On Sunday, teammates Jeremy Powers and Tim Johnson will once again compete against the world's best crossers for a shot at the coveted rainbow jersey. While they may wear the same Cannondale - Cyclocrossworld.com skinsuits, their stories about what this experience means to them could not be more different.
For Powers, he enters the race coming off a very positive 'cross season. Having won both US National Series events, Powers looks to Worlds as a possibility to get one more good ride in. If that happens, Powers said, "I'd be ecstatic! But even if this race doesn't work out, I'll still be happy with my season. I had a lot of wins, no injury, no sickness. That's an accomplishment in itself."
"The pressure here is definitely lower than nationals because that race I could actually win. For me, Worlds is about putting my best race together. Realistically, if everything went absolutely perfectly, I would finish around 10th. And if it didn't, probably around 20th. I did well here in '05. I think I was 17th or 18th."
When asked jokingly if he would trade his final placing in for getting the hole shot again like he did in Pont-Château World Cup a couple of weeks ago, Powers said, laughing, "No, no. But if I get an opportunity to get it on a course like this, I'll take it! If you're anywhere after 20th in the beginning, it's gonna be very hard to move up." If the course remains hard and frozen, it will play in Powers' favor.
As for teammate Johnson, although he too has had a great season with 10 wins, burn-out struck over the holidays. A culmination spanning over a decade, this burnout required a real pounding of the fist that fueled Johnson with a renewed hunger and determination to again make a name for himself on European soil.
"It's been a long time - like 11 years since I really have been able to do anything [in Europe]. I got 13th at [Zolder] Worlds in '02. I also got 13th in [Wetzikon] World Cup that year. It's been a long time since I've actually been able to put something together that's any good. I know what it's like to think that you had a good ride, but, in reality, 25th isn't very impressive over here in Europe."
If you would have asked me three or four weeks ago how important this world championship is to me, I really wasn't all that optimistic. I finished the US season so badly, and I had just run myself into the ground, walking around like a zombie through the whole month of December questioning if racing is something I can do - or wanted to do. "
"As an athlete, so much of it is self-confidence and trying to make sure that when you do get to the line you can actually do it. But when times are trying, you have to remind yourself that you're riding your bike for a living; putting up with a little mud or cold hands really isn't that big of a deal," said Johnson. "And this was my kick start at the end of December. I vowed to stop my bitching and train, and try and come over here for a reason - not just come and ride around. So I think it's working out."
His 12th and 16th at the last two rounds of World Cups in Pont-Château and Hoogerheide confirmed he is back on target. After test riding the Worlds course, Johnson remains firmly committed to being there on the start, ready to do something big, not only for himself but for everyone in the US who cares about 'cross. Thanks to advanced technology, anyone can follow the races online. "Even my mom's figured out how to find a feed for the races," said Johnson.
Next season, expect to see these guys spend a larger portion of their time overseas. They plan to do more of the World Cups to show themselves enough to earn start contracts on the Belgian races like GVA Trofee and Superprestige events.