Field Notes: Catching up with Jeremy Powers

*PHOTOS: “Jeff Curtes”: | INTERVIEW: Chris DiStefano  *

Jeremy Powers has started the 2012 Cyclocross season with his best foot forward. In addition to his decisive win at Cross Vegas a few weeks ago, Jeremy has taken the victory at the other two UCI C1 races so far in the US. First, handily winning the opener of the USGP of Cyclocross in Madison, Wisconsin and then doing the same this weekend at the Great Brewers Gran Prix of Gloucester in Massachusetts. With the elusive Cross Vegas win out of the way and the reigning National Champion’s jersey on his back, Jeremy has taken the driver’s seat in what is shaping up to be his best season yet. As part of a continuing series about Team Rapha-FOCUS riders (last week was Gabby Day, Chris DiStefano sat down with Mr. Powers for a catch-up and some thoughts on the season ahead.

You’re the 2012 US National Cyclocross Champion… tell us what that has been like.
It’s become more of a reality for me just this week at camp. It’s been cool to see all the new team clothing and see my bikes. I’m really, really proud  and I feel like I won something very important. I tried for a very long time to win that race and didn’t succeed despite making it a goal for so many years. it being an Olympic year you watch a lot of people who work hard, some have success and some don’t. I know that feeling from being an athlete for a long time. To want something so bad that you could cry when you don’t achieve it and to finally get it makes me proud. I wanted the national title for such a long time…

So, how does that make this season different now that you’ve done it?
I’m a lot more laid back. Not in my training but in my approach and the things I’ll say. I don’t have anything I need to prove. No one can ever take being a national champion away from me. For a long time I was noted as a good rider but one that was unable to win the big races.

People were writing you off at 27 years of age?
Yeah, but even before then.

Critics wanted you to win the National Championship at 23?
Yes, all the guys I was racing against had won a championship, Tim, Ryan, Todd and Jonathan, but they’re all older than me.

I’d imagine you’ve gotten a lot more requests to appear at races?
Yes, more people are paying attention to me now and what I’m doing. Each year, it seems, gets a little busier for me as I decide what projects I want to take on and what races I want to do. The big thing for me is that, despite all the chaos around me, I’m getting on my bike and training every day. I tend to say yes to everything; I have a hard time saying no. It’s one of my bad habits, saying yes to just about every request or opportunity.

What are you looking most forward to this season?

Your new teammate, Sabrina Schweizer, lists you on Facebook as one her favorite athletes. Did you know that?
That’s cool, I didn’t know that. That’s actually really cool. We had an awesome conversation out riding. I’m excited to be her teammate and I hope to learn some German this season.

Just how many Facebook pages do you have? I looked and I found about 6 or 7.
Is that right? (Laughs) I only officially have two. One is my original Facebook page that I started out with as a regular dude. Somehow, I have 5200 friends although you’re only allowed 5000. Not sure how that works. And then there’s my Fan page with about 2000 fans.

There’s a few more pages than that, though.
I have to talk to Jake about getting those fixed up

They might belong to someone else and you won’t be authorized to access them.
OK, that’s the beauty of social media, I guess. Hey, if there’s any weird, like photos of me jumping up and down buck naked, definitely let me know. (laughs)

It’s not like I’m out there looking for that kinda stuff, Jeremy.
Of course, but if you run across one during your travels…

Yes, of course. Now, speaking of social media, you are part of the first  generation of professional cyclists to use social media to connect with fans. But you and your peers also use social media channels to call out and challenge each other. When do you come up with your best online comments?
Sometimes the annoying comments irk me and I try to not post right away. I try to simmer down a moment. Aside from that, I do feel like it is a direct way for me to talk to my fans and that includes friends and family, too. That’s what we set out to do with my website and now with Facebook and Twitter we can tell people exactly how we’re doing (as riders) and how we’re feeling. Fans connect and follow us and I believe that means they are interested in all the emotions that come with us.

If I post something that calls out a peer, maybe something I’m pissed off about, I’ll tweet something snarky. I’m a regular person and I get angry the same as anyone. There are things that happen in life, and in racing, that cause disappointment and anger, and sometimes I decide to put them out there. 

I think social media has been beneficial for the athletes that have embraced it because it gives the fan more of a story to follow.

Because other than that it’s just results on form?
Yeah, exactly.

Sometimes these online exchanges can seem malicious when read out of context or to those that are fully aware of the relationship you have with competitors. Has there ever been an exchange on the race course about a specific post online?
No, not during the race but we talk a lot before the race, usually in the pits. If there’s a situation that’s come up on social media I will always try to get water under the bridge. I feel awkward with it out there so I’ll approach it directly. I want to get rid of it because it will stress me out and I don’t want the conflict in the air.

From the other side, if someone wants to call me out on Twitter, go ahead, that’s fine.

You’ll probably see a lot of calling out this year.
Last year it happened a lot so this year I expect more. Take a look at Behind the Barriers and people knowing a lot about you and expecting a lot from you because they know a lot about you. Sometimes they use it against you. I embrace the imitations and little digs at my personality as long as it’s funny. It’s a great new portal for people to connect with me and me to them. But there is a bit of truth in everything’s that’s said.

Of course. And the anonymity of social media makes it easy to cross the line.
Yes, but I see myself being held to a higher standard than a few years ago because of it. Behind the Barriers puts the pressure on me to perform and to react positively for my fans. 

