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BOULDER, Colo. (VN) — He was riding east, in a bad wind, his head down, just headed back to the barn. This is Boulder, Colorado, so “he” really could be anyone in this cycling-crazed town. But his multi-colored livery gave him away, and quickly.
Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) was out for a Saturday ride in the grey afternoon, putting some miles into his legs before a snowstorm moved in for 24 hours. He’s been in Colorado since the day after Christmas, staying at his mechanic Tom Hopper’s house just outside Boulder, where the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships open Wednesday.
This season marks something of an anomaly for Powers, who has spent more time in Europe racing in years past, but decided to take a different tack this year. He’s having a good season, already notching 13 wins, but tried to bend the arc of his form toward later in the year, starting now and carrying into his European stint after Sunday’s elite men’s race at nationals, with an eye on the world championships in Hoogerheide, the Netherlands.
“Nationals is definitely important. A one-day race. I’d love to be able to win nationals. That would be huge for me again,” he said, taking a break in a south Boulder coffee shop. “My idea was to come into this block hot, and Hendersonville (North Carolina) was the first real glimpse of some form that I had trained hard for. And now, in the plan … things are going well and so we look toward worlds.”
Powers won the two races in North Carolina, the North Carolina Grand Prix in the middle of December, and won again on Colorado’s snowy Front Range at the Altitude Adjustment Cross on Saturday. The latter marked his final tune-up and came in Nordic conditions: temperatures in the 20s, with six inches of snow on the ground and the serpentine race track a mixture of snow, ice, and frozen grass.
The championships in Boulder will be raced on a new course at the Valmont Bike Park — a venue where Powers won the Boulder Cup earlier this year.
“I like it, it’s a good venue for me,” he said. “It’s got a lot of punchy stuff, it’s got a lot of off-camber stuff. It will definitely be a strong rider who wins. I don’t know the flow of it yet … but it’s definitely within my range. It’ll be interesting to see what the weather does — we’re in Colorado. It’s going to be a great weekend. There’s going to be a lot of people out. It’s nationals. Something crazy could happen.”
The weather this time of year on Colorado’s front range is wildly unpredictable. Last week high temperatures were in the 50s; then winter settled on the Flatirons, the stark sandstone mountains west of Boulder, dropping a foot of snow and putting the high temperatures into the teens.
At a week out, the forecast called for a high of 46 on Sunday, Jan. 12, the day of the men’s and women’s elite races, with a slight chance of snow. As of Monday, the Valmont course was under snow, but mid-week races will likely chew the terrain unto a muddy track, as temperatures warm to the mid 40s. The course could turn perfectly tacky or remain a slick mess. It’s anyone’s race, come Sunday.
Asked who was going to win, Powers went quiet. But only for a moment. As expected, he ran off a list of the obvious favorites, starting with Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com teammates Tim Johnson and Ryan Trebon.
“I would love to win. I would definitely love to win,” he said. “Tim and Ryan have had great seasons. Jonathan [Page] is coming back.” Powers then named Jamey Driscoll (Raleigh-Clement), Zach McDonald (Rapha), and Daniel Summerhill (Felt-K-Edge) as threats as well. He also mentioned Todd Wells (Specialized), but the three-time champion recently declared he wasn’t racing, citing pain in his right knee.
Powers, 30, is hoping his formula — skip the early trips to Europe, build a little later in the season — works this year, so he can employ it in the years following. In keeping with his more targeted approach, he won’t race on the road in 2014.
“Cyclocross and all these sports have become so specialized. You even see it this year. [Zdenek] Stybar — yeah, of course, he was three times world champ, so it’s like, he’s a good rider, a good cyclocross rider — the point that I’m trying to make is that you just don’t see people coming in and winning ’cross races,” he said. “[Lars] Boom doesn’t do that anymore. Stybar isn’t going to do that as much anymore. The season has gotten so much longer, and the races and the level is so much higher and there’s so much repetition in cyclocross that if you’re not doing it day in, day out, it’s hard to be a contender.”
Specialization, then, becomes increasingly important for Powers and his competitors. By stepping back from the road, he hopes to find just that little bit more.
“If I don’t to cycloross 100 percent now, I’m probably going to ask myself, ‘what if I had just given 10o percent to that?’” he said. “I want to take the time in March and April to actually have a proper break. I need that. For my legs and head as well.”
But March and April are a long time off from now, and just a day after this interview, Powers was spotted again at a stoplight, on his way into north Boulder for an hour of motorpacing in the brutal wind.