USCR's Rebecca Reza Has A Chat With Jeremy Powers, Cyclist With Rhythm
Photo Credit Casey B. Gibson
USCR's Rebecca Reza Talks With Jeremy Powers in Colorado
A native of Connecticut, the 28-year-old started his cycling career as a mountain biker. While he found success rather early in the sport, he realized that his strengths were in the growing sport of cyclocross. His coach at the time, Tom Masterson encouraged him to try it out. “It was a good fit for me to do during the winter and I ended up being pretty decent at it.” It proved to be a good decision as after only a couple years competing, he won second place in the US National Cyclocross championships in Rhode Island. He signed with the Cannondale/Cyclocross world professional team in 2007. Since then he has continued to climb the rankings, and in 2009 he became the top ranked cyclocross racer in the US.
Sitting in a hotel in Lake Tahoe this year for the AMGEN Tour of California, the looming grey clouds outside are making a mockery of the race change to May. As we waited for word on the race and pending weather, I sat down with Powers for a chat.
Having watched Behind the Barriers the night before, I had Diana Ross in my head. Apparently “I’m Coming Out” was an early theme song for the documentary Powers started with pal Sam Smith, a cyclocross documentarian who was also filming our conversation. “I mostly attribute that to Sam. We had never talked about that [song], it just came out in the first episode and then we started doing remixes. I started looking around and found a bunch of them!” If you have seen an episode of Behind the Barriers, you’ll know that Powers loves music. He is often filmed playing DJ on his laptop as he travels from race to race.
While his success continued to grow in cyclocross, he turned to road racing in 2004 riding for the Jelly Belly p/b Kenda Pro Cycling Team who he still rides for today.
Riding his 8th season, he is now acting as a mentor for some of the younger team members. This year saw the US stage races attract many top names from the Pro Tour, including the whole podium from this year's Tour de France for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado. This sometimes adds pressure as the dynamics in the peloton changes, yet it didn’t affect Powers.
RR/USCR: It seems the pressure doesn’t get to you. You’re not intimidated by all the ProTour riders?
JP: Not anymore, it’s just the show. We’ve been doing this for so long. Once you get accustomed to it, it doesn’t freak you out. It’s like a performer, they’re performances get better but it’s the same thing that we’re doing over time. I know the training; I know what the numbers are. I don’t really worry about the fitness part of it. You take all those things out – as an athlete when you grow and get older, those things get easier and easier.
USCR: Do you give advice to the younger guys on the team?
JP: We’re a young up and coming team so I’m saying let’s do what we can and lets teach the guys and try to do our best.
USCR: How many young guys do you have on the team this year?
JP: We lost a lot of the core from last year but we kept a bunch of guys as well. We’ve got Brad Huff, Bernard Van Ulden, we brought on Ken Hanson – he’s had a big role, won races at other teams so he knows how to lead a team. Brad is a sprinter, and so is Ken; Bernard and I are more all-arounders although Bernard’s probably a better climber than I am. The general dynamic of the team hasn’t changed, we have a good time – sometimes we get in trouble for tossing the jellybeans, but we keep it fun; it’s always been a goal of the team. Even as a company, you go to the Jelly Belly factory you see this type of atmosphere, which goes straight into the cycling team.
USCR: Do you enjoy the fans?
JP: I like all that stuff - doing interviews or Behind the Barriers or out signing autographs. We’re professional athletes so it’s different but we’re also entertainers. This is a show and we have a product that people are coming out to watch and enjoy it, so that’s what it is about. It’s the same thing with Behind the Barriers and cyclocross, we’re creating an environment where people can come out and have fun. We’re having a great time racing, and these people are having a great time watching. I enjoy it. Especially (with the AMGEN Tour of California) that AEG puts on such a big event because I can’t imagine logistically how much of a nightmare it is and yet it runs smooth every year so its good, its cool to be a part of.
USCR: A question I’ve been asking a lot of the peloton, what is the craziest costume you’ve seen?
JP: Anytime that people are wearing just underwear and they have my name on their butt is always weird to me, especially when it’s a dude; when it’s a girl its also weird, because then I have to explain why this picture is on Facebook or on my website. I give props to people who can get out there and run around in skimpies, I would not - my bird chest would not look good in that type of environment - emaciated bike racer with tan lines does not look good but its all good, it makes it funny…there are very creative people out there.
Riding with a continental team, it is rare that the riders travel overseas. However, during the cyclocross season, races are often in Belgium or Switzerland.
USCR: Do you have a favorite place you’ve traveled to so far in Europe?
JP: South of France is gorgeous. I love to race in Switzerland, its always nice there. It’s cold but it’s always really nice for cyclocross.
While he’s always happy racing, he admits road racing is not his goal.
JP: I’ve done some big races like the U23 Tour of Flanders but that racing never suited me - wasn’t really something that I was good at; races were too long. Some guys do great in 6 to 7 hour races but I typically don’t. I can definitely do them, it's just not my strong point. I think I’ve been pretty clear on my goals - definitely cyclocrossing and moving forward. This type of environment (AMGEN Tour of California & US Pro Cycling Challenge) is perfect for me where I can do these bigger races. I have a lot of stuff going on in the summer.
In addition to his busy year around racing season, he has an organization called the JAM Fund.
JP: We’ve been launching it but it’s a team now. We have probably four riders that are specifically involved with JAM that we give grants to; we mentor and help them. They’re all doing really well and learning a lot.
USCR: How do you raise money for it?
JP: The Gran FUNdo on July 30th. It’s not a granfondo but GranFUNdo. It’s basically a 100k ride although we added a ride this year called the GranHUNdo – Brad Huff came up with that name. It’s in Massachusetts, starting at my friend's farm. We have an ice cream truck rest stop among other stops, but it’s at a place that makes maple syrup. It is 25 miles of dirt roads and last year we had 150 people participate so we’re hoping to double that number this year. It’s how we fund the JAM program but we’re looking forward to it becoming a non-profit organization however there are only so many hours in a day.
Catching up with Powers again in Colorado he reported that GranFUNdo raised over $12,000 this year for JAM.
USCR: If not cycling, what would you be doing?
JP: I’d definitely get into music - learn how to play some instruments. I would love to learn how to play the guitar or piano. If I was going to dump a ton of energy into something and money wasn’t an issue I would definitely learn how to make music.
Prior to any race, Powers is rarely without tunes.
JP: Electro is more my style, old-school hip-hop vibe. That’s what I listen to but it depends on the mood. If the sun is shining and people are excited then I’ll throw in some tunes.
The dynamics can change, for example, some of his overseas teammates preferred listening to classical music before a race.
JP: Isn’t that weird? I guess they like to relax, I don’t know it wouldn’t work in cyclocross, but it works in road racing because sometimes the races take longer to get going.
While he has plenty of things and different aspect of racing that keeps him busy, his passion remains with Cyclocross. Though racing in Europe is nice, he enjoys racing in the States and how each season is laid out. This year he made a big move to the Rapha/FOCUS pro cyclocross team as a captain. The season is now in full swing with Powers having a strong showing. After winning the Gateway Cross Cup and the second day of the Gran Prix of Gloucester, Powers found himself leading the National Cross Elite Men’s standings. While he has a few more races before the holidays, he looks forward to nationals in the New Year and later on Worlds.
US Cycling Report wants to thank Jeremy for taking the time to speak with our correspondent, Rebecca Reza. We also want to wish Jeremy the very best of luck in the cyclo-cross season!