An interview with Jeremy Powers, January 26, 2007
Very few US riders get attention in the European-dominated 'cross scene. Jonathan Page, and current US champion Ryan Trebon are the exception, but a little known rider was turning heads at the GP der Ster in St. Niklaas, Belgium. Jeremy Powers (Jelly Belly) caught the eye of Belgian television with his signature bunny-hopping manoeuvre. Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé talked with him after the tough race where he finished just outside the top-10.
"I do it [bunny hopping] because it enables me to gain ground on the other riders. But today the course was tough on the bikes… and on the legs," Powers laughed. Powers came to Belgium as part of a camp organised by USA national coach Geoff Proctor. "I started doing [the camp] when I was only 19; this is like my third or fourth year, but actually I started doing it when I was younger."
The youngsters suffer a lot in Sint-Niklaas as they need to race together with the professional riders like Sven Nys (Rabobank), who won this year's event. "I got lapped here on my first year," Powers admits. "But now I'm twentieth in Diegem and twelfth over here; there's a progression, you get older and you learn a lot."
It's not easy for most American riders to get an appearance, let alone a break, in the ultra-competitive European scene. In addition to the competitive nature of the Euro rounds, riders also face to problem of hospitality and assistance in what are generally non-English speaking countries - but things are improving as the popularity and, importantly, the competitiveness of American riders grows.
"The level's getting higher but it takes time. Nobody's coming here to go whipping on the Belgians, that's not how it happens." -Jeremy Powers accepts the Europeans are still more competitive than the Americans
"I was living on my own and only returned home for the National Championships and it just ended up not being a good trip for me. I was alone too much," Powers explained of his first year in Europe. "It's better now as we've got some more guys from the States. I'm a year older, you get more mature and the racing is a little bit easier as well. The transition to Belgium is also a bit easier as you've been doing it so much. With Geoff's camp the opportunities made [coming to Europe] possible. It' a lot of work though, you have to want to do it… like everything."
That's precisely what Powers has been doing, a lot of work. The American rider is hoping to make some changes over the coming seasons, to improve his ability to contest both road and 'cross, without having as intensive a schedule as years past.
"I race on the road for Jelly Belly - a Continental team in the US – but I'm hoping to get a bit of a different sponsor next year, more specific for cyclo-cross," he explained. "So, I hope that for next year: some more racing in Europe and then a little bit better sponsor. And I also want to do some good races on the road. I hope to do that as well."
One thing that has helped Powers get better settled for the '06-'07 'cross season is the fact that his girlfriend has come across from the States with him. Her addition to the current season has also helped lighten the team's sprits - her presence is a welcome addition on race weekends. "She came over here; we're going on vacation after Surhuisterveen. We're going to London and Paris! I've never been to London… it should be good," said an excited Powers. "I'm really exited that she came."
Powers isn't the only US-rider who comes to Europe to battle the world's best cyclo-cross riders. The dominant force in the US national series, Ryan Trebon, has done a stint in the Euro scene this season, while Tim Johnson and Todd Wells weren't able to make it this time around due to other obligations with their teams. "Those are the guys and they could race here just like we do," explained Powers, who is realistic about the performance gap between America and Europe.
"They could have it a little difficulty with the transition, but Tim Johnson has been on the podium at the world championships, Ryan [Trebon] is riding top-10, so the level's getting higher, but it takes time. Nobody's coming here to go whipping on the Belgians, that's not how it happens. So it's going to take some time but you consider every year goes a little bit better; that's all you can hope for."
The American scene has come a long way in recent years, but there's still a way to go if riders are to cross (no pun intended) the Atlantic and be competitive in the European races. While it's clearly improving with every year that passes, Powers has his own ideas of how to improve the level of competition in the States. "If we get a World Cup in the US, that's awesome. That would draw spectators and would grow the sport. I hope for it, because that would be the best situation for me, for the US and for cyclo-cross all together," said 23-year-old.
"It would be good for those guys to come to a 'cross where we race, because we've got different grass… it's mainly faster... but they have to make a good tyre selection for the day - which shouldn't be a problem as they have twenty sets of tyres!"
The different competitive levels of 'cross riders also presents another challenge for those trying to make a living out of the sport - while in European races pay competitors appearance money, over in the United States rides have to cough up $50 of their hard earned cash to compete. It's a concept that the European riders fail to understand and one which Powers hopes will change as the sport continues to build name and fan base for itself. “The [US series organisers] are hoping that through that way of charging all categories of riders, they can produce the funds to organise a World Cup round. So there’s a vision. But should the pros pay?…I don’t know."
"It seems like we’re the draw for the spectators but they don’t charge the spectators to come and watch! So it’s tough but at least there’s a steady progression and that’s good. I just hope the World Cup comes or that the Europeans come to the US.”
One of Europe's leading 'cross riders Sven Nys expressed interest in competing on American soil in a recent interview on Cyclingnews. "Sometimes I'm wondering about showing myself over there, and I would want to, but we don't get the chance to do it," explained Nys, a seven times World Cup winner. "I would love to do it but probably better in a few years. Right now, it is so busy over here that it isn't feasible to cross the ocean to ride some races with jet lag in the legs, and then ride a World Cup race somewhere in Europe during the next week."
Powers understands the issues that the European riders face, but also feels it's something that needs to happen for the good of the sport. “No doubt it would be a lot for them to come over and it has to be early in the year,” Powers said, calling for action from the riders. “It has to happen! It’s only a seven hour flight from Belgium so it’s not so bad. We’re doing it and it’s taking us five to seven days to get good.”
Powers' dream of seeing the European stars compete on American soil could be nearing a reality, with Cyclingnews being informed shortly after this interview that plans for a World Cup round in the US are more tangible than ever.