BEND, Oregon (VN) — Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) and Tim Johnson (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) fought to the finish on day one of the Deschutes Brewery Cup on Saturday in Bend, Oregon. After nearly an hour of extremely aggressive two-up racing in the dry cold along the Deschutes River, Powers barely edged his former teammate after an early celebration nearly cost him a win for the second time this season.
It was anybody’s race as the former teammates charged to the line for the first of two races wrapping up the 2011 Exergy U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross — and while Powers had the edge as they hit the paved finishing straight, Johnson had the grit.
Powers started to crank up his victory celebration 20 meters from the line, but had to get back down on the bars to make sure that the win was really his as Johnson kept driving toward the line. He got it, but just barely.
Summerhill shows speed
Fifty-five men burst off the line into the dry, fast, 1.9-mile circuit, and Danny Summerhill (Garmin-Cervélo) and Powers quickly got themselves some separation over Ben Berden (Ops Ale-Stoemper).
“I went out pretty hard,” said Summerhill. “It was pretty much a crit on rocks, trying not to pinch flat and not to slide out.”
As the two leaders shot into the second lap there was a long line of riders trying to close the gap, headed by Geoff Kabush (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain).
A nine-man group formed up on lap two, with Chris Jones (Rapha), Johnson and Justin Lindine (BikeReg.com-Joe’s Garage) among those joining Powers, Summerhill and Kabush at the head of affairs. Lindine crashed, however, and left the race to be attended by medical staff. He appeared to be in pain, but without serious injury at the medical tent.
With seven laps to go, a three-man group was off the front: Jones, Powers and Summerhill. But others bridged up, and Jones decided to try his luck, rolling off the front going into the barriers. Powers backed off at the front of the chase and Johnson saw his first sign that he would have a chance in the finale.
A slip, a slide and a separation
Johnson was leading the chase, and as he closed in at the flyover Jones slid out in the grass in the right-hander on the downside, doing a 360 on the deck and leaving Johnson and Powers off the front with a four-second gap over a chase led first by Summerhill, then by Kabush.
“In the beginning of the race I noticed that Jeremy didn’t have that good of legs,” said Johnson. “When Jones was on the front, he was actually hurting Jeremy, so I countered after Jones crashed and kept the pressure on. It put Jeremy into some difficulty.”
Next time up the staircase the two had perhaps four seconds. And then Johnson punched it on the pavement through the start-finish with six laps to go, not willing to let the others catch on.
While the two matched each other on the infield in front of the crowds, it was the back of the course, a series of winding, sandy corners, that would slowly separate them. For the first time all season, Johnson was able to put Powers into trouble.
“I felt like I had an advantage going into the Old Mill side, the singletrack, but I felt like I had good legs,” said Johnson. “I felt like I could really punch it and turn it up. A lot of the things Jeremy has been able to do to us this year, I felt like I could answer and do a little bit of it on my own for the first time this year.”
Johnson stayed on the front, applying the pressure and opening a 10-second gap over the chasers — and taking a few bike lengths over Powers in the process. But the two were back together at the stairs. Jamey Driscoll (Cannondale) was at the head of the chase.
“I just wanted to be as aggressive as possible,” said Powers. “At one point I felt it was Tim’s race to lose because he was riding the technical sections better than I was.”
With five to go, Johnson led through the start-finish, seeming to dial down the pace a bit. On the backside Powers took the lead, but Johnson was right there with him.
Johnson led over the barriers and accelerated, but Powers kept him within reach. Johnson accelerated again after the flyover, but Powers hung tough, and the two were together at the stairs.
The battle in Bend
Johnson led Powers across the line with four to go, while Summerhill led a five-man chase at 21 seconds.
Johnson laid down another attack on a false flat and took a lead of a few seconds into the barriers. But Powers fought back, and it was even-steven at the flyover, and again at the stairs.
It was the showdown we have waited for all fall: Powers’ mouth hanging open, his shoulders swaying under effort; Johnson’s jaw clenched, eyes in burning focus over his front wheel. Since Powers left Cannondale in March, the entire USGP had built to this moment.
“We were having fun. It was a fight,” said Johnson. “It wasn’t all that friendly. This course is really loose, a lot of the stuff would go from two lines into one and back to two, so positioning was really important.”
Three to go: Powers gassed it through the start-finish and led into the technical sections as the light began to fade. But Johnson retook the front, sliding out a bit in a corner but keeping the rubber side down with Powers glued to his wheel.