What is your “if-this-then-that”? (For example, some people say if it’s below 70 degrees that they always wear knee warmers. Could be about the bike or food or superstitions of travel.)
I always wear sunscreen if it’s hot and sunny. 10am to 5pm I wear sunscreen no matter what.

What’s the reason behind that?
I just don’t mess around with that. I’m serious with the sunscreen. A lot of UV rays hitting the body during a ride.


The love of music is a common thread on this team.
Yes, Zach likes loud tunes and Chris, as much as you might not think it, likes to pump it out. We’ve got some mix tapes of ’80s hip-hop that we all like. 

I love music. It just may be the reason I race bikes. To go out on a ride and use music as medicine. Off the bike I love to rock and listen to tons of music. I’m a massive fan of DJs and I love listening to  live sets and all types of music.

Do you push each others boundaries at all?
Zach and I have a pretty similar style and we can jam to the same music. We all listen to our own music before the races on our headphones.

Your teammate Julie Krasniak tells me none of you are listening to music during warm-ups. You just have the ear buds in to get people to leave you alone.
That’s funny! (Laughs) That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard. Julie is the only one that does that. Oh man, that’s funny. That’s awesome.

What’s the soundtrack for this team?
There’s a lot of ambition on this team… Soundtrack from Rocky?

About the team, the 2012 team is three men and three( ed. updated to four after this interview) women. That’s a big team. What do you expect life under the team tent to be like this season? 
I expect it to be really easy and I can already tell that after just a few days. Sabrina is really easy going, Julie was around last year and takes her racing seriously but is also very easy-going. Julie was very courteous to the three of us last season and knows the dynamic under the tent as we prepare for our races. She’s a great teammate. Gabby I’ve known for a year and we get along great. We’ll need to pay a little more attention to things like getting changed under the tent, maybe get a little more space but it should be fun and no problem. 

The women, I expect, will get some great results. For all of us, there’s gonna be some moving and shaking this season.

The men’s side of the team has already raced a full season together but the women’s team goes from one to three. What do you expect from them this season now that they are racing together?
They all want to do well in World Cups and I think it’s a positive thing to have the same ambitions. It’s not rivalry in the negative sense but in the way that they’ll push and encourage each other to get on. 

You have a unique kit this season as the reigning national champion but the team kit has been updated with some input from you. Now that you’ve seen it, do you wish that you could wear it now and then?
I’ll train in that kit once in a while. I like the way it looks and I think it really showcases the image of the team nicely. It’s professional and fun. Is it wrong to use the word “flair”? I think it has a nice sense of flair.

It’s not wrong to use the words you want to use. Let’s just both pretend we’re in London.
(With an accent) Perfect, the kit has a wonderful sense of flair.

Wonderful, let’s just be sure to not use the word Wiggins made so common this July…

You will have a choice this season between a cantilever brake bike and a disc brake bike. What will be some of the decision making points that you’ll consider in choosing one over the other?
I’m excited to use new stuff. Always. It’s like an F1 driving having access to new technology; they’ll always want to use it. I haven’t spent a lot of time on the disc brake bike but I am excited to train on it soon. That said, I’m not unhappy with cantilevers.

While the brake choice debate rages on, it’s tire choice and psi that is the difference maker in most cases. Take us through that process and how much of your decision is data-based versus feel-on-the-bike based?
I’ll start with what I know from training on the disc brake bike. I can use a tire with a hard compound center and softer edges. I expect disc technology to change some of the choices we make. As for psi, it’s always been about going as low as you can go. 

Choosing psi is an easy process. I use a diamond tread for maybe 80% of the course I race and Tom (Hopper) knows what pressure I run in most conditions.

How much influence does your mechanic have in equipment selection for individual races? Do you two have quick conversations or long debates? 
Tom scouts the course and conditions and makes a pretty quick determination for me. Usually it’s around 23 or 24 psi. I’ll roll around for a lap and come back with recommendations on tread and psi. I always do a few laps on the course to know for sure and to have time to make changes. We know we’re within a pound of pressure in most cases. At this level, 24.3 is a significant difference than 23.2. Tom knows what I mean when I say just a hair more in the front tire. I can feel the difference and it makes my riding much more precise. If I don’t feel what I want I’ll come back to Tom and we’ll find the tire that works.

Do the choices your competitors are making influence what you choose for tires?
Yes, once in a while, in Europe where I may not have as much experience with the courses I will look. But, and this is a funny story, at Worlds in Tabor two years ago it was all ice on course and I rolled up to the start with 34c slicks and Niels Albert had 28c with treads. “That’s the tire for today?!?”, I thought. He just blew my mind and I thought we’d screwed up. He ended up falling, crashing and dropping out which is what I expected but it did make me think about changing at the start. Wellens had an even more aggressive tread that day, though. In fact, I saw all types of tread that day, I don’t think anyone knew what to do that day. It’s best to make your own decisions.

Because of who you are now do you expect even more attention on what you’re doing?
Oh yeah! At World Cups people are always looking at what everyone else is doing. You go to the bathroom and people sneak a feel of your tire psi while your bike is left unattended. I don’t really care if people know what I’m running, though.

Legend has it that you can make yourself hiccup at will.
Good night , CD.

OK, good night.