An interview with Jeremy Powers, January 8, 2008
Gradually building his 'cross credentials on the European circuit, American Jeremy Powers is glowing with confidence as the 2008 World Championships approach. As he cleaned up after round five of the Gazet van Antwerpen Trophy, Powers told Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown about the season so far and his expectations for Treviso.
"The whole season so far has been awesome," Powers says with enthusiasm as he and Tim Johnson clean up in their kitted-out van following the day's race in Loenhout, Belgium. He had just finished 23rd in one of the Gazet van Antwerpen Trophy races, and was pleased with the day.
One year ago the Massachusetts native raced in Europe in Jelly Belly colours, the same team he continues to race with for the 2008 road season, but has since found his new setup with Team Cyclocrossworld for the 'cross portion of the season. "Last year when I talked to Brecht [Decaluwé of Cyclingnews], it was about getting back over here with good support. Geoff Proctor's [Euro 'cross] camp is good, but my whole goal was to get myself on a team with additional cyclo-cross support."
Powers' season got off to the right start with three big wins at Louisville, Gloucester and Wissahickon on the US domestic circuit - all good moral boosters for making the transatlantic flight. "I was confident in coming over her, this year has been much better," he says in a relaxed tone.
"Last year, before the start of a big race I was gluing my own tubulars until two in the morning. I rode with an iPod in that race because I knew I was going to be crushed." -Powers has come a long way since his first outings in the big European races.
"I was mentioning to Tim that last year, before the start of a big race I was gluing my own tubulars until two in the morning. I rode with an iPod in that race because I knew I was going to be crushed; my arms were slush because I had been pushing on tubulars all night. Now we have Stu Thorne gluing on 30 sets of tires - I don't have to do anything. On top of not worrying about the money and having enough bikes and support... there is no reason not to perform; if you have all of this and you don't perform then there is something wrong."
Powers has help from his family in Belgium as well as the Cyclocrossworld crew. "My dad is also here in these days leading up to the Worlds. Initially I was going to have my own place, and then I decided to share a place with Tim and the others, which has gone great. My dad still decided to come over and help out, and we can use him. He is 58 years old, so we don't order him around like our team mechanics, we ask him politely to do things for us.
"This year the area where we are staying [south of Brussels in Wallonne] is really nice for me; it is a lot like the area where I am from. That alone is good for me."
Growing in Europe
Getting noticed on the ultra-competitive European scene is no mean feat, but Powers continues to gain respect amongst both riders and fans. "Every year I feel there are more and more people who are bringing out photos of me and following me, or even writing to me through my website to ask when I am coming over to Europe," he says. Fans in Belgium often come out with matching jackets, and cheer their rider on well after the race has finished - quite different from the crowd lining road races.
"Those people form a connection with me, and do what whatever they can do to stay in touch - those are the people that I make sure I have a hat for, or something."
The respect is not limited to those on foot, Powers is a known commodity on the 'cross scene and says there is only "a handful" that he doesn't get respect from. "I raced the Worlds in Tabor [Czech Republic] in 2001 - I remember jumping the barriers in training, then when we went out the next night the guys were impressed that I had done that and wanted to meet 'the guy who jumped the barriers'. Some of the top riders then started to do that, seeing that it was possible.
"There has been respect that has slowly built up, and this is also due to the two full seasons over here, in 2004 and 2005. I met many of those guys in those two years. I am able to joke with those guys, and it makes it easier.
"Any day that I am beating guys that are making a living for this - those 20 to 30 guys - that is a good day for me," he notes of his rivals. "I have been here before, and I have not beaten those guys, so anytime you can better than those riders others will notice you.
"The goal here in Europe is to have people want to support you so those people come to the races, which enables you go get higher start money because you are brining in the crowds... It is like 'if you pat my back, I'll pat your back.'"
The World Championship race on January 27 in Treviso, Italy, is fast approaching, and is of particular significance to those who have spent the time and effort leaving North America to base themselves in Belgium. Powers has set his goals for the rainbow jersey race, which include a top-20 finish, but he is not limiting himself.
"Somewhere in the top-20 would be a realistic goal for Treviso; I think outside of the top-20 would be a little disappointing," he remarks as the day's sun goes down outside the van. "On a great day the sky would be the limit - who knows? The other day at Hofstade [December 26] it was a lot harder when you consider the number of Belgians - 11 - and at the Worlds there are only going to be six. This could make the race easier.
"The Worlds is such a different race, it is not like any of these other races."
He bushes off the idea that there is any rivalry with the other US riders, noting that their presence is a blessing and to try to finish as the best-placed rider of his country is not an objective.
"I don't care about this; I am not out there watching the other Americans and racing for that top spot amongst us," he says honestly. "Really, I want Tim there; I want these other guys racing with us. They are all good guys, and we can benefit from one another. We are all coming close to the same level now - which is an international level.
"On any given day, one of us can be there when the others are not. Like the Belgians or the other countries do, we have to look out for each other and build that camaraderie."
Powers will head straight back to The States and road racing after the 'cross season in Europe, but will miss the certain Belgian goodies he's become accustomed to. "After Treviso I will start the road season right away, with the Tour of California. ... My beer in Belgium is Leffe Bruin. Have you had that?"
Yes, Jeremy, we certainly have...