Cyclocross

One Last Interview Behind the Barriers with Jeremy Powers – Cyclocross Magazine

After a busy career where he was always on the move—racing, running the JAM Fund, managing his own team, bringing cyclocross to fans via Behind the Barriers TV —four-time U.S. cyclocross national champion Jeremy Powers finally gets some time to relax.

Earlier this week, Powers announced he is retiring from professional cyclocross after a season capped with a fifth-place finish at U.S. Cyclocross Nationals in Louisville.

Jeremy Powers finished fifth at Louisville Nationals. 2018 Louisville Cyclocross Nationals, Saturday and Sunday. © Drew Coleman

In retirement, Powers leaves an impressive legacy. On the bike, his four U.S. national championships tie him for third all-time (with Jonathan Page and Don Myrah) behind Katie Compton and Lawrence Malone.

Off the bike, the JAM Fund and Aspire Racing programs helped foster the young careers of the next generation of U.S. cyclocross racers, including national champions Ellen Noble, Stephen Hyde and Spencer Petrov. Behind the Barriers TV helped raise the profile of the sport and bring professional cyclocross into the homes of fans across the country.

Although Powers is retiring, he will not be tough to find. Starting in June, he will be a presenter for the Global Cycling Network, a position that will hopefully include some cyclocross coverage.

I went btb with Powers one last time to ask him about his decision to retire. You can read the transcript of our conversation below.

Cyclocross Magazine: What went into your decision in deciding to retire? 

Jeremy Powers: Well, so many things. It’s a big decision. It’s a decision that takes a long time, but I had been contemplating it for a long time. I told you guys back in Reno that I was pretty much thinking, we need to slow things down and change things up.

I think the level of competition and where I was placing at that level is one of the things. I think also the ability to earn in the sport is something. My family is definitely a huge factor for me. Wanting to be around more, and also the demands of my day-to-day with my son has changed significantly.

All of those reasons I think were major factors. And the last one being a major one too is that my body was talking to me. I know the level that I was able to give and the numbers and the power and the volume that I was able to do before. And those things did change for me after that 2016 title.

After that, that next season coming in, I had great form but my season went off the rails after a crash at Trek where I hit my ribs really hard. Truthfully from that point on it was a hard run after that. I sort of, in my head, switched directions at that point, and I took on Ellen and then we took on Spencer. So after that, it felt like a different thing.

CXM: Yeah, I know. I always felt bad, that crash at Trek. That’s my home race and I always feel bad about what happened.

JP: The crash wasn’t catastrophic for me. It just took me a long time to get back from. And I think that definitely, the momentum changed as well. Stephen [Hyde] riding really strong sort of overshadowed what I was doing. I had a lot of second places that year when I did come back, and Stephen had a great season.

He was already really close and it’s not like one thing led to another, it’s just that he was really good and I was at a good level but I wasn’t great. So I think that getting second was, yeah, I got a bunch of second places.

And over the years, the next season and the season after that, it was kind of the same. It was a bunch of second places. It wasn’t that I rode poorly, everyone else rode great.

CXM: So I’m just going to jump around because that’s a good segue to a question I wanted to ask. One thing I think that you’re going to leave behind is a rich legacy of athletes that you’ve mentored with the JAM Fund and with Aspire Racing. Do you see that as something that you might want to give another go at a different place in your life down the road?

JP: Yeah. I do. A lot of people are like, sit back with your feet up. That is absolutely not even close to what I’m planning on doing with my time away from the sport.

Working with Global Cycling Network is going to be a huge opportunity. I hope to bring more cyclocross to the masses and for people to be able to experience the sport the way that I did. I hope that I’m able to create some win-wins for the sport with them and then bring some more cyclocross to that channel. And also obviously have fun myself. That’s definitely a part of it.

When cyclocross, I would say rebounds and picks up momentum again, I would love to own a program and have riders and do all that again. The timing for me, unfortunately, is not right, with my family commitments and with the sponsorship paradigm at the moment. It’s shifting a lot and it’s very individual right now.

A lot of companies look at the sport and they see that they can be sponsoring an individual athlete for X, but there’s not enough return on their investment from a team investment standpoint. So I think right now we’re in a bit of a flux with how can a big team exist.

So you get back to individual riders, which is beautiful, but it’s not great for the riders all the time because not all the riders can take care of themselves like that. It takes a lot of budget to do that as well.

