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Elite rookie Owen turns heads in Boulder

Eight-time cyclocross junior national champion Logan Owen made his elite debut over the weekend and came roaring out of the back of the field

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BOULDER, Colorado (VN) — When you’ve been racing bikes for nearly 15 years, you’re likely to be considered a veteran of the sport.

But what if you’re only 18 years old?

Logan Owen, the eight-time consecutive junior national cyclocross champion made his debut for the Cal Giant-Specialized team last weekend in Boulder, Colorado, in the elite UCI field. At the Colorado Cross Classic, veteran announcer Dave Towle expressed, with his trademark roar, what was on the minds of many: “What can Logan Owen do against the very best cyclocross stars in the U.S. coming from the back of the field?”

Yes, Logan Owen may have eight national titles. He may have finished fourth at both the world junior cyclocross championships in Louisville, Kentucky, in early February, and the world junior road race championship in Florence, Italy, two weeks ago. He may have started racing when he was four and a half years old. He may, in fact, be a veteran. But he still had to start on the seventh row at Saturday’s Colorado Cross Classic, back with the rest of the wannabes without any UCI points.

“I know I can do a ride like that from the front row — I have faith in myself to be able to do that — but coming from 53rd position on the seventh row, I was, like, ‘Ah, top 15, that’d be good, top 10 that would be really great,’ and I didn’t have many expectations being that I just took a week off after road worlds,” he said. “I was just hoping to get some good training in.”

Eventually, Owen found himself in the lead group after some difficult work patiently picking through the pretenders on a sinuous, dry, and sandy course at the Boulder Reservoir. But there he was, young veteran among seasoned players. He burned a number of matches to get there, but he never blew up.

“I was pretty shot when I got up there. If I can start from the front row, I think I can definitely be a contender for winning some of these future races,” he said.

Owen’s training netted him a “really great” sixth place, the top result for the Cal Giant team, just behind another, true veteran of cyclocross, and three-time national champion, Todd Wells (Specialized). Not bad for his first ’cross race of the season, and his debut among the elite ranks.

Making his first appearance on a Cal Giant team with a number of other young talents — including U.S. under-23 champion Yannick Eckmann, Cody Kaiser, and Tobin Ortenblad — the question of rivalry naturally bubbled to the surface.

“He’s a strong racer. His goal is to be up there, my goal is to be up there. It just comes down to who is the stronger one and hopefully it’s me. But we’ll see how it goes,” said Eckmann, who landed two top-five results at the Trek Cup last month. “I’m still going to race as I always race. You know, he’s a strong contender for sure, but I’ll give it my best — I have good days, I have bad days, everybody’s beatable. There’s always inside competition within the teams. [laughs] It’s going to be good.”

Young men. Kids, flaunting their plumage and, perhaps, rightfully so.

Sunday’s grid saw Owen start from the fifth row. He would quickly make the lead group on the fast, dry, topographically challenging course — even launching an audacious attack before the midpoint of the race — ultimately succumbing to a crash on the marble-covered hard pack surface of the Valmont Bike Park course with three laps to go. He would run to the pits, bike on shoulder, then continue his race, ultimately finishing a distant 37th.

“I want to be my own bike racer and not be like anyone else. I never want to quit a race,” he said. He threw in his attack from the eighth wheel as the pace of the front group slowed. He’s unaware, and unconcerned, at how this aggressive posturing might sit within the establishment of the elite field.

“If they don’t like it they can just go harder and drop me,” he said with a laugh.

What does the future hold for such a gifted, confident, and highly touted kid?

After spending some time in Boulder training with teammate Eckmann, he’ll head to Europe to partake in the opening two rounds of the World Cup, in Valkenburg, Netherlands, and Tabor, Czech Republic. He hopes to hit all of the World Cups, in fact, but his ultimate goal is to earn enough points for a good starting position for the world championships in Hoogerheide, Netherlands.

“I just want a first or second row start at worlds — it doesn’t matter to me, being up there is all that matters. I want to go out there and redeem myself after last year,” he said.

The early morning snows in Louisville saw Owen come back time and again from mistakes and mechanicals, almost pulling off a miracle recovery to claim a spot on the podium. He finished fourth, dejected, but calm after he crossed the line. It was clear to many that he had the technical skills to challenge world champion and archrival Mathieu van der Poel, but without the luck to complement it. But their rivalry will continue for years to come.

A (worlds) day in the life of Logan Owen >>

“I beat him on the road this year, hopefully I can challenge him again this year [in ’cross],” said Owen. “I’m closing the gap to him little by little, every year, so eventually, hopefully, I can get him.”

Owen will also look to claim another national title at Valmont Park in January. In his first year as an espoir, he’ll likely race for the U23 title currently held by Eckmann and not the elite crown.

“I kind of want to keep my streak going. That would be nice, and it would be a little bit easier in the U23s. [laughs] That’d be cool to keep that alive,” he said, not far from the start grid where he will line up in January.

After so many years of racing bikes, starting with BMX, is Owen having any trouble staying motivated? Is he bored with racing bikes? For all those future rivals hoping he’ll burn out after 15 years of racing, think again. The young veteran is as excited as you’d expect any kid to be about riding his bike for a living.

“I love racing my bike. It’s just something I’ve grown up doing; I don’t think I’m ever going to get tired of it. I love doing what I do,” he said. “One thing is a lot of people don’t like training; but pretty much every day I’m excited to go ride my bike. I just enjoy the sport, it’s so fun, and I want to do it for a really long time.”

For now, Owen says, he lets his legs do the talking. And they are saying, loud and clear, that Logan Owen is going to add a new level of excitement to the ’cross landscape for years to come. Maybe even another 15.

“I just try to come out and have fun and be nice to as many people as possible,” he said. “I don’t want to create any enemies racing my bike. The sport is to have fun; that’s my main goal, to embrace that and show that through my riding. I do like to have fun but you also have to ride hard — and that’s part of having fun.”

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