The transition from road to mud is complete for 10-time junior and U23 US cyclo-cross champion Logan Owen, and the 20-year-old from Seattle has his sights set firmly on winning his first elite US championship in January.
Owen (California Giant-Specialized) confirmed his intention to keep his streak of stars-and-stripes jerseys alive over the weekend by notching his first-ever elite UCI cyclo-cross wins at the Subaru Cyclo Cup in Lakewood, Washington, beating Jamie Driscoll (Raleigh-Clement) and Jonathan Page (Fuji) both days.
“I beat Driscoll and Page and those guys are not slow,” Owen told Cyclingnews on Monday. “Driscoll got second at Pan Ams, so they're tough competition and I felt like I was in control for both races. I'm pretty confident going into nationals.”
The Washington races were just the fifth and sixth cyclo-cross races so far this year for Owen. The 2015 road season was Owen's longest to date, and it meant his 'cross season got off to a later start.
Owen raced 52 days with Axeon in 2015, starting with a trip to Portugal in March and ending at the Richmond World Championships in September. His continued development on the road with Axel Merckx's Continental team showed itself with multiple top 10 stage finishes in the big North American stage races, including his first pro win during stage 3 at the Tour of Utah on a tricky closing circuit in Bountiful.
Owen started his first 'cross race this year the Kings CX in Mason, Ohio, where he finished a confidence-boosting fourth behind US champion Jeremy Powers (Aspire Racing), and Stephen Hyde and Ryan Trebon of Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld. The following day at the Pan American Championships he slipped to 28th after an early mechanical led to a long run to the pits.
At the Derby City Cup in Kentucky, 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.
“I was up there, I just couldn't get this one sandy corner down,” he said. “We'd go through a sand pit, and I'd do that fine. I'd be really good at that, but then there was this sand corner. Those guys had it figured out, but I couldn't figure it out and I'd lose like five seconds there every lap.”
The following day's effort was hampered by an early mechanical that knocked him out of the lead group, but Owen said he had good legs that day and took solace in the fact that he fought from the back of the race after his mechanical and nearly made contact with the leaders, eventually finishing seventh.
“I felt good and I was hitting all of the lines perfect but I had that mechanical at the beginning of the race," he said. "That's how bike racing goes."
Powers and Hyde have proven themselves to be the riders to beat in the US so far this year, and Owen has yet to best them in head-to-head racing, but he said he came away from the Kentucky weekend with a lot of confidence that he is on the right track to contend for an elite title this year.
“That first day gave me a little bit,” he said. “But then the following day I think gave me a little bit more confidence because I came from dead last and I almost made contact with them on the final couple of laps. So, yeah, the strength is definitely there. It's just pulling together one clean race.”
Owen pulled together a pair of clean races last weekend in Washington on the Lakewood course he considers home. The rider whose string of consecutive national championships stretches back to 2004 said he's been racing there since he was 10.
“I pretty much raced there every year at least twice,” he said. “The course was a lot different than what I usually raced on, but you go up the hill and you come back down; I've got that part down. My mom and dad and all my friends were there, people who have watched me race since I was 10 were cheering me on, so that was pretty cool.”
Next up for Owen will be a trip to Belgium for the Koksijde U23 World Cup race on Sunday, followed by Jingle Cross back in the States on December 4 and 5. He'll head back to Europe for a series of races around Christmas and then return to the US for the new year and the elite national championships in North Carolina on January 10. With any luck, Owen hopes to represent the US again at the World Championships in Zolder at the end of January.
But for now the target remains keeping his streak of stars-and-stripes jerseys alive, but this time in the elite field. His decision to forgo a chance to win a third U23 championship was easy, Owen said, because an elite title is well within his grasp.
“I feel like I'm strong enough to win that one this year,” he said. “I feel like I've put in an amazing start to the season by getting third place to Powers and Hyde, and I feel like I'm starting to ride into good form after a long road season.”