The course laid down for U.S. cyclocross nationals in Asheville, North Carolina has major elevation change each lap and, if the current forecast proves correct, will be pounded with rain less than 24 hours before the elite men take the start line. At least 10 riders are capable of taking the win on their best day, but can any of them really knock Jeremy Powers off this throne? Here’s a look at the odds of victory for Powers and seven of his major challengers.
Jeremy Powers (Aspire Racing) — 2:1
The reigning national champion proved through the season that he’s still at the top of American cyclocross, but his perch is a bit more precarious than it was last year. Head-to-head, he lost to Stephen Hyde three times this season, twice at the Derby City Cup and once at the Namur World Cup. It will be a tight battle between the two; one we think Powers will ultimately win. But a single bobble or mechanical could flip the race on its head.
Powers is confident, but not overconfident, and says the lead up to this year’s championship is a dramatic improvement over last year, which saw him recovering from a 103-degree fever just days before the event.
“This year, having a great run-in to it, I think it’s good, I think it’s really good,” he told VeloNews on Wednesday. “I’m in a great place. I felt strong in the last World Cup, and this last weekend we did a race in Tennessee just to blow out the cobwebs and keep things moving, and I felt great there. I’m going to bring 100 percent to the race, which I’m really happy about.”
Who does he think will put up the great fight? “I would definitely say Logan [Owen] and [Stephen] Hyde, and potentially Danny Summherhill, just because right now those are the guys that I’ve raced against and who have shown up consistently,” he said. “I think there are any number of guys who could factor, plus guys I haven’t seen and don’t know about because we haven’t locked horns in a while. Zach McDonald, Trebon, guