Owen looking to prove himself on the road this year

When a young cyclist has won 10 consecutive national championships – basically dominating one discipline from 10 years old to 20 – convincing people that it's not his specialty can be an uphill battle.

Such is the case for 20-year-old Logan Owen, the Bremerton, Washington, native who has dominated US cyclo-cross in a way that only Katie Compton can match. But the young Axeon Cycling rider is determined this year to turn heads with his performance on the road.

“Everybody overlooks it,” Owen told Cyclingnews last month during the team's training camp in Agoura Hills, California.

“They're like, 'Oh, you're really good at 'cross, you're strictly 'cross' and all that,” he said. “Honestly, I'm just as good on the road as I am at 'cross. It's just that nobody looks at my road results, like when I was a junior getting fourth at worlds, getting second at a Nations Cup stage race that was pretty hilly and hard, or getting some good results in time trials as a junior – just little things here and there. Yeah, I think it gets overlooked quite a bit.”

Owen first got into competitive cycling when he was just four years old, racing BMX after his dad took him to a local track and introduced him to the sport. A year later, 5-year-old Owen was testing Redline's new titanium frame. He eventually moved on to racing cyclo-cross and then road.

Owen started piling up US cyclo-cross national titles in 2005-2006 when he was just 10. Since then he's moved through four different age divisions and into the U23 ranks, winning another championship each year along the way. The most impressive jump from age group to age group came last year as a 19-year-old when he won his first U23 championship in Boulder, Colorado.

Although his road results don't run as deep, Owen has an impressive road palmares for a rider his age. He took victory at the junior Tour of West Flanders in 2011 when he was 16 years old. He also won the Junior national championships in the crietium and road race in 2013 when he was 18, and he finished fourth in the junior world championship road race that year.

He spent most of last year – his first on the road at the Continental level – working for his older teammates on the Axel Merckx-run Bissell Development Team, but he still finished eighth in the prestigious Paris-Roubaix Espoirs race after making a successful breakaway of 16 riders.

“It's not really a course that suits me, honestly,” he said. “It turns out that I got lucky. If I was on better form, if I was the way I am this year, I think I could have done a lot better. I was 50 percent in a breakaway of 16 guys. So I got eighth out of 16. It wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible.”

That day's effort started as another attempt to set up his teammates.

“Axel said go at the beginning of the race,” Owen said of making the early breakaway. “We had Ruben [Zepuntke] and Tanner [Putt] and some other big guys who could really finish it off if the breakaway came back. He told Greg [Daniel] and myself and [Alex] Darville to get into the breakaway. So Greg and I got into the breakaway.

“It was kind of a race of attrition – whoever could hang on over the cobbles when we'd hit it. Greg had a flat and got put off the back, and then there were two BMC guys and two or three Rabobank guys, and I was isolated. I tried to follow as much as I could, but I couldn't do that with all those guys who were there. I was outnumbered.”

Despite Owen's passing off the result to luck, cracking the top 10 at the U23 Hell of the North during his first year in the age division was no small feat. But Owen says he's better suited for races like Saturday's U23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege, a race with short, punchy climbs that last for two or three kilometres.

“Something that suits me has a little bit more climbing rather than just all flat,” he said. “I'm not a big guy. I weigh like 140 pounds. I don't weigh 170, and I can't put out the power that the big guys can on the cobbles.”

He'll have his chance at Liege this weekend, alongside the Axeon team that includes Tao Geoghegan Hart, who was third in the race last year. Owen has been warming up for the race in Europe since early march, competing in Portugal and Italy before the U23 Tour of Flanders on April 11. His best result so far this year has been 41st at the one-day Giro Belvedere di Villa di Cordignano in Italy.

After Liege, Owen will return to the States for the Tour of the Gila in New Mexico, followed by the Tour of California, the US Pro races in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and then possibly another run at Paris-Roubaix Espoirs.

Owen, who competed with Merckx's team as a “Club” rider last season and missed most of the big North American races, says he is ready to make the jump into the next level.

“I feel a lot better than last year,” he said. “I got a good two-week break, and I feel a lot more recovered than I did last year after the 'cross season. I got to spend some time at home and got some good training in after that.

“Last year was a learning year,” he said. “I did a lot of riding for other people. I never really rode for myself once, honestly, other than in Bend [Cascade Cycling Classic] trying to win the green jersey. But that was the only time. I was busy riding the front for my teammates, trying to help them get good results. So, yeah, it would be cool – or course I want to help the team get results – but maybe once or twice go for a finish. Not too many, but one or two would be pretty cool.”

No matter what happens this year on the road, Owen will definitely get a chance to ride for the finish again in cyclo-cross, where he says he'll forgo his final two years in the U23 ranks at the national level and compete with the pro men instead. He'll be fighting for his next stars-and-stripes jersey alongside Jeremy Powers, Jonathan Page and the cream of US 'cross.

“I think I can definitely challenge to win the pro race,” he said. “This year I felt like if I did the pro race I could have been on the podium. I think with my fitness level and everything, that would have put me on the podium this year, maybe not challenging for the win, but I think next year I will definitely make that step up.”

It's a decision that will undoubtedly make it harder to keep his string of consecutive titles alive. But Owen says he has nothing left to prove in that regard.

“There's no difference between winning 10 in a row and winning 11 in a row,” he said. “It doesn't really matter now.”

Something that will matter in the coming years is the likelihood that Owen will have to choose between full-time cyclo-cross or full-time road racing.

“Depending on how I develop on the road and how I develop in 'cross, by the time I'm done with my U23 years, that's when I'm going to make my decision on what I'm going to do full time,” he said. “I'm hoping to go ProTour eventually on the road, but I want to do well in 'cross as well, so I'm just taking it as it goes and waiting to see what happens. I'll make my decision when I'm done with my U23 years.”

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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.