Mid-way through the season and it's time for American 'cross champion Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) to "make some more decisions."
The 29-year old rider has had an amazing start to the season, winning decisively all the six C1 races that he entered and also claiming five C2 victories. But he did not get the desired finish at the second World Cup in Tabor when a crash at the start derailed his goal for a top 5 finish; a goal that seemed possible after his seventh place - the best ever for an American elite male rider - at the Plzen World Cup the weekend before.
"At this point it's about changing up the game plan, we go to Europe now because we need the points." Powers told Louisville2013. "We're more focused on the bigger picture which is Nationals and Worlds. While I'll never turn my back on the US racing, for this year I have to focus on the World Cup."
Powers has done all he can in the United States to meet those two big goals, there are no more C1 nor C2 points that he can accumulate as he has reached the limit. He has also already claimed the overall victory in the Trek US Gran Prix of Cyclocross p/b Greenware® and WD-40 Bike, with two races to go. The opportunity offered by the World Championships has spurred a new focus which can be seen by how he warms-up, how he calmly comes to staging, in everything that he does.
"Looking in retrospect it's easy to say oh my gosh yeah I won all C1s, that was my goal I did that. But that wasn't the only thing that mattered." he said. If he had not won the Derby City Cup this past weekend, there were still many C1 races left in the United States. "Winning the C1s kinds of go hand and hand, with focusing. You know the guy to beat is Ryan (Trebon), Tim (Johnson) and last year was Christian (Heule), and this year it's Ben (Berden). It's just getting older and looking at the big picture."
He is too modest, the guy to beat in 2012 is Powers.
But now, it's time for the next goal which is to line-up on the front row at Louisville 2013. And to do that, he must travel to Europe and get results at World Cups.
"Truthfully I have to push myself at that level. I have to get comfortable racing with them a little bit more and I need to prove to myself - not that I haven't already with the result in Tabor - but I'd like to get the respect. I'd also like to be in the front group when I'm over there."
Powers is thinking of home court advantage. "Look at a basketball or baseball game, you see that the home team always does a little bit better. You saw that last year with Belgium, you see that every year when a World Cup goes to France, the French riders do well, it's because those guys drive home and they sleep in their own beds, that's what Louisville is going to be for us. I have zero anxiety or problems here, it's easy. When I'm Europe it's like..." he said while waving his hands to demonstrate chaos.
Therefore, Powers and crew will travel to France for the Roubaix World Cup on December 2nd. He will return for a 10-day training camp "somewhere warm" and then return to Europe on December 18th for 10 days. However, he will not race the blitzkrieg of all the UCI cross races during the Holidays but will focus on the two World Cups, Namur on December 23rd and Zolder on December 26th. Then another training camp followed by USA National Championships in Madison, Wisconsin and afinal UCI race, the Cincinnati Kings International, before the 2013 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships.
Looking back. At just 16 years of age, Powers raced his first World Championships, as junior, in 1999 in Tabor. "I was very nervous, I remember not being able to sleep. I remember just about crying when I was in Switzerland."
His first racing experience in Europe started with a World Cup in Switzerland. "It was a typical Swiss race, I have a couple memories of it. It was on this massive hillside with one barricade at the bottom and I jumped it and I rode the whole hill. The Swiss riders had all oooed and wowed me. The next lap, the barricade was gone and we did the junior race and I got 20th. I remember thinking man I wonder why they took that out. That was my first introduction to home court advantage."
Then his dad joined him in Tabor. "When he got there I remember being, wow this is so good; this is before you could add an international plan to a mobile phone. I was just in Europe and I didn't know anything. I remember being like I can't even call home, weird, it was just weird." he said with a smile.
But Powers does remember the race quite well. "I remember jumping the barriers, me and I think one other rider, Sven Nys or someone in the pros jumped the barriers. It was on the snow. I remember it being so loud through that one section, exact same place where the barriers are now. I remember that I couldn't hear anything, the yelling, the bongos, the vuvuzelas and whatever, so loud, I just couldn't hear anything. I remember it. I got 17th."
"First world championships, I did it on green Michelin muds in a bright orange voodoo bike." A bike he thinks was titanium. "I went into that race thinking that there was a chance to win, that's why I was so nervous because I'd never raced in Europe but I remembered Walker Ferguson and Matt Kelly that two years before had won and gotten second. I remember thinking 'well I've raced with those guys and they're both on Team Devo, I knew that they were good but there's a chance, there's always a chance'. I got 17th. I remember being a minute and 20 down, it's wasn't like I got blown out. It was a hard race."
Time is now. Every year since then, Powers has gotten better and better and now for the first time in the 60-year history of the sport, the World Championships will be held outside of Europe. What does it mean to Powers?
"It's my Olympics." he replied.
"This is a perfect course and it's a big opportunity. It's not the end of my life if things don't go well, I really want to take the pressure and turn it into something special and hopefully walk away, I don't have to do anything totally special, I just have to ride a good race, that's what I've been telling myself. I just have to do what I've been doing all year and it's not like 'oh my gosh, this is the world championships'. Of course it's a big deal and I have to put more emphasis on it but it's a bike race."
All eyes are on Powers to do well in Louisville. After all, he has won multiple times on races held at Eva Bandman Park, including sweeping this past weekend on the Worlds course. He is also the top ranking American rider on the UCI standings, currently in 10th place. That's a lot of pressure to handle. But maybe, just maybe, all the heartaches experienced as he tried to win US Nationals year after year, only to lose in heartbreaking fashion actually helped his prepare for the pressure.
"I've been working on my head game because I need that. Every athlete has to look at what is that thing that I missed? What is that thing that I don't have versus someone else? For me, it's been how do I go into a race and focus on just the task, not what's he doing? What's this guy thinking? How's he feeling? It's ride your own race. A lot of people say it but what does it mean? Ride your own race is do the best you can and focus on having your absolute best day. Not all this other crap that's out there in your peripheral, written on your little board on your brain." he laughed. "So I just clear if off and just go out there and do my thing and that's the only thing I can do, I can only focus on my race."
Powers concluded, "I think that my (quote/unquote) story for Nationals made me a better rider in the end."
After many years of disappointment, Powers finally won the USA National Championships in 2012, overcome by emotions when he crossed the line in front of cheering fans.
The Elite World Championships events will take place in Louisville's, Eva Bandman Cyclocross Park on February 2nd and 3rd and the Masters on January 29th-February 1st at Champions Park. 2013 will mark the first time in the history of the sport the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships will take place outside of Europe. The events in Louisville represent a historic first for the sport of cyclo-cross; never before in the 60+ year history of the sport have the Cyclo-cross World Championships been held outside of Europe.For more information about travel, hotels and things to do in Louisville, and to purchase your tickets please visit www.Louisville2013.com.