Rapha-Focus rider Jeremy Powers is heading into the final weekend of the Exergy US Gran Prix of Cyclo-cross in Bend, Oregon with a slim six point lead over the hometown favorite Ryan Trebon (LTS-Felt), but fans won't get to see the pair go head to head for the overall series win since Trebon is out with a leg injury.
Last year, Powers went into the finale in Portland with a 26 point deficit to teammate Tim Johnson, and after claiming the win on the first day and narrowing the margin by 16, he had to win the last race to take the series. In a thrilling final battle, Johnson and Powers traded attacks throughout the race, with Powers only gaining enough of an advantage in the final turn to seal the sprint and win the series.
Trebon has been Powers' main opponent all season. The winner of the first Exergy USGP race in Sun Prairie and a round in Fort Collins led the series until a disastrous second race in Louisville where he injured his leg in a pre-race crash and then suffered his way to 10th place, losing the jersey to Powers. The lingering damage means he won't be fighting Powers for the series title in his home town.
"It will be great if I win the USGP again, but not having Ryan there kind of stinks," Powers told Cyclingnews. "He is only six points behind, and it would have been like last year with Tim - there would have been pressure, the race would have been more fun for the fans."
With Canadian Geoff Kabush 71 points behind, Powers would have to finish fifth or worse both days and Kabush win both days in order to lose the series. It's an unlikely scenario considering Powers has had one of his strongest seasons to date, and he said he owes the change to his shift to the Rapha-Focus squad and away from his comfort zone at his former Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld team.
"It's been a big year," Powers said. "At Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld we had everything in place and it was easy. Coming into a young team like this there was a lot of work, but it all came together very quickly.
"I have a new mechanic, a new set up, we stay in different hotels and host houses... I am still great friends with Tim, but maybe I had too much fun with him. On this team I had to get a little more serious, and I had more time to reflect and focus before races. Instead of staying up an extra hour talking because it's fun, I might just go to sleep. It's kind of been good for me."
With plenty of dry weather behind and no snow or rain in sight, the course in Bend is bone dry, Powers said. It's a stark contrast from the past two years where there has been quite a bit of mud and slick corners. "It's definitely going to be faster. There are still the hard, explosive steep sections, but there are plenty of places to apply power. It's a really good course - it's technical, but in a different way without the mud. You can still slide out in the dust if you grab too much front brake, for instance."
In the women's Exergy USGP, Czech champion Katerina Nash has sewn up the overall series with the absence of Katie Compton from this weekend's racing. Nash's 114 point lead over Meredith Miller (California Giant Berry) is insurmountable with each win netting 50 points.
However, the battle for the U23 title will be closely fought between leader Yannick Eckmann (Pearl Izumi/Shimano) and Zach McDonald (Rapha-Focus), who are separated by eight points, and Cody Kaiser (California Giant Berry) in third with a 56-point deficit.
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for all the photos, results and reports from this weekend's races in Bend.