The lead into the USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships was anything but smooth for Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus). Powers flew to Austin early for the championship race, which was scheduled for January 11, to train and acclimate himself to the time zone after his most recent trip to Europe. By the time he landed, however, the accumulated travel from his racing schedule had taken its toll.
“I flew in on the 28th [of December]. I was here sick as a dog. I flew here with a fever, I got the flu, and my IT band from all the running in Europe flared up,” Powers said. “When I came here I was pretty beat up. That’s what Europe does.”
Powers was confident in his fitness but feared the IT band pain could mean the end of his season. He skipped the Resolution Cross Race in Garland, Texas to focus kicking the flu and reducing the pain in his leg. Powers worked with a team of local physicians and physical therapists up until the Friday before Nationals.
As the weekend set in and rain started to pour down in Austin, Powers was able to focus on the race. Rain and mud created classic cyclo-cross conditions, and Powers determined his most serious competition would come from his old rival, Jonathan Page.
“I thought about Jonathan really specifically because the amount of running, the mud and his experience in it. For me, it was definitely going to push me to my maximum with the amount of skill I have in those conditions,” Powers said. “There were a lot of people who were dark horses who I hadn’t raced against, but Jonathan - specifically after the ride in Namur in December, I knew that he would be good on a course like this today. “
Early in the first lap of the championship race on Monday, Powers and Page came around Ryan Trebon (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) and started to go head to head. Powers could feel momentum shift between himself and Page, and focused on riding smoothly through Zilker Park.
“I don’t do that race a lot, where I am racing head to head with someone blow for blow,” Powers said. “I know it’s about making mistakes in that situation, and it’s about keeping clean and consistent lap times, so that was my goal at that point.”
Powers' strategy paid off earlier than he expected. Page suffered a flat on the first lap after both riders took a bike change in the pit. Page rode the next half a lap with a deflating tire and lost time he could never regain. Powers crossed the line with his trademark salute for his third national championship.
One big shift in Powers’ preparation coming into this season was a greater emphasis on his running game. The extra homework required more time off the bike than most US races require, but it paid off in Austin.
“I think it’s a testament to anyone who says they can’t do something,” Powers said. “I’ve always said for a long time ‘I can’t do this running, I’m not a good runner,’ and that’s ultimately going to end my cyclo-cross in Europe and my ambitions there. I really started to focus on that in March.”
With an eye on improving his World Cup performances, Powers started turning his weakness into an asset. By the time the Namur World Cup came around he could see the impact of his work.
“Before Namur I was running four times a week, mostly before workouts. I was running heavy. Heavy running,” Powers said. “If you take someone that is not necessarily a natural runner and put them in that situation it’s really brutal. It’s hard on the body and not fun. That’s why Namur was a really special ride for me. I finished that race, and I was racing that race, and it’s an extremely challenging and hard track.”
Powers' post race celebration was a low-key affair. He went out for a quiet dinner with his family to make up for recently missed Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. Powers admitted to a degree of relief after winning on Monday, but his eyes were already on his next European trip and worlds. Powers was not quite ready to celebrate yet.
As he left the interview to join his family, he mused about how his next trip to Europe would be the time to start taking bigger risks. Powers was already planning his next race.