For Logan Owen, the 20-year-old cyclo-cross phenom who decided to put his streak of 10 US championships on the line by forgoing his final two years in the U23 category and race in the elite men's division, the decision to move up was an easy one; he wanted to test himself against the very best riders in the country.
That decision will be put to the test this Sunday in North Carolina when the men's title is decided on the nationals course in Asheville. Relaxing at his home in Bremerton, Washington, watching a video recon of the course while recovering from a cold and waiting for his flight to North Carolina on Thursday, Owen (California Giant-Specialized) told Cyclingnews he's not really thinking about keeping his streak alive. He knows he'll be in a much tougher race this year, and he's focused on what it will take to win.
“It would be great to keep the streak alive,” he said. “But that's not my motivation. I go into every national championship as its own. I don't really think about the streak. I try to just focus on the race at hand and do the best I can in each race, and that's all you can really do.”
Owen's run of stars-and-stripes jerseys dates back to the 2004-2005 season and continued through last season's win at the U23 race – his first year of eligibility in the age group. He figured 10 was a good round number, and it was time to step up to the next challenge.
Following a road season with Axeon Cycling that included trips to Europe and a stage win at the 2.HC Tour of Utah in August, Owen settled into his cyclo-cross season with a start at the Kings CX in Mason, Ohio, where he finished a confidence-boosting fourth behind three-time and reigning US champion Jeremy Powers, Stephen Hyde and Ryan Trebon.
He reached the podium again during the first day of the Derby City Cup, where Hyde upset Powers two days in a row. Owen pushed the pace during Saturday's C1 race and helped whittle the lead group down to himself, Hyde and Powers, but he slipped off the lead pace on the final lap and had to settle for third. The following day's effort was hampered by an early mechanical that knocked him out of the lead group, but he fought his way back to seventh.
Owen swept the Subaru Cyclo Cup the following week, beating Jamey Driscoll and Jonathan Page both days. A trip to Europe for the Koksijde World Cup netted a ninth-place finish in the U23 race, then he battled Powers and Hyde again in the US at the Jingle Cross C1 race, finishing second behind Powers and just ahead of third-placed Hyde. He's looking forward to renewing his duel with the two riders this weekend, and despite not having won a race against them yet, he's confident in his ability to pull off the upset.
“I'm definitely motivated,” he said. “I've been racing them all season and I know I can win. It will be exciting.”
He said he expects to see Hyde and Powers in the front group again, along with the possibilty of some other contenders.
“That's what it's been all year,” he said of his rivalry with Powers and Hyde. “I don't see that changing at all. I also think this is a good course for Driscoll as well. He might sneak up there if he gets a good start. He always has trouble starting, so it depends on how he starts. He could pull off a win, too. He's not a punchy guy, but he's got that long power, and this course has quite a bit of the long power.”
From what he could gather off the video recons of the course he's been able to watch online, Owen said he's gained some confidence that the track in Asheville is well-suited to his handling skills and punchy climbing power.
“Actually I'm watching a video of it right now,” he said when Cyclingnews called for an interview. “It looks pretty hilly. It looks a lot like Jingle Cross, obviously, maybe even a bit harder, which I think plays into my hands a lot better.
“I'm good at this type of handling skills and coming off a big hill like that,” he said. “There are a lot of descents and I'm pretty good at that. If I can come into good form, then yeah, it will be pretty good.”
Current weather forecasts calling for temperatures around 50 degrees Fahrenheit with a chance of rain on Friday, Saturday and Sunday also play into the Pacific Northwest rider's hands.
“From what I see on the course right now it looks like it's somewhat muddy,” he said. “If it rains that much I think it will end up being muddy. I do a lot better in the mud I think than in the dry. The dry I think is more Powers' thing, because he does well in all the dry races in the US.”
Owen's main concern at the moment is the illness he's been fighting since his second trip to Europe in December. He caught a bug en route to the races in Namur, Zolder and Diegem, and although he fought through that and finished ninth in the U23 race at Superprestige Diegem on December 27, he caught a cold upon returning again to the US.
“I was getting stronger going into Europe, but then I got sick heading over,” he said. “I never really got a full race. I was a lot healthier at the Diegem race and I got top 10 there, but then I came back and I got sick again. So I'm not sure how my form is going to be going into nationals.
“I have a lot of base from the road season,” he said. “So I just gotta get fully healthy. I'm still kind of fighting a cold right now. I have to try and sharpen the edges in a few days, which won't be that easy.”
Nevertheless, Owen is confident the base form he built during his long road season will pull him through.
“I've been staying on really solid form even after my break following the road season,” he said. “I just felt like I got stronger. I don't think I'll be too much off my game. It's not the ideal preparation, but I'm still confident in my ability to be able to win.”