It’s a longer answer, but the short answer is I love development, I love helping people. All the riders I was able to work with I have a connection with and I love staying in touch too. It’s a huge part of my life and I definitely want to give back and do as much of that stuff as I can in the future in whatever capacity.

Spencer Petrov is one of the many athletes Powers helped during his career. Elite Men, 2017 Cincinnati Cyclocross, Day 2, Harbin Park. © Cyclocross Magazine

CXM: We’ve seen you doing some gravel on your Fuji. Are your relationships with the sponsors going to continue from the program that you’ve put together?

JP: They will at least through June. I’ll be racing a handful more events through June of this year. And yeah Fuji, SRAM, Pactimo, all of those sponsors will continue with me through June. And then after that, I will be working with Global Cycling Network’s partners and the crew that they’ve assembled there for sponsorships and all that.

CXM: I haven’t retired yet. That would be cool, but I haven’t done it. How do you finally make that decision?

JP: I don’t know. I will say this, I’ve been in transition, I’ve been talking to someone about transitioning my life, like therapy, for over a year. Preparing myself for inevitably that I’m going to step away.

I think that for me, it was really important to make sure that I stepped away when I felt like I still could contribute something to the front end of the bike race. Just being on the podium with Curtis and Anthony last weekend and also at the end of the season last year going to the line but being really close and feeling like I had a shot at Nationals. Even though it turned out to be a really runny course that didn’t suit me necessarily, I still feel like I brought a level of “We don’t know what Jeremy could bring to the table.”

That was always important to me, that I was still relevant and I still had a chance. That ride, I felt like it was really good for me, and I was happy with the form I was able to bring.

I think the difference is that you can’t do it week in and week out. I couldn’t win the races every single weekend. I couldn’t show up every single day of every single weekend, bring 100-percent of myself. When we’d sit down at family dinners and stuff I would always say, I want you guys to know, if you’re planning on coming to Nationals, you’re planning on coming to a race please do because it’s going to end. This is going to end, and it’s not going to be like this forever. And I can’t keep racing at this high level.

My decision was once I had a good feeling I could do something else and transition nicely with GCN, then the decision was really easy for me because I had already kind of made up my mind that I was going to stop, and I was just looking for a place to go. We had a great trip, and I’ve had a great time working with them over the end of the winter and commentating a couple of races.

I love media, I love storytelling, and they’re a growing company that was just recently purchased by the Discovery Channel, so I’m just excited to be able to stay in it and contribute in that way in a skillset that I already have.

CXM: Talking about all of the dudes that you’ve been competing against, I guess you’re the last of the Page-Johnson-Trebon-Todd Wells era to retire. What are your thoughts on this next group of riders and what do you see for them on the men’s side?

JP: I look at Stephen as almost the elder statesman of the group. And Curtis [White] is like the young blood, and Gage [Hecht] and Spencer [Petrov] and Lance [Haidet] and these riders that are all coming up.

I think it’s a different sport, honestly. The attention is now shifted to a much more European-based program, where the riders have to be in Europe. They have to spend more time there and they have to kind of make that investment in themselves.

I made that investment young at a time when it didn’t cost much to do, and people were still really excited about it. When I went over I was my first year under 23, I went with Geoff Proctor’s first camp, and then I just stayed. I didn’t even come back, I just was like, I’m here, I’m doing this, I’ll pick up school when I get back. I’ll miss a month of school but I’m just going to stay here through February and race. It’s so long ago, it was the 2003 season. It’s so long ago that I did this.

I think that these riders have also had a lot more experience in a different way in Europe. But just the attention, the fact that just getting results is one part of it. I always knew it was a better life if you could tell your story and let people into your life and be honest about what you were feeling and things like that. I let my personality also kind of go with my work ethic of racing and making those investments in myself.

But I think these riders now really have to look at where the attention is being given and that’s at that World Cup, Superprestige, DVV Trofee level. All those races are the ones that are getting the attention and being streamed in American homes now.

They need to build up a name for themselves here, and they need to bring that momentum and that adoration from the fans that they built here and then make it count in Europe.

And I think that that’s a little different than when that other group of people you were talking about was racing. We had a lot of attention on the races that we were doing here from the media that existed here at the time, Cyclocross Magazine being of those, Velo News, Cycling News, they would do full reports and have reporters at the events covering our racing. That’s changed considerably, so you have to change with the times.

