The Eva Bandman Park venue will host the world championships in 15 months and Powers’ sweep was especially sweet, considering he has won three of four races run there since the park opened in 2010.
The 2013 world championship “is a life goal, the one that’s been out in outer space for a while,” Powers told VeloNews. “It’s been far away, but is getting closer and closer. It’s going to be a lot of pressure, but I think that next year at this time I will be in a position to get on the podium at the world championships and that is my goal.”
It was another gusty, blustery day for the conclusion to round three of the Exergy U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross series. Ryan Trebon (LTS-Felt) crashed while scouting the course, injuring his left knee — he was questionable for the start, but ended up toeing the line with the others, cautiously flexing the leg as they waited for the gun.
Ben Berden (Ops Ale-Stoemper), a DNF on Saturday after a late-race flat, took the holeshot with Saturday’s winner Powers right behind. But Powers soon came to the fore, leading up the flyover with Geoff Kabush (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) in his slipstream.
On the backside of the course Powers was out front with Kabush and Berden in his wake, the first three in a long line of riders.
Kabush slipped past Powers going into the short, steep hill that was the last obstacle before the finish line. The Canadian took a lead of several bike lengths going into the second lap, while Tim Johnson (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) led a chase group a few seconds behind.
“Yesterday I got caught out of position a bit and wanted to be more aggressive,” said Kabush.
At the flyover Kabush was at the front of a line of six riders. Behind, the injured Trebon — wearing one leg warmer to keep the battered knee covered — limped up the steps, well off the pace.
Kabush accelerated once more, trimming the lead group to four, then to two.
“It’s a fast course and it’s really hard to make up time,” said Kabush. “I wanted to be at the front and make sure no one was making mistakes. I knew if I could ride the lines clean, even if the guys were close, I’d be saving myself a bit of energy.”
Kabush led through the start-finish into lap three with Powers on his wheel. Powers, winner over Trebon on Saturday, said that effort affected him severely in the opening laps.
“Geoff laid some power down in the beginning that put me in a really bad place the first couple of laps,” said Powers.
Johnson, U.S. national champion Todd Wells (Specialized) and Berden were a few seconds back. But not for long — the chasers dragged themselves up to the leaders and it was a five-man group in charge of the race. Behind the leaders, Jamey Driscoll (Cannondale) and Chris Jones (Rapha-Focus) battled for the scraps.
Wells and Kabush traded pulls on the backside, and the two — with Powers — took a slight advantage with five to go.
They were back together by the barriers, and then Wells bunny-hopped them and gave it the gas. Powers was not caught out — he marked the national champ and the others followed.
Wells seemed the strongest on the short, steep climb preceding the finish. He hit it hard and split the quintet, shelling Berden and Johnson going into four to go. Then he punched it again after the barriers, but Powers and Kabush hung tough, the latter beginning to show the stress of his early effort to split the race.
On the backside Powers stuck his nose into the wind, leading the trio along the undulating circuit in the forest and into the short, steep climb preceding the pavement. Wells came off his bike, blocking Kabush, and Powers gave it the gas.
“Similar to yesterday (this course) left you gassed in all the wrong places,” Powers told VeloNews. “You were able to make a lot of mistakes from being really tired in the wrong sections, sand sections, off-camber, uphill sections where you could lose your balance.”
Powers took a three-second lead into three laps to go, as Wells hunkered down on the bars and towed Kabush along. Berden was 24 seconds back, dogged by Johnson.
Wells fought back up to Powers, but Kabush was dangling, struggling to match their pace 40 minutes into the race. The U.S. champ took the lead once again and then Powers shot past through one of the course’s three sand pits, taking a three-second lead over Wells, who was himself about three seconds up on Kabush.
Once more Wells battled up to Powers as the wind picked up, peppering the riders with debris. The barriers on the finish straight shifted under the powerful gusts. Crossing the line with two to go they had a slight edge on Kabush — they briefly sat up, glanced at him and then Wells went to the front and punched it, unwilling to have the Canadian rejoin the party.
After an early flat allowed him to back off on Saturday, Wells appeared the stronger of the two, jumping the barriers while Powers ran them. But Powers got in his licks, too, opening a gap on the backside that Wells had to fight to close.
“I was trying to change the speed and make it a good race, do the best I could and be unpredictable and try to whale him wherever I could,” Powers told VeloNews. “I was hoping that the small, short, bursty efforts would take away from Todd’s diesel, but I would burst and he would bring it back slowly. I’d do it again, do it again, do it again — I did that the last three laps — I’d get five seconds and he’d bring it back. I felt confident that if I could get five seconds in the last eighth of the race before the finish line I would have it.”
A bobble in the long, uphill sandpit, a re-worked feature on Sunday, forced Wells to chase with two laps remaining.
“You don’t want to give anyone any space going in there, but when you go in right on the wheel you can’t see the line,” he said. “You get out of the line and bogged down. I took a risk going in right on the wheel, got off the line and lost a couple of bike lengths.”
Wells was able to claw his way back and suddenly it was the bell lap: The U.S. champ was on the front, with Powers on his wheel and Kabush well back in third.
“I burned a few matches early on and was really suffering at the end,” said Kabush.
Behind them, Jones joined Berden after Johnson crashed and Driscoll faded. Berden took advantage of the Rapha roadie and forced Jones to pull. Even further back, Trebon was moving forward, despite the fact that he walked the barriers and run-up all but one lap. But he wore the series jersey and had to limit his losses to Powers, who entered the day second overall in the USGP standings.
“I had good legs, so I could pedal, just not very hard, and I couldn’t run at all,” Trebon told VeloNews. “I made the mistake of going through too fast once and thought I was going to have to quit.”
Powers and Wells hopped the barriers the final time around, and Wells was really drilling it, out of the saddle and cranking out the watts. But he couldn’t lose Powers — the two were side-by-side legging it up the flyover.
“I would just ride my own pace,” Wells told VeloNews. “I don’t have that much acceleration right now; I haven’t been doing a lot of intervals, short stuff, so I would just ride my own pace. Each time I brought him back I would save a little bit for the final sprint.”
The Rapha rider made a huge effort through the pits for the final time, approaching the technical last half-kilometer. The move caught Wells out, forcing him to chase hard onto the hillside below the finish.
“I was hoping to get in front of Powers before that run or ride-up, brake-check him, get a couple meters and maybe be able to hold on to the end, but I couldn’t get around him before then and he just sort of took off from there,” Wells said, smiling.
Powers led by a handful of bike lengths into that final run-up and stayed on the bike. Over the top, he put the power to the pedals, hit the pavement first and started his victory celebration early — too early, as it turned out.
Refusing to admit defeat, Wells accelerated and quickly narrowed the gap, forcing Powers to get back to business and seal the deal. Kabush hung on for third.
Online editor at large Patrick O’Grady contributed to this report.
• Trebon gutted it out to finish 10th despite his injured knee, but it wasn’t enough to preserve his series lead. Powers slipped into the leader’s jersey with 232 points. Trebon is now second with 226 and Kabush third with 169.
• In U23 competition Yannick Eckmann (Pearl Izumi-Shimano) snatched back the jersey from Zach McDonald (Rapha-Focus), who took it on Saturday. Eckmann leads with 264 points to McDonald’s 258. Cody Kaiser (Cal Giant-Specialized) sits third with 208.