Few bike racers exude energy like Jeremy Powers. He's constantly moving, smiling, cracking jokes, working feverishly on projects like his developmental programme the JAM Fund, starring in and directing behind the scenes videos, playing deejay, and his latest project, producing a calendar for the JAM fund. But the 32-year-old insists that none of these extracurricular activities distract him from his focus on being a top cyclo-cross racer. Quite the opposite - he sees his own personal aspirations and his desire to make the sport of 'cross grow as inextricably linked.
The three-time national champion came out swinging this year, with six straight victories including the Pan American Championships on home soil after a strong sixth place in the opening UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup in Las Vegas. His luck ran out in Louisville at the Derby City Cup, where he was twice defeated by his protege Stephen Hyde earlier this month. With a heavy schedule in December and January, Powers opted to skip the Koksijde World Cup in order to balance his recovery and training efforts.
"I have a lot of ambition for these upcoming races," Powers says of the upcoming World Cups, and National and World Championships. "Missing [Koksijde was] a hard and a big decision that I didn't take lightly, but I also know what I need and I don't have any interest in over-traveling, over-racing and potentially under-performing because of spreading myself too thin - which is a cycle I've been in before and felt I could get into again if I were to do this trip."
Though Powers has carefully controlled his racing in recent years, he continues to stay busy while off the bike with the JAM Fund and other projects, but rather than rob him of energy, he says these endeavours do the opposite. "This is like my oxygen. It has always been that way - whether it's Behind the Barriers or partnership stuff. I need to stay busy or else I get bored. [The JAM Fund] is something I love and enjoy and it makes me feel great to do it. I put energy and money into it, but if anyone looked at my record it's not monetarily motivated. I feel good doing it. Most of what I do is because I want to do it, or because it's fun."
Powers works with partners Alec Donahue and Mukunda Feldman on the programme which helps to make racing more affordable for young 'cross racers with grants, and to develop athletes who will help contribute to the growth of the sport.
"I want to leave a legacy, to leave cyclo-cross in a better state than when I came in," Powers says. "My dream is that we have a couple riders racing internationally and doing well - being competitive in Europe and making a living. That's my dream."
So far the JAM Fund has turned out a number of very good riders, including Hyde, Jeremy Durrin and Ellen Noble.
"My dream, without mincing words, is to have the crew that's here in Western Massachusetts to be in my program, and to help them live great lives that are impactful and have as much joy as I've been able to create through this thing. Through my racing, other riders have always opened doors for me, and I want to be able to give like that. As I've gotten older, I look at things that make me happy. I love doing my show and inspiring people through that, and the JAM fund is the same thing."
Although he admits he is in the last few years of his career, Powers still feels like he is improving and has ambitions to build upon his past performances in Europe. "I've always said if I'm not getting better, I'll stop. But I'm still getting better. Sixth in the World Cup in Vegas was a huge result for me. I was looking at an even better position because I was sprinting for fourth," he says.
Powers is hoping to do better than his trio of top-20 results in the remaining World Cups, but recognises that it will take a lot more luck and effort because of the changes to UCI rules this year that allow countries to field as many riders in the top 50 of the rankings as they want.
"The game has changed over there, because the Belgians can put as many riders in the top 50 as they want, they're automatic qualifiers. So a lot of U23 riders have jumped into the elites. The field is much deeper, and you have to adjust expectations because you have 15 extra riders that are in the top 25 of the world rankings.
"The European racing is so hard and technical, I understand my place and where I am, as an American going into their league," Powers says, but thinks that in the future, something will have to change in the World Cup series in order to keep cyclo-cross healthy and expanding to new countries.
There are so many races in Belgium that are so lucrative for the riders there that they have trouble justifying traveling outside of their small sphere. It also makes it hard on foreign riders who often do not fare well in the results, and therefore get little media exposure.
"The opportunities for growth come back to the UCI. They're captains of the ship for the World Cup," Powers says. "They dictate the television rights, where the races go, where the riders need to go to get the most points."
Powers says the UCI needs to help all of the riders get exposure through the World Cups and to make the sport more international. "Internationalisation will allow someone like Hyde, myself or even Belgian riders to have more sponsors." A bigger sport globally, with new markets, would benefit everyone, he says, but the UCI hasn't even made the races available to watch on television or live streaming in the US.
"I want a lot more from the UCI. It's hard to see the value other than the points, from a team owner's standpoint there's little value for my team. I don't get interviews - I do very little media over there even if I get in the top 10. And nobody here can see the race here. That's something that's hard for the sport, and it will continue to be until they make a change. They need to understand the media side more.
"My mom can't watch the race without having to hack into 15 different sites. They're really shooting themselves in the foot by not having it streaming in North America. You need that to be a fan of this sport. I hope that before I'm done we have a better World Cup that has better coverage, analysis and so on.
"We need to continue to force the point. The time is now. Cyclo-cross has a lot of popularity and it's growing. Especially here in the US. There's a lot of interest, and there has been incredible turnout for the international events. The time is now to really solidify it and get something on the calendar that works for everyone."
With riders like Sven Nys, Helen Wyman and Powers behind the effort to make 'cross more international, growth of the sport is inevitable. It is just a matter of whether it happens during Powers' career, or the careers of his JAM Fund athletes.
Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A swimmer in her younger days, Laura made the change to cycling later in life, but was immediately swept up by a huge passion for the sport. Riding for fitness quickly gave way to the competitive urge, and a decade of racing later she can look back on a number of high profile races and say with confidence, "I started". While her racing days are over for the most part, she continues to dabble in cyclo-cross and competing against fellow pathletes on the greenways of Raleigh, North Carolina.
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