CXM: In your career, I think there’s a lot of facets to everything that you’ve accomplished as a rider, in developing talent, doing Behind the Barriers and bringing attention to the sport. What are you most proud of what you accomplished?

JP: Gosh.

CXM: You can pick two if you want.

JP: Not even to be cliché, but the thing that I always knew is that my career would end. It’s gonna end.

I think a lot of people have criticized me for doing too many other things while I was racing, but I could never have had it any other way. Each of them has significance to me in a different way. I’m proud of myself for doing Behind the Barriers and making that sacrifice because it wasn’t always easy. Behind the Barriers TV was quite possibly the most stressful in my entire life. I learned a lot about myself.

The JAM Fund is the one that stands out because I think even when we were broke and we didn’t really have anything, we were still looking for a way to give back and to do something grassroots. And then as it grew we were able to launch some people’s careers and change their lives through that program.

I think for me, truthfully, seeing Anthony Clark make a living but also become a great person. Seeing Stephen and seeing Jeremy Durrin, seeing Ellen [Noble], all these riders that we had that were able to also contribute and make this sport what it’s become today, is for me is the thing that I look back on with the biggest smile. Because the teams and the sponsorships, all those things, took so much energy and were beautiful. And that helped Ellen get second in the World Championships, so yeah okay one couldn’t exist without the other.

But when you go way, way back, the thing that makes it all possible is bringing up those riders and teaching them good habits and good life skills and then just letting them go and flap their wings.

So JAM, Al and Mukunda, my good friends I started that with, we ran it on an extremely modest budget and we were able to have an incredible impact. And we’re going to continue to do work with JAM.

So for me, I think the JAM Fund is probably my number one thing that I’m happy that we did and for the amount of time and energy that we did it. A lot went into it to be able to make it possible, but we ran it on a shoestring.

Powers cited the JAM Fund that helped riders such as Ellen Noble as his most satisfying accomplishment. Women Youth, 2016 Cyclocross National Championships. © R. Riott/Cyclocross Magazine

CXM: In interviewing you over these last couple of years, I know you shared a little bit about the stress of running the other side of stuff. But I guess even before that I was always impressed at the sacrifices you made with Behind the Barriers for the sport. That said, are there any regrets that you have?

JP: I mean it’s always easy to look back. That’s a really easy way to answer that question. Of course, it’s easier in hindsight to say I would’ve done something differently.

I do think now, and I tell the riders, I tell them not to follow the same path that I did. Ride for a team, have a manager that runs the team, get on a factory program. What Ellen and Stephen are doing is fantastic. There’s a lot of people that are employed, that are helping give them the resources that they need.

The thing about gaining and chasing sponsorships is that it’s a little bit like gambling. You don’t know if it will come back. You don’t know if they’ll be there to support you in the future. You hope, but if you lose a handful of them at the same time, then it could be a pretty lean year. And then that means resources go away from you.

When I decided that I wanted to take that on after Rapha-Focus as an entity closed up shop in the 2013-14 season, I took on the team, and then I employed the staff and all that. And that’s great, there’s a lot of benefits to that from being able to pick your own schedule and really create your own thing completely, top to bottom.

But it’s also really stressful because you’re the one that has to say, hey, at the time it was Molly Hurford. Like “Hey Molly can you please help me book the tickets and the Airbnb for this? Can you make sure that we have a masseuse, can you make sure that there’s scooter here, can you make sure …”

You know, all those things have to happen, but they have to be directed. The hard part is that that has to be done and someone has to be taught that role. Luckily I had Tom and Molly and Brandon and all these fantastic people that I was able to become friends with and work with, but that didn’t come without stress.

And so for these riders now, it’s like hey look, don’t overextend yourself. Focus on your racing and let someone else help you. These riders are so close to the top that they need every ounce of energy that they can muster to make it now because those riders that they’re racing against have those resources available to them. It takes everything, every bit of energy to be able to make it at the top. And that’s what they need to be able to do.

For me, it was overextending and taking on coaching or doing events or taking on 10 photo shoots, that’s the stuff that I did. And that’s the stuff I hope for them that they can have a good balance of because it’s not easy. It’s not easy to do all that on your own. Trust me when I say I know what being stretched thin feels like.

CXM: Yeah, it’s interesting. I did a story on Stu’s [Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld] program, and I think that just repeatedly came home in terms of the work that Stu does and Mike Berry does to provide those athletes with that professional, team-based environment. And seeing Curtis, Steven, Kaitie and Spence they just have to show up and race and not worry about all the other side of it. So hopefully down the road you’ll have a team like that. That would be cool.

JP: I mean that’s what we try to do with Aspire. The problem is that when you’re also racing, can you do all those things and still show up and be okay? And that’s truthfully like I said to you earlier in the conversation when we started, that’s why those first places turn into seconds and thirds and fourths. Because when you’re running the team there is only so much bandwidth. I can do it all, and then you get there and it’s like, I’m actually exhausted. Today is going to be second or third, it’s definitely not going to be a winning day.

And then someone like Stephen is on a tear, and he’s just winning everything and he’s riding at that top 10 World Cup level, it’s like yeah there’s no way you can do that. You’d be defying gravity and time if you were able to do that.

CXM: One last retirement question and then I want to ask a little bit about the future. Twenty years from now when you are the next Don Myrah and you’re winning the Masters 50 to 54 race, what would you hope that your legacy in the sport of Cyclocross is?

JP: Man, it’s not a question that I can answer. It’s for everybody else.

I’ll tell you that I’ve been extremely humbled by all of the beautiful things that people have said about me. And I can say that I actually did not expect the amount of response that I got from announcing that. I didn’t put that out there expecting that. I actually put that out there because GCN was going to announce that I was taking a role, and I thought well, this wasn’t some planned or curated thing that has some huge media machine behind it. I was like, I think it’s time to tell everyone.

I’ve known about this for over a month or two, and now it’s time to tell people that hey, I’m not coming back. So there’s not a special date or time, I just finished up writing everything and then I put it out there.

So the way that people look at me, I hope that they, as I said before, I hope that they think that I was a good person that never crossed any ethical boundaries, who won but also had a good balance. That’s probably the thing that I didn’t put in there, but for people reading Cyclocross Magazine they’ll appreciate.

I just always stayed true to myself and I just had fun with it the best way that I could and I chased my own stuff. The outcome was that it helped a bunch of people and it hopefully inspired some people to get out there and try cyclocross. I loved it. I loved everything about it. I still love it.

And I’m not planning on getting fat and retiring. I’m going to be riding as much or the same amount, just doing a 100-mile ride in Iceland and doing a story about it or being at the podium of some race and interviewing someone or whatever. I’m going to be doing GCN stuff.

But the beautiful thing about working for them is that I’m going to be able to continue to cycle and stay fit. That’s always going to be part of my life. I love riding, and I very much plan on being in the sport and hopefully able to stay on the Cyclocross Commission and help shape decisions and be apart of the voice for it.

CXM: So we can put you down as a maybe for Masters Nationals in 20 years?

JP: Maybe in 20 years, yeah. I like to say that I think I got it out of my system. So for anyone wondering, are you gonna line up at Masters next? I’m not. Not next year, not the year after. I really feel like I got it out of my system, if that makes sense.

I genuinely love racing, I just don’t think that I’m going to need to chase the title run in my Masters. And I say that now, so don’t hold me to it. But I love racing so there’s a chance that I’m out there. And if I did do it, at least for the foreseeable future, it would be with the Elite riders.

CXM: Cool, well I think from my own personal perspective to capture some of the aspects of your legacy. One, I will never forget Boulder Nationals and that race where you just absolutely obliterated everyone. It was one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen. So that is a race where I think it’s something I know I’ll never forget.

And I know in talking to people, with Behind the Barriers, just the number of people who got into the sport and interested in the sport because of that is always impressive. People still talk about it even though it’s been gone for a few years now.

JP: Since we touched on Boulder, that was also one of my favorite performances. My whole family was in the stands, I had had a season where Ryan [Trebon] and Tim [Johnson] had taken some out of me at some races that I really wanted to win.

That was the first year that we had launched Behind the Barriers TV, and I was going from bonus check to bonus check to be able to fund that operation, and I was under an extreme amount of stress. That’s the year I’m talking about.

So when I won that race, the smile on my face says it all because it wasn’t easy, but I did it. I did it and I did it for myself. My family was all in the stands, they were all there, but I literally went away for three weeks, skipped some races, and I came back and I was able to take that title. I was so happy.

Behind the Barriers TV was filming that race live, our staff was there, my family was there. Cyclocross was in such a beautiful place. We were in the capital of cycling in America, in Boulder.

I still get goosebumps when I watch that video. I love that. That race for me was really special, and a special day. I’m so happy with that, with how that performance was.

The 2014 Boulder Nationals was a day to remember for Powers. © M. Lasala / Cyclocross Magazine

CXM: So GCN, what’s next? Where can we look for you? You did a great job doing the broadcast of the cyclocross races this year, but it’s June when you’re starting, so there’s no cyclocross yet.

JP: Well I’ll do events. I’ll do presenter type things. I’ll do gravel events. I don’t know exactly every single thing that I’m doing, but it might be like a hundred-mile ride in some foreign country on my gravel bike and kind of teaching people about a special area that has not been discovered yet by bikes.

I might be over at the Koppenberg sitting there with the Telenet-Fidea team doing an interview and doing a training session. I might be commentating some races. I think it’s going to be a collection of things where my expertise can come out and be beneficial to everybody and be fun. And kind of be a way to motivate people, which is something that I believe in and I think is great.

Taking a little of my own advice, GCN has a lot of resources to do some really cool things, so I hope that I’m able to push them towards doing stuff with cyclocross and also just be apart of it. Just be apart of what they’re doing and their momentum.

CXM: You talked about continuing to ride. You’ve been doing some gravel. Do you see that as something that you do a la Ted King along with your presenting?

JP: I expect that I will probably do events like that, but I’m not sure that I’ll be racing with Ted at the front. Although, never say never. I think as I balance things out and I get a good rhythm of work, life and riding balance then that maybe is possible.

I just did the race this weekend with Curtis and Anthony and I still did almost over 300 watts for the duration of it because I was in the break and then they caught us and then I tried to stay with them.

But who knows? Yes, I was surprised. I was like, that’s a lot of power for a long time because both of those guys…Anthony being so lean, he goes up all those hills, and Curtis being in his prime he’s tearing legs. I was just happy to be there.

I have a ton of respect for Ted and what he’s doing, and Laura as well. I think both of them have really etched out their own little space in retirement. And they weren’t quite done racing and they’ve just made incredible lives for themselves with their partnerships and with the way that they’re creating content and doing stuff.

I’m friends with Ted. I respect the crap out of what he’s doing and I hope that I am able to line up with him at some races that I haven’t been able to do in the past because I’ve been preparing so much for cyclocross and for everything that goes into that.

CXM: We always love talking tech and I know you’ve been riding the Fuji Jari Carbon. What are your thoughts on switching to that from a ’cross bike? Have you enjoyed the gravel bike experience?

JP: Yeah, I have. It’s a super nice bike. Long story short, I have 40c tires on it. That’s like the size tire I used to mountain bike on back in the day in the late 1990s.

And it’s so fast. It’s just under 17 pounds with the 2x SRAM Red eTap AXS on it. It’s just awesome. It is so fun. It’s a 17-pound bike with 40c tires on Zipp 303s. Nothing is off limits. It has an insane gear range. There was no hill that I couldn’t just spin up.

I just love where the sport is right now. I love where we’re at with what we’re doing with all these races and events and the way that we’re riding these bikes. It’s my dream. If I look back at our event, the Grand Fundo, I feel like that was maybe Gravel 2.0 and Battenkill was Gravel 1.0. And now we’re at Gravel 3.0. It’s just so cool, how diverse off-road is.

CXM: It’ll be exciting to see what’s next for you. On behalf of all of Cyclocross, thanks man for an incredible career. You’re the man.

JP: Thank you so much, man. Very flattering. Like I said, I’ve been truly humbled by what everyone has said about this. I truly didn’t expect that type of return and I appreciate it.

Thank you so much for your time and support and coverage and just everything over the years. Everybody at Cyclocross Magazine has always shown me a lot of love. I appreciate it.

CXM: Well cool. It’s been an honor. It’s been a pleasure getting to interview you several times myself. I look forward to seeing what’s next and we’ll be tuning into to GCN to see where you’re at.

JP: Thank you.

CXM: Thanks, Jeremy. Enjoy your one month of being unemployed.

JP: Hahaha, you bet.

Featured image: Dave Mable