US cyclo-cross national champion Jeremy Powers is switching up his racing plan for 2014, including adding more off-road events like mountain bike and gravel road races.
"I am planning on doing some mountain bike races as well as increasing the mountain biking in my training," said Powers to Cyclingnews. "I haven't done mountain bike racing in so long, I don't know what to expect or how my body will react."
Powers, now 31, was passionate about mountain bike racing when he was growing up.
"That's how I got into racing. I started out at 12 or 13 years old as a mountain bike racer," he said. "I loved it. It's where I put all my energy. I wrote a million sponsors like Powerbar, Spinergy and Titanium bike manufacturers, and I got a bunch of equipment. I was a total dork about it. I got to go to bunch of races the next year and I won some, which catapulted the whole thing."
"The thing to aspire to when I was growing up was the Devo program, and so I reached out to them and I did what they asked and went to the races they'd be at. I got on the team when I was 15."
Powers made the podium a bunch at NORBA mountain bike national series races as a junior, and he turned pro in his final year as a junior. Highlights included a second place in the junior expert category at Mount Snow, a fourth place at Seven Springs, and winning a big race in Napa California in 2001 that was sanctioned as a World Cup, but wasn't technically a World Cup in today's way.
"I won Napa, and Paolo Pezzo kissed me on the podium - I'll never forget it," remembered Powers. "She was wearing the famous gold pants, too. She was definitely one of those mountain bike stars who had wall space in my room."
Powers seemed on track for big-time mountain bike success, but after making the short list for the team headed to mountain bike Worlds, he became ill with mono. It kept him off the bike for six months straight and wiped out any chance of going to MTB Worlds.
"I came back after mono and was looking at going to college," said Powers. "It's what brought me here to western Massachusetts. All the riders here are 'cross and road riders. Mountain biking was coming down in popularity at that same time and sponsorships were hard to come by."
Powers only raced mountain bikes for part of the first year after his post-mono comeback. He had started paying more attention to cyclo-cross and when he got the call from Jelly Belly and had the chance to do some road racing, too, he went for it.
"Road racing doesn't allow for a lot of mountain biking, so that was the end of it," said Powers.
2013-2014 'cross season in review
Powers has had some time to reflect on his 2014 season, and looking back, he considers it generally a success.
"Looking at the season as a whole, I'm happy with how it turned out. I rode great from Star Crossed to the World Cup in France where I was 15th. I came up short at the world champs - I didn't have a good day - I had crashes and bike problems - it happens, but overall, the season was good. Winning Nats was the biggest priority, and I did that. I was able to focus on one thing, train for it and win it."
"I had a lot of projects that I took on this past year - I bit off more than I could chew with Behind the Barriers TV. Sometimes I felt that when the deadlines were on that, I could feel the stress and my results suffered then. It's been been good to get that off my plate."
He will focus next year on domestic races and the 'cross UCI World Cup. "Right now, I'm planning on doing all the World Cups. My fall and winter will be heavy with a lot of racing and I need to prepare for that accordingly."
2014 racing plans
During the 2014 season, Powers will race with his JAM Fund team. His first major event will be the Trans-Sylvania Epic mountain bike stage race in late May, but instead of competing solo, he'll race with his team in the Epic category, which does not require his participation all the days - a convenient thing since he has to miss the first day of racing for a wedding.
"I think I could have done well that first day given the shorter time trial format, but I've missed way too many weddings over the years," he said.
After the Trans-Sylvania Epic, Powers will do a 100-mile dirt road race known as the Black Fly Challenge in the Adirondaks in upstate New York.
He's also going to do his annual charity event the Gran Fundo, a dirt road ride in Southampton, Massachusetts. "It's pretty much my favorite day on the bike. That event makes it possible for JAM Fund to exist." Unfortunately, the scheduling of the Gran Fundo conflicts with the US Mountain Bike National Championships so Powers will probably not make it to Pennsylvania for this year's nationals.
Next up with be the Catamount Classic Pro XCT round in Vermont, and Powers is also hoping to get a chance to race the UCI World Cup in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec, Canada.
The cross-over to mountain bike races
Even as Powers stopped mountain bike racing to focus on 'cross and road, he still used his mountain bike for shorter, punchier efforts in training. He's been happy to see cross country racing generally moving away from 2-3 hour long events to shorter races.
"Those 2.5-hour races are not really for me format-wise. But now, a lot of cross country races are about 1.5 hours long," he said. "I think we'll see how this first trial of mountain bike racing goes. 'Cross is where I put my heart and where I want to get the most out, but I think mountain biking can complement my 'cross."
Powers is looking at the mountain bike racing as a fun way to cross train for 'cross now that he's not racing with a pro road team.
"If everything goes according to plan, my form will come up later in the year, toward Catamount. I don't know that I'm looking for any particular result. I'll save the intense stuff for December and January. I want to take down the number of overall total races. I want to do thought-out, well-planned races."
He'll still do some road races - the kind for which you don't have to a pro on a pro team. "Like Nature Valley maybe. Maybe also the Tour of the Dairylands, where you have hard racing and you can just come in and do them. The JAM Fund and I can drive out and do them."
"I wouldn't ever take back 10 years of racing for Jelly Belly, but it's very different getting ready for the road racing season and then going on the road for it. Doing my planned schedule will get me some speed work and push me, and the mountain biking will help me technically."
Powers is in process of building a new team program. "Moving forward, I won't be racing for Rapha Focus. My program will be in year one with opportunity to grow and become more of a team. In the first year, I'll be focusing on myself and not taking on too much. I'm not trying to take on more than I'm easily able to... I tend to take on too much."
He expects to announce his program and team in April.