New England’s biggest bicycle party of the year is coming to Providence, and Jeremy Powers has a front-row view.
Powers, who grew up in East Lyme, Conn., won the United States men’s cyclo-cross national championship last year and has won every cyclo-cross race he entered this year. He is 14th in the UCI world rankings.
This weekend, the cyclo-cross world comes to Providence for the KMC Festival of Cyclo-cross. The race is one of the largest cyclo-cross events in the U.S., attracting thousands of racers and more than 10,000 fans. Even calling it a race is a misnomer, as it has grown into an all-encompassing three-day festival with racing for all levels and children, a bike builder’s expo, a food truck/beer fest, a “gran fondo” fun ride of various distances, school visits by athletes, and a dealer expo.
The race’s growth over the past five years has mirrored the growth in the US of the sport. Nearly 100,000 participants had registered to take part in a cyclo-cross race by 2011. The racing (a mix of road and mountain biking) happens on a closed course with fans in the middle. The sport is already very popular in Europe, where fans follow it like NASCAR in the US.
For years, world caliber racers have lined up to race in Providence, and this weekend Powers will take a front row start position in the men’s elite races with world-caliber athletes from the US and abroad. The Globe has the opportunity to ask him a few questions recently.
Q. Considering your recent victories, you must be feeling good?
A. Yeah definitely. The things that, you know, add up to the small gains in the off-season. The big one for me this year was not riding on the road this year. A lot of riders do race on the road. Not Tour de France [for me], but some of the riders do race the Tour de France ... That would add up to sometimes 50 or 60 race days of racing before I got to cyclotrons season. Sometimes I could end the year with 80 days of racing, 90 days of racing, that’s a lot. This year I decided to step away from that and focus specifically on cyclo-cross. That opened up a lot of time. So I was able to train off-road a lot more and do a lot more specific cyclo-cross stuff. I think that we’re seeing some of that hard training and focus specifically on the discipline pay off now, which is great.
Q. How do you feel about racing the World Cup this season?
A. In the United States the season opens up usually with a lot of heavy points races. So there’s UCI Category 2. There’s Category 1, and then there’s World Cup events. The races that are taking place now are all Category 1 events. I’ve been targeting those because they hold a lot of points. For my world ranking, which is currently, I think, 14th, it’s important for me to win these Category 1 points. That’s what I’m focusing on, and in a few weeks the first World Cup kicks up. I have done World Cups in the past. My best finish was 7th, and that was in 2012. I’ve had 7th … 10th … 15th. I’ve been in top 15 a bunch of times, but to kind of improve on that and stay consistently in the top 10 and the overall; I felt like this year. You know, I’m 31 years old. I really would like to focus on the World Cup series, which goes all over Europe, and just try my best to see what I come away with. Because, you know, I might not be racing in five years. I don’t know, but I want to chase it as best as I can and see what we come away with.
Q. What is one reason why people should pay attention to cyclo-cross?
A. If you love any type of sporting event like a festival type of environment that’s what you’re going to get ... if you love sporting events and you don’t know anything about cycling and you were to just come out and say ‘OK I wanna see what this is all about,’ you would be impressed by the course and how close you can get to all of the riders in a very small and short vantage point. You only move one minute around the course but you can see fifty percent of it, which is different than a lot of other events, especially in cycling.
Q. What do you see in the future of future of the sport?
A. I think that they’re looking at some World Cup rounds potentially coming in. I know that Providence has been spoken to [about] potentially being one of the venues that they’re looking at. There’s an opportunity to get more media and television coverage, which would ultimately take the sport to a different place with regards to fans and interaction and riders paying attention to it and trying to be a part of it. We already have a strong contingent. We’re one of the top five countries in the world for cyclo-cross, which is a very European-dominated sport. The United States has been constantly coming up, but I see it continuing in its upward trajectory.
Q. What’s your favorite thing about racing in Providence?
A. I grew up in East Lyme, Conn. There were a lot of us cycling back in the day in high school -- I went to East Lyme High School. The fact that a lot of my friends and family are able to make it out in such a close race ... So that’s one thing that I really love about Providence, the proximity to all of my friends and family and where I currently live ... But the track is really cool. It’s almost shaped like a bowl in some areas. You get some really fast racing in some areas, and it’s very close. There are some really unique features that are built into the park. There’s some stairs. There’s a set of barricades that are right along the beer garden where a lot of fans are cheering. Then it runs right into that bowl, and the bowl is off-camber. It looks like we’ll have some precipitation so there will be some mud. It’s an ideal venue to watch and spectate, and everything is really close. And the racing is so fast that it’s hard to get a lot of time, so one small error in a cyclo-cross race is ten seconds, and in a cyclo-cross race, if you win by ten seconds that’s a big margin.
Q. Would the race in Providence make a good World Cup venue?
A. Yeah. What makes a great World Cup [event] is accessibility, and with so many airports so close by, the Europeans coming over would be on the East Coast, so it would be easy on travel. The track is definitely on the level of a World Cup venue. And the last thing is the amount of fans coming out. The fact that it is like a festival; it’s already proven that it can hold 10,000 people coming out over the course of a weekend, and that’s definitely world cup worthy. By bringing in the best in the world, it would be a boon for cyclo-cross.