With two to go, the chase was nearly 30 seconds down and out of the hunt for anything loftier than third place, and the race was clearly coming down to Powers v. Johnson. Powers lost control in a sandy corner and had to dismount as he fought against a big gear. Johnson took a handful of seconds, but when Powers clawed back, he knew he would have his shot.
“That was definitely his opportunity to win and he didn’t so then I knew I was going to try and be as aggressive as I could,” said Powers.
Driscoll, Kabush, Summerhill and Berden each contributed to the work in the chase group, with Chris Sheppard (Rocky Mountain-Shimano) tailgunning before losing contact late. Behind them, Jones and his Rapha teammate Zach McDonald fought to close a 20-second gap over six laps.
“I just didn’t want to get any further back than second wheel,” said Summerhill of his constant patrolling at the front of the chase. “So I basically stayed second wheel the whole time and then made a couple of attacks. I figured there would be more attacks from Jamey, but I think he probably didn’t want to attack too many times for fear that he’d bring Tim and Jeremy back.”
In reality, Driscoll was pinned, but did a majority of the heavy lifting for the group in the closing laps.
Punch and counterpunch
Up front, Johnson punched it on the false flat, taking a slight lead over Powers going into the barriers. Again, Powers closed it down. Another attack, another shutdown. The two were locked together at the stairs and hit the bell lap in tandem with Johnson on the front.
A half lap from the line Powers got out front again, but Johnson was right on him.
“I was content to let him stay in the lead for the majority of it,” said Johnson. “Going into the barriers and the hill, up and over the bridge, I wanted to stay close because I could outrun him on the stairs. “
Powers led over the barriers for the final time, up the flyover and down the other side. Johnson attacked heading to the stairs, but couldn’t squeeze around — it was a two-man drag race to the line.
“The last couple (corners) you really have to look for what’s left and there’s wasn’t a whole lot left in either one of us,” said Johnson.
He held the inside line, but was undergeared as the pair came around the final corner onto the 100-meter, false-flat finish straight. Powers held his momentum and moved outside, giving Johnson an opportunity he ultimately passed up.
“He was up against the barriers and I could have absolutely shut the door on him, but probably my biggest mistake was not doing that,” said Johnson. “If it’s truly cutthroat out there it would have been a chance to do it, but I wasn’t going to do it because shoving someone into the barriers is no way to win a race.”
He’s not dead yet
Powers took command and 20 meters from the line relaxed into his one-raised-hand victory salute — until he saw Johnson coming on his right flank. There wasn’t any quit in Johnson, the former USGP champion, who has yet to win on the circuit in 2011, and Powers had to get quickly back to business to seal the deal.
As he did in the sixth round of the USGP, in Louisville in November, Powers barely snuck out with a win after enjoying the spoils a little early.
“My biggest regret today is sitting up too early again. I think it’s a huge mess-up on my end, so I’m just disappointed,” he said. “We make mistakes and I made another one. It could be worse. I hope I never do that again in my career.”
Summerhill topped Driscoll in the sprint for third, scoring his first-ever USGP elite podium on the penultimate day of his cyclocross season. Berden and Kabush trailed in for fifth and sixth, respectively.
Behind the chase, McDonald came through ninth, the top U23, to regain the lead in the espoir division over Yannick Eckmann (Pearl Izumi-Shimano) and Cody Kaiser (Cal Giant-Specialized). The men’s U23 race is the tightest classification headed into the final day, with just ten points separating McDonald and Eckmann.
Powers was satisfied to win on the Bend course where he has crashed out of the race lead at the national championships the last two years and secure the series overall title for the second consecutive year.
“It feels really good to win here,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘Man, could this be the race I just never win? Like Sven Nys at worlds, I’m never going to win in Bend?’ But luckily I got that monkey off my back today.
“To win the USGP twice, it’s our national series, it’s always going to be something special to win. To put my name on there twice, it’s good; I like that.”
Online editor at large Patrick O’Grady contributed to this report.
- 1. Jeremy Powers (USA), Rapha-Focus, 1:05:20
- 2. Timothy Johnson (USA), Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com, s.t.
- 3. Daniel Summerhill (USA), Chipotle Development Team, at 0:35
- 4. James Driscoll (USA), Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com, at 0:37
- 5. Ben Berden (BEL), Ops Ale-Stoemper, at 0:45