Reigning U.S. cyclo-cross champion Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) has fired on all cylinders thus far this 'cross season, racking up seven victories including a clean sweep of all five UCI C1-ranked races held on U.S. soil. The current season is a special one for all U.S. 'cross racers as the world championships will be hosted in Louisville, Kentucky on February 2-3, 2013, the first time the event has been held outside of Europe since its inception in 1950, and Powers is quite satisfied with how he's performed to date.
"The beginning of my season has been successful and I'm really happy with how things have gone," Powers told Cyclingnews. "I haven't had any issues, knock on wood, and I'm happy with how things are going currently.
"It was my goal to do well in the category 1 races and to try to win as many of them as I can, and it still is. Those hold the points that I need. Due to the amount of the C1s at the beginning of the season for us it (UCI points and ranking) rests very heavily on those. You have to have a nice early season. The next big test now is the World Cup races."
The first two rounds of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup take place in the Czech Republic, with Tabor hosting the opening event on October 21 followed one week later by the race in Plzen. The World Cup kicked off in the Czech Republic last year as well, with the order reversed - first Plzen, then Tabor.
Last year Powers had his best-ever performance at a World Cup in the Plzen round, where he finished 10th, and the points-rich World Cup events once again beckon and provide ample motivation for Powers's season goal - a front row start at the Worlds in Louisville. Powers wants to crack the top-five in a World Cup round this season, but his drive is to accumulate UCI points and any collateral success overseas as well as domestically in the national US Gran Prix of Cyclocross (USGP) series or national championships will be viewed as a bonus along the way.
"Truthfully, the USGP is important to my sponsors and important to me, but this year it's more important for Louisville and getting on the front row there," said Powers. "Everything is aimed at the world championships this year. Nationals is on the radar as well, it's certainly a big race that I need to win, bit it kind of goes hand in hand with winning that race and gaining points for the world championships to be on the front row there.
"That's my goal - I really, really want to be able to start on the front row in Louisville."
Last year Powers was the highest-placed U.S. rider on the UCI rankings, 11th overall, heading into Worlds in Koksijde, Belgium, good for a second row start position. It's a matter of marginal gains to close the deficit, but Powers faces the reality of repeated travel to Europe for World Cup rounds and their abundance of points - first place in a World Cup is 200 points vs. 80 points for winning a C1 event.
"A full US season with flying back and forth to Europe is really difficult," said Powers. "I think the amount it takes off of us is significant. I don't say that to make us sound better, I'm truly trying to gauge myself against the best in the world, but where we're at now we just have such a geographical difference that it's hard to really say 'is Niels Albert head and shoulders above Ryan Trebon?'. I don't have an answer for that because those riders don't come over here to race against us that often so we have to go over there and it's always on their terms.
"The way I would showcase that is by leaving my house and driving to Providence and Gloucester takes me about two hours. Every single race that the Europeans do, I would say 85 percent of them are within a two-hour drive of all of their houses. So just knowing the area that well and being able to go drive to the race, sleep in your house, have your own washing machine, your own massage, having your training bike ready to go because your mechanic prepped it for Monday morning so you can get back out there at 10am and train again...it's just so much different. Those little things are what we're talking about here. I was ranked 11th in the world last year and when you start to look at the time gaps between me and 5th place in the world it's very short and you have to find out how can I get back that one and two percent.
"I think that's why Louisville is such an achievement for cyclo-cross in the United States and why it's such an opportunity for us to race against the Europeans on our home soil. I think it's going to be very exciting for all of us."
Powers hopes that having the world championships in Louisville will be a catalyst for a U.S.-hosted World Cup round in the future and the potential for a World Cup that features races outside of the Benelux-dominated events of its current rendition.
"I do think we need to have a round in America. I hope that there is a sponsor or someone that has enough interest and the capability to run an event that big that we're able to continue to grow this after Louisville," said Powers. "I think that's the next logical step. I think that the sport to continue growing and to continue on this upwards trend really deserves it. I hope that I can again race an international field at a World Cup round here."