Logan Owen rolled the dice before the 2017 season started, choosing to walk away from a cyclo-cross career that had seen him win 10 consecutive age-graded US championships and focus 100 per cent of his effort on road racing and earning a WorldTour contract by the end of the year.
Wins during stage 3 of the 2015 Tour of Utah and in the 2016 Liège-Bastogne-Liège U23 race hadn't propelled him onto a WorldTour team like he'd hoped, and 2017 would be his final season on Axel Merckx's development team Axeon Hagens Berman. He was determined that 2017 would be a standout year.
"I thought it was the right step whether I made it or not," Owen told Cyclingnews by phone from Port Orchard, Washington, where he and wife Chloe Dygert Owen, a pro cyclist with Sho-Air Twenty20, are moving into a home the couple just bought.
"I figured it was time to put all my eggs in one basket, and I felt like cyclo-cross was holding me back for a few years as far as my development and resting in the off-season," Owen said. "I wasn't properly setting myself up for the best road season, so I was just trying to do my best at both, and I was doing alright at both. It was better to just focus on one."
Owen's decision paid off almost immediately this year when he won stage 2 at the Volta ao Alentejo in February during the team's season-opening trip to Portugal.
His plan for the final year of U23 racing was off to a good start, but he hit the first hurdle when he entered a local training race in Washington called Tour de Dung and crashed hard, injuring his hip and interrupting his training as he built toward a crucial part of his year.
He returned to Europe with Axeon Hagens Berman at the end of March for a trip through Belgium and Italy, suffering at first at the U23 Gent-Wevelgem but rebounding with 17th at the Tour of Flanders U23 race, which was won by teammate Eddie Dunbar. Owen ended the trip at Tour de Bretagne, where he finished third on a hilly stage 6 that featured lumpy closing circuits that suited his skills.
Owen appeared to be back on form on and on track for the Giro Ciclistico d'Italia, or "Baby Giro," in June when bad luck took hold again. Owen went down in a crash at the end of the opening stage, breaking his wrist in two places and knocking him out of the rest of the prestigious U23 event.
He was out of action again until July, when he competed in the Cascade Cycling Classic with a composite USA Cycling national team that also included Trek-Segafredo's Peter Stetina and Kiel Reijnen.
He rode somewhat anonymously in the 2.2 race in Oregon but was back on the podium in his season-ending races, the 2.HC Tour of Utah and Colorado Classic. Owen finished third to Travis McCabe (UnitedHealthcare) and Marco Canola (Nippo-Vini Fantini) in a Utah stage almost identical to the one he won on 2015, and he was third to John Murphy (Holowsko-Citadel) and McCabe in the opening bunch sprint in Colorado.
He finished strong, but it wasn't the season Owen had been hoping for.
"It sucked because I wanted to have a really good year," he said. "I had the strength to have a really good year, but everything didn't come together quite enough for it. I only won one race, and I was kind of podiuming there once I kind of got healthy again. I was hoping to do more winning, but yeah, everything didn't come together this year."
Nevertheless, once Slipstream Sports sorted out its sponsorship issues and signed EF Education First as a new title sponsor, Owen's first WorldTour offer was soon on the table. Owen said he and his agents had been in contact with Slipstream Sports CEO Jonathan Vaughters since the beginning of the season, and he believes his consistency even through the adversity helped push him over the top in the eyes of his new team.
"Honestly, Cannondale was one of the only teams that showed quite a bit of interest in me," he said. "There were one or two other teams that showed interest, but Cannondale for sure showed the most.
"I think they saw how consistent I've been over the years and that I've shown I can win big races. It's cool they're willing to invest in me. It's good to see that. I'm excited that they trust in my ability to win races and want to invest in my career."
Logan Owen wins stage 4 of the 2017 Volta ao Alentejo.
Getting right to it
Owen hasn't had much time yet to sit down with his new team and talk about the 2018 season, but he said the EF Education First-Drapac management has indicated he's 'penciled in' to start his season at the Tour Down Under, which begins January 16 in Adelaide. The race will provide Owen with a quick introduction to the WorldTour.
"It's going to be interesting because we're not going to have a team camp prior to the Tour Down Under, so it will be cool to just go there and help the bigger guys," he said. "I think we'll have a pretty strong team going there, so I'll just be helping. Pretty much what I'll be doing all year is learning and helping guys win races. Hopefully we can win just about every race we do. I know it's unrealistic, but you gotta shoot high."
Although he knows he has a lot to learn and a lot to prove at the next level, Owen has just realised the long-time goal of making it to the WorldTour; now he's ready to take the next step and start working toward bigger goals, working to see his next dreams fulfilled.
"I've been trying to get there since I was 13 years old," he said. "It's been kind of a dream of mine, so it's exciting to see it happen and get to the top level of the sport. Now I just have to keep building from here and keep reaching those goals."
The rider who says he'll live with friends in Belgium next season is pretty clear where he hopes his dreams will take him, following in the footsteps of the hard men who have conquered the cobbles, climbs and spring conditions not unlike those Owen grew up with in America's Pacific Northwest.
"Definitely the Ardennes Classics and the Flemish Classics like Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem and all those other ones," he said. "I think I could do well in those, and like Liège and all that. Honestly, I don't know what I'm best at yet. I'll have to see once I get to the WorldTour level, because it's just a completely different thing.
"If you're good as a U23, you're going to be good at a lot of things. As a junior it's very similar. You see a little more specialization happening at the U23 level, but I think the WorldTour will really kind of solidify what I will do best at, and I'll really try to focus on that."
Owen has lofty goals, but he appears to understand he's only passed the most preliminary of trials so far. It's going to be a long journey, and he's ready to get started.
"When they said I was racing Tour Down Under, I was like, 'Oh. OK, No problem. Sweet.' Get right to it, I guess."