Cross Commune

SOUTHAMPTON, Massachusetts

Jeremy Powers sat on a cooler in his driveway, training done. His dog roamed from house to garage. Also in orbit were Spencer Petrov and Ellen Noble, the two younger racers who make up the Aspire Racing team.

Rapha handed out the first samples of its new cyclocross range a few days prior, and who better to put the new line through its first run-ups, dismounts and tree-snags than these three, upon their home roads?

Trails and small roads braid through the Pioneer Valley, an area Powers and others in his New England collective have built into a training hamlet, for both terrain and cultural reasons. The managers at local sandpits don’t mind the wheel tracks etched into the gravel; the empty dirt roads entertain intervals; there’s always someone to train with, even if from a rival team.

The region has a welcoming feel, and the stitching of racing weaves through otherwise empty grass fields, as course tape awaits errant shoulders. Noble moved south to the region from Maine a few years ago, and Petrov came to western Massachusetts from Cincinnati, Ohio. It feels as if Powers, though only 34, has been here forever.

How the three ended up in ‘cross is similar to how they ended up in the American Northeast: necessity. Riders don’t fall into cyclocross on accident — it’s a choice that’s made after those first few races. The hooks are in or out. And for those at an elite level, training grounds become tantamount to results. So many of the country’s great racers either come from or live in the Northeast that it can’t be coincidence.

At 19, Petrov’s lanky and lean frame is brimming with results that could come. His first race was in a park where practices were held every week. “My parents bought me a bike after training all summer. I won. I loved it,” Petrov said. “I quit motorcycle racing. Getting into the race scene pulled me in. The conditions are hard. You have so many variables going against you, and you overcome.”

Petrov trained on the road in Ohio previously, mostly alone and mostly in the wind. Here, he has trails, gravel pits, and mud. In joining the elder Powers and Noble, it’s possible Petrov is seen as a younger brother, tagging along and causing mischief. Asked if he felt like he was the youngest sibling, he pauses. Noble got the jump.

“Yes,” she chimed in. The 21-year-old is the defending two-time U23 national champion and last year was the overall U23 UCI World Cup series champ, in addition to winning the Pan-Am championship.

“I was 15. I had grown up mountain bike racing, unsanctioned events. But it would end the first weekend of September. And then it was just done,” Noble said of her move into ‘cross. “My dad found out about a cyclocross race in Northampton, Mass., where I now live. It was a three-hour drive. We drove down, did it, and drove home. By the time we got back to the house, I said to my parents: ‘I have to go back and race tomorrow.’ I finished about 3rd, but my dad saw that love that I had, that look in my eye, and said: ‘You’re going to be a national champion one day. I know it.”

“I was a kid with a lot of energy. My mom was looking for a way to get all that energy out. She brought me to soccer, baseball, basketball, swimming, the beach. Anything. Cycling became that thing,” Powers said. By the age of 12, he was racing.

“New England was a good area to be getting into it because a lot of mountain bikers were doing it in the winter. Riding the bike was freedom. I didn’t have a driver’s license, but I could get out of the house, get out of my mom’s hair. We could both have our place. I’d ride to work, I’d ride to football practice. I’d ride to school. I’d ride with my friends. It’s only a little different now — we don’t go to McDonald’s, we don’t ride and camp in the quarry,” he said.

His first national title came in 2012. He’s won three since. As the head of Aspire, he’s equal parts rider and coach.

“I genuinely like helping people see their ways through the forest. I realize it’s not always going to be about me, and what I did. A lot of my story has been told,” Powers said. “These are young riders I’m working with who are able to tell their stories now.”