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A look at the school, the races and the future of this unique 'sport'
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Jeremy Powers (Rapha Focus)
Gives up Jelly Belly slot to focus off-road
After 10 years riding for Jelly Belly Cycling, Jeremy Powers has decided to hang up his road cleats to focus on the next phase of his cyclo-cross career. "I think that we need to do the World Cups, and for me personally, I want to do that,” said Powers. “That's the next step for me. I don't want to be a racer that just raced for America."
After a prolific 2012-13 US cyclo-cross season, Powers finished last February questioning his ability to juggle a high profile cyclo-cross career with professional road racing. Powers expects that stepping away from road racing, and focusing purely on cyclo-cross, will enable him to perform on the World Cup cyclo-cross circuit.
"In April I'll be relaxed, and be doing what I need to be doing to get ready for cyclo-cross," said Powers at the Derby City Cup in Louisville, KY. "Less miles on the road, more core, more off-road, more running and things like that. Things that when you are doing 30 hour weeks, six weeks in a row, are just not possible to do."
Powers came to road racing from mountain biking on the advice of several mentors, including Adam Myerson and Kirk Albers, and quickly found his way to Danny Van Haute’s Jelly Belly team in 2004. He credits his tenure riding under Van Haute on Jelly Belly for helping refine his fitness, and teaching him how to race. By 2007, when Stu Thorne signed him to the Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com squad, Powers had started to shift his focus more towards cyclo-cross.
"Every year road racing came down a peg in my focus," said Powers. "I always did well in races that were under four hours, I always did well in races that were less than 70 degrees out. I have a high sweat rate, and low attention span, which is why cyclo-cross is geared towards me perfectly."
As his cyclo-cross commitments and contracts grew, it became more challenging for Power's to dedicate the time to road endeavors and meet the expectations he felt Van Haute, and others, held for him. Finally, last April he hit a breaking point, and realized that changes were in order if he was going to make the jump to the World Cup circuit.
"I think Danny would have liked for me to focus more on the road and that's truthfully where I felt a lot of pressure," say Powers about the guilt he was feeling last spring for prioritizing cyclo-cross more every year. "He [Van Haute] wanted me to race Sea Otter, and I just said I can't do it. It was that moment when I knew that this would probably be my last year of racing on the road. His expectation was completely realistic. He wanted me to start racing for the team, to be there, to be with the guys, to bring everyone up, to be a leader. I just couldn't fill that role anymore."
The next step for Powers is a big one and not without risk. There is not a great model for US riders to succeed at the top level of cyclo-cross, and riders like Tim Johnson (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) and Jonathan Page (Fuji) have had mixed results. Despite the lack of a successful role model, Power's feels that a laser-like focus, improved training, restricting travel, and limiting the number of race starts, will enable him to successfully tackle bigger races. By the time the first World Cup rolled around in October, most of the European peloton had raced a handful of warm-up events, while Powers and his North American cohort, had close to a dozen starts under their belts.
Powers looks at riders like mountain bike superstar Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower) for inspiration. "Look at his UCI starts, he has less than 20 starts, and he has 20 wins," said Powers. "He's coming into races hungry and motivated and that's what I want for myself. I want to be hungry and motivated."
This could lead to seeing less of Powers stateside next year, as he begins to gear his schedule more exclusively towards C1 events, and starts to manage his travel more judiciously. In order to get where he wants to go, it means Powers must shut the door on a part of his career, which helped nurture him into the rider he is today.
At 30 years old Powers is at the height of his ability, and wants an environment that will help realize his ambition. To take his game to the next level, Powers is ready to lay it on the line.