Jeremy Powers Prepares for the 2018-19 CX Season
As the warm, sunny summer days draw to a close, the crisp mornings start creeping in. Autumn is arriving, and so is the start of cyclocross season.
“The days to do long rides are starting to diminish as we’re getting towards the start of the season,” commented Jeremy Powers (Easthampton, Mass.), fresh off a training ride.
Powers is happy to be racing again, and his September schedule is full. Yet, it’s a season he wasn’t sure was in the cards.
He was on the podium, finishing second at the 2018 USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships, but the team he started and built, Aspire Racing, was closing up shop.
“After the team ended, it felt like maybe I would stop,” Powers admitted. “I didn’t know if racing was going to continue for me, personally. I thought maybe this is the end of the road.”
Powers’ road in cyclocross began during his junior mountain bike days. Like so many other riders, he would use cyclocross to stay fit in the offseason.
As his racing throughout the year shifted between disciplines, he soon discovered he was wired for cyclocross. The duration and format suited him.
“When I was younger, I enjoyed the 1-hour mountain bike races. And, as I started to race on the road, I learned I was not really as proficient at anything over 3 hours,” Powers said. “Sometimes in a 20-minute mountain bike lap, I would forget those places where I needed to go hard, and in a road race I would forget what lap I was on.
“The thing that really attracted me to cyclocross was my ability to memorize an hour-long race,” he continued. “With cyclocross, it mostly has to do with how I function, how my brain seems to work. I really picked the thing that I was mapped best to.”
He also appreciates the “chess game” of a cyclcross race. Analyzing where he needs to set up, the curves, the flat, the bumps and stumps.
“That’s the mastery of cycloross in my opinion. It’s about nailing every single section the best that you can,” he says. “The race doesn’t happen fast, but the ‘chess’ of it is that you execute everything really perfectly. You go through every section and really nail everything down. I love that part of it.”
Powers has translated that mastery into four National Championships. He won all four U.S. cyclocross titles in the span of five years – 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016 – and captured the Pan American Championship in 2015.
His first National Championship, that first time he took home the stars and stripes jersey, Powers felt the impact.
“It meant a lot to me,” he said of his first national title. “I had not won as a junior or an Under 23. I never was able to put it together then – I finished second and third, and had been on the podium many times, but I had never won a national title. So, when I was finally able to win, that was very special. It was this huge monkey off my back – it had felt like I couldn’t get that elusive victory in the National Championships. That kind of validated me as a rider.”
Powers became a fixture on the cyclocross scene. He was racking up UCI wins and spent eight years as the No. 1-ranked U.S. rider. He raced around the country and around the world, and he was quickly getting recognized as an ambassador for the sport.
At the same time, Powers was still racing on the road for Jelly Belly Pro Cycling. Additionally, he had partnered with a friend to launch a video series “Behind THE Barriers.” Plus, he founded the JAM Fund, a non-profit created to enrich the lives of young cyclists in New England – the region he calls home. The JAM Fund continues to be the foundation for many top U.S. cyclocross riders.
He also started Aspire Racing.
“Having raced on the road with Jelly Belly for 10 years, I always loved that team environment. I always loved the ability to help another person see their way through their sport, and to kind of give some of yourself to see it through,” Powers said. “For me, I wanted to start a team because I wanted to leverage my ability to be able to help younger riders make names for themselves. I wanted to take the crew that I had assembled and the formula we created, and bring other riders into that fold and let them be part of a team while we could.”
It started with Powers as the lone team member for the 2014-15 season. In 2016, four-time national champion Ellen Noble (Kennebunkport, Maine), a former JAM Fund racer, joined, and Spencer Petrov (Mason, Ohio) signed on a year later. Three strong riders, all finding success on the course.
Powers was racing, running the team and also helping launch the careers of young riders.
“I never had a beginning or an end date, I just knew that we were going to do it, I never knew when it would end,” Powers said of his Aspire Racing team. “But, sponsorships do end. That’s part of the sport. I’m at peace with that. It was a beautiful project, and I think it was really successful. We got on the podium at the World Championships, and we launched great riders from it.”
After the World Championships earlier this year, the three members of Aspire Racing were heading in different directions.
Powers took February to reflect. He tied up loose ends and spent time thinking about where he was in his career. He had a baby the previous year and would turn 35 before the start of the next season.
But by March, he was training full-time again, and in late April and early May he started signing contracts for the upcoming season.
“I knew that I was going to feel like I had left something on the table,” he said. “As a rider, there’s a no worse feeling than wishing you hadn’t done something. In my opinion, you don’t really ever come back from a retirement, at least in cyclocross at age 35 you don’t come back to it and return at a high level. I felt like the train was still moving, and I felt like I could do another year at a competitive level that I was proud of and that my sponsors would be happy with. That’s why I’m racing again.”
Powers knows the cyclocross field is getting more and more competitive. The courses have become more challenging, and riders are now dedicated solely to the discipline.
These factors, combined with the absence of juggling team commitments, and he’s not sure how the season is going to play out.
“I didn’t race a lot this summer, but my power, my body and my weight are in a good place,” he says. “I can’t say how much the stress of owning a team and procuring the sponsorships and the management of everything took away. But, putting that back into the bike may make a big difference for me – I really don’t know. I think that I’m in a good place to have a good start to the season. Of course, you can’t discount the age, and there are a lot of riders that are hungry right and really would like to do well. So, it’s very competitive.”
Now, with 90-plus career UCI wins, he’s set to get the 2018-19 cyclocross season rolling on home soil. He’ll be racing in Rochester, N.Y., and Reno, Nev., before heading to Iowa. The first UCI Cyclocross World Cups of the season take place in the U.S. at the end of the month, starting with Waterloo, Wisc., on September 23, followed by Iowa City, Iowa, on September 29.
While he’s not quite sure how many UCI wins he needs to get to 100, that’s now a target as he launches into the new season.
“I would love to end with 100 – that would be cool,” Powers said. “Whatever it is, I’m totally happy with it. But, it’s good to set a goal, so let’s just say it’s 100.”
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