From ‘cross to road and back again, Axeon’s Owen keeps it rolling

Logan Owen wasted little time shifting from cyclo-cross to road racing after his third-place finish Sunday at the USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships in Asheville, North Carolina.

The next day the rider from the Pacific Northwest was on a plane for Southern California and the first camp with Axel Meckx’s Axeon Hagens Berman development team. From there Owen will travel across the Atlantic for the U23 men’s race at the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Belgium on January 31.

It’s a busy schedule for the 20-year-old who last year won a stage of the Tour of Utah and followed that with three top-10 finishes at the USA Pro Challenge, including a fourth-place finish in Aspen. Now entering his third year with Merckx’s development program, Owen is hoping his efforts will pay off again this year with more success, and he’s targeting the early spring Nations Cup races that are the top of the pyramid for aspiring pros.

“I’m going to go for some early season spring stuff, because those are the courses that suit me better than the American races, which other than Utah don’t really suit me too well because they have much longer climbs and all that,” Owen recently told Cyclingnews.

“The early spring races like Liege and Flanders, all those big ones, they’re always my big target,” he said. “Last year didn’t really go as planned when I got really sick. I almost didn’t race, but I got though it and kind of helped my teammates out last year.”

Owen finished eighth in the U23 Paris-Roubaix in 2014, but the illness last year in the U23 Tour of Flanders and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, where he finished 58th and 106th, respectively, put a dent in a his chances for success. He bounced back with a top-10 finish in the final stage of the Tour of California in May and two top-10s at the Tour de Beauce in June before storming into Utah and Colorado.

Owen’s end-of-the-season run has provided plenty of motivation heading into this road season, and he’s excited by the team Merckx has put together this year with additional sponsorship from Hagens Berman. The team has grown from 12 riders in 2015 to 16 this year, and a core group of riders that has been together since 2014 should give the team plenty of cards to play.

“We’ve kind of grown as a team with the core group of guys and a group of new strong guys who are coming in,” Owen said. “I think it will be really exciting and we’re going to get a lot of wins this year.”

Other riders returning for their third year with the team are Geoffrey Curran, Greg Daniel and Tao Geoghegan Hart. Riders returning for their second year with the program include Ruben Guerreiro, Justin Oien, and Philip O’Donnell. Along with the new recruits, Merckx’s 2016 roster appears ready to make an impact on all the races the team enters.

“It’s good because you have to be friends with your teammates,” Owen said of the returning group of riders. “It’s good to know the guys and you trust in their ability to get their jobs done and have them trust you to get your job done, whether I’m riding for them or they’re riding for me. You just have to be able to trust your teammates and know that they’re going to give it 100 percent.”

After he returns from the cyclo-cross world championships for a short break, Owen will likely head back to Europe with his road team for several races in Portugal.

“I’m not 100 percent sure on the whole schedule, but I think after that we’ll stay over there and do some spring races, and I’ll do some of the Nations Cups with the national team. I’m not sure after that, honestly.”

No matter what the rest of the season holds, Owen is no doubt hoping for a return to this year’s Tour of Utah, which features another finish in the town of Bountiful, where he pulled off his stage win last year. Although details of the 2016 course in Bountiful have not yet been released, last year’s course included a tough finishing circuit that featured some Ardennes-like climbs that led to the reduced-bunch sprint that Owen won.

“That’s kind of what I’m good at, similar to what Kiel Reijnen is good at: a few climbs and then come into a sprint.”

Owen would obviously like to pull off a repeat there while adding a few other wins to his palmares.

Axeon Hagens Berman 2016 roster: William Barta, Jonathan Brown, Adiren Costa, Geoffrey Curran, Greg Daniel, Edward Dunbar, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Ruben Guerreiro, Colin Joyce, Krists Nielands, Justin Oien, Logan Owen, Philip O’Donnell, Nielson Powless, Tyler Williams, Chad Young.

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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.