Top-ranked US cyclo-cross rider Jeremy Powers expressed confidence this week heading into Sunday's UCI World Championships in Louisville, Kentucky. The Rapha-Focus rider told Cyclingnews he hopes familiarity with the North American-style course combined with the benefits of racing at home will help lift himself or one of his fellow countrymen to an historic result during the first-ever elite cyclo-cross world championships on American soil.
"Speaking strictly from an American standpoint, I think we have the best chance we've ever had with Katie [Compton] in the women's race and Zach [McDonald] in the Under 23s," Powers said Wednesday before heading out on a training ride. "We've also got Logan Owen and Curtis White, so we've got some really strong juniors."
Although the best chance for American medals may come in those other races, Powers said he believes the US elite men are well positioned for a podium run, and he drew confidence from last weekend's result at Cincinnati's Kings International race, won by 2012 world champion Niels Albert. Powers placed third, followed by Jonathan Page and Ryan Trebon.
"If you look at the results from Cincy, Ryan, Jonathan and I were all within 30 seconds," Powers said. "So I think we've all brought a strong level to this, and we're just gonna go put it out there. I hope that someone has a day that's just incredible, that just really shines through, but I don't honestly know what's going to happen."
Powers and his fellow teammates have had their eyes on this race since the UCI announced in early 2010 that the event would take place in Louisville. Now, with the big day fast approaching, Powers said he's primed.
"Things are good," he said. "Things are positive, exciting and fun. My legs are good, so I'm really excited to be part of the event."
Over the past two seasons, Powers has proved himself to be the most consistent performer among the US elite men. Powers, who is ranked 11th overall by the UCI, won his third consecutive US Gran Prix of Cyclocross this year and tops USA Cycling's Pro CX Calendar standings. He stormed through the 2012-13 season, winning nearly all of the UCI C1 events he showed up for and earning a prime starting spot for Worlds.
Powers skipped the final round of the USGP in order to venture across the pond for three World Cup races, where he finished 23rd, 28th and 37th. He returned to the US to defend his stars-and-stripes jersey at the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships in Wisconsin, but he finished a disappointing sixth.
"I think I overcooked the block in my training before nationals," Powers said. "That was pretty obvious by my result. I had the legs, I just didn't rest enough. It's the feeling that 'I must do more and I have to train harder because I want to be really good for this.' That's really just about discipline, that wasn't about work ethic. And that's hard to translate because it's like, 'Shoot, I did all this work but I'm not coming up with it.' And that's just kind of being an idiot or not giving myself enough time to relax."
It was a case of wanting something too much and falling flat, Powers said, but the disappointment also provided a good lesson about the balance between training and rest. The 29-year-old from Easthampton, Massachusetts, traveled to Louisville immediately after nationals and has been training there since. The race in Cincinnati provided a good test of his current form, and Powers said he's happy with the results so far.
"I did a really heavy block the week after nationals," he said. "And you're seeing that pay off at Cincy, but that's also going to pay off here in Louisville. That motorpacing and all that hard work is going to pay off. I wouldn't say that I was 110 percent [in Cincinnati], which is what I'm praying for this Sunday, but the rest of this week is really now just to taper and kind of sharpen the knives up to go out there and leave it all on the course."
Home course advantage
Powers put in his final motorpacing session on Tuesday and said the rest of the week would be a matter of tapering for Sunday's race, when he hopes everything will come together for a history-making ride. And after winning both USGP races on the same course back on November, Powers said, he may know the course better than any of the other competitors.
"I've done maybe 500 to 600 laps on this track over the last three or four years, so I do feel as though I have an advantage," Powers said. "I know a lot about the course and how it moves and shakes, the power that's required in certain sections and where you have to focus and try to put the time in. So I do still feel very confident in this weekend."
Course familiarity aside, Powers said, the big advantage for the US riders could very well be the relative comforts that go along with of racing on home soil. But until the race is over, no one knows how big a factor the home field advantage will provide.
"It's so much different," Powers said of the first 'cross championship in the US. "All the Europeans haven't had their typical lead up with their masseuse there and 60 mobile homes and 30 staff, so I don't now how that will affect them with the jet lag. We have the upper hand in that regard this time, but I don't know. That's what we're going to race for."
But no matter the results for US riders, Powers said, he hopes all the spectators and everyone involved with bringing the first 'cross world championships to the States will take a moment to soak it all in.
"I just want everyone to have a blast and to enjoy themselves, have some beers and scream at the top of their lungs, take it all in and really just kind of cherish the opportunity that's here for us," he said. "It's a pat on the back for everything we've been doing here. And it shows that we've done it well enough that people are paying attention. And not just the riders, but the promoters and media and everyone. It's a pat on the back for all of us."