The 10-time US junior and under-23 US cyclo-cross champion thought he had done enough in the past two road seasons to punch his ticket to the top level, winning a stage of the 2.HC Tour of Utah in 2015 and winning the prestigious U23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April of last year. More wins failed to materialize after Liège, however, and that hoped-for offer never came.
"I was a little surprised, for sure, being the first American to win that race and the first guy from our team, I believe," he said of his Liëge win. "It's a huge race. I looked at the results, and it seems like from the past 10 years everyone who has won that race has moved up to the WorldTour. So yeah, I was a little shocked that I didn't move up. But I guess that means I just need to work harder and go win more races.
"I thought with having won a stage of Tour of Utah and doing well in Liëge and putting together a pretty solid season, I thought it would have shown that I was solid, especially with the fact I have been racing 'cross," he said. "It kind of shows that I've been consistent all year round and I'm still able to perform with that and not having a proper build up for road season. Seeing that, and obviously I needed to get results, so that was another big reason why I decided to not race 'cross."
Less than a week ahead of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships, the USA Cycling team is heading to Luxembourg without Owen for the first time in years.
"I had been steadily progressing even with doing cyclo-cross, but I figured it was my last year as a U23 and I still haven't moved up the WorldTour, so I figured I might as well try and make myself better and make an even bigger jump, and I think that really kind of pushed me to say I need to take a break from 'cross," Owen said.
"It's always there in case everything on the road doesn't work out I can always go back to it," he said. "It's not completely out of the picture, but I'm going to try to go the WorldTour, and hopefully they see that I'm good enough. I also needed quite a bit of a break. I was just tired. It was a lot of travel for both sports for last eight years. It was nice to just chill out and take some time off."
That break from competition, his first extended rest in eight years, has allowed Owen to put in a proper block of winter preparation for his season, and he's obviously anxious to get back into competition and test out his form. Owen and Axeon will once again start the season in Europe, where Owen has excelled in the past.
"The whole spring calendar is kind of what I'm targeting again this year," he said. "Hopefully I'll be able to repeat at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. I know that's not going to be easy, but that's kind of the target for me, as well as doing Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem and all these other races with the national team. All these big Classics racers over in Belgium, I think I have a good shot at doing well in them."
Aside from results, however, Owen is focusing on consistency throughout the length of the season and proving his mettle as an invaluable teammate.
"Just putting together a solid spring season is just the main goal, then coming out and continuing that season and having a solid rest of the season," he said. "I did kind of fall off the map as far as winning races after Liège, but I want to make sure I still have that finishing ability throughout the entire season, that I can continually win and help the other guys win as well. We've got Neilson [Powless] and Adrien [Costa], and I want to help those guys win the overall at these big races that we're going to be doing this year, like Utah and all those.
"I think that's what every person in their fourth year of U23s wants to do," he said. "They don't want to make it all about themselves, but it is the last chance, well, not necessarily their last chance, but it is a crucial point."