US Cyclo-cross champion Jeremy Powers was expected to be challenging for top results in the two rounds of the UCI World Cup held on home soil last week, but injury and illness thwarted his efforts.
After taking back-to-back victories in the first races of the season in Rochester, New York, Powers crashed in the warm-up of the Trek CXC Cup and dropped out of the race. He managed 18th in the CrossVegas World Cup, but caught a cold and could only muster 43rd in the next round in Iowa, the Jingle Cross.
"It was definitely not how I scripted it," Powers said to Cyclingnews.
"It was not good. It ended before it started for me with that crash at Trek. I fell on my left side at high speed and hit my ribcage really hard. I got up and walked it off, but it was very clear it was bad. I was in quite a bit of pain an hour later. It was a stupid crash but it ended up being pretty significant over the week."
Powers had a chiropractor on hand to treat him so that he could race before Vegas, but the hectic travel schedule from Wisconsin to Nevada and on to Iowa in nine days led him to catch a cold before Jingle Cross.
"It really stunk. I put in a huge amount of work to get into what I'd consider peak condition for the racing week, and it just went pear shaped from the gun. It was not ideal at all."
"I couldn't stop thinking about such a missed opportunity. We talk so often about getting the Europeans over so we can race them on our own soil, and I wouldn't say I was devastated but it was close. I wish it had gone differently. It's a setback, but I can't dwell on it or it will bum me out. I've got to move on."
One bright spot of the week was the performance of his teammate Ellen Noble, who was second in both Trek CXC races and in the Jingle Cross C1 race. She was top 10 in both World Cups too.
"Ellen had a great week, so for the team it was a success. We'll definitely be supporting her - she's sixth in the World Cup now - that's an incredible achievement for at her age, so we'll go over and do all the World Cups. There are a lot of World Cups this year, nine in total."
Since the UCI rankings are based on a rolling 12-month calendar, Powers still maintains ninth place overall, a standing that should assure him a position in the first two rows by the time he heads to the next World Cup in Valkenburg. It is looking likely that he will miss this weekend's races in the KMC CrossFest, and is now aiming at races later next month to maintain his points tally.
"The goal is to be back for Valkenburg (October 23), but also Continental Championships (October 29), Louisville and the other World Cups," Powers said.
"Whether I'm in the first or second row, that means very little to me right now. As long as I'm in the first couple of rows it's good. I've been lucky with my start position thanks to the points in the US. I'm just trying to get back and get healthy and have a good season."
Younger generation taking over
World Champion Wout Van Aert won every race he started so far this season, taking out the Brico Cross before heading stateside, where he dominated in the Trek CXC Cup and two World Cups. Powers sees it being a very long season of riders chasing Van Aert and likely Mathieu Van der Poel when he returns from his knee surgery.
"It seems like the younger riders are really firing, they could be racing U23s. They're really the hitters in the sport right now," Powers said. "I'm not riding slower, my power numbers are great. I feel good on the bike - I've had a crash - but looking at the big picture, things are basically the same. You can only deduce that the others are going faster. These are the people I'll be racing against, so I need to either be stronger or more efficient, or this is going to be the outcome."
"Van Aert looks like he is riding at the top WorldTour level, he won road races before the start of the season, he won Madison with ease. I don't see anyone challenging him. Even a fresh Lars van der Haar and Van der Poel - they'll have a hard time."
"It's really great to have someone like that in the sport. He's showcasing his talent on the road and in cyclo-cross. I have a lot of respect for him, he tries really hard and he's great with the fans. He speaks good English and he's got a good head on his shoulders."
Despite his own problems, Powers savoured a special week for cyclo-cross in the USA.
"It was an incredible week for 'cross in America. It really showed how much passion we have for the sport, the amount of fans that were out there was amazing," he said.
"They were so pumped to be there and cheered for everyone across the board. You could feel it. Even though I had to race when I wasn't 100 per cent, it was still a really special thing to be a part of. It shouldn't be taken lightly. It's been a lot of work and a long time coming. It's such a boost to me to see that level of crowd filling the field in Iowa. It was equally if not more special that Worlds at Louisville, where you'd expect the international crowd to turn out."