re getting there. Everything has changed, and the knowledge and accessibility of that world is really good now. Stephen can Snapchat with Wout [Van Aert] and actually get to know these guys, thanks to social media. When I first went over there you knew nothing, and nobody knew you. We didn’t even have tubular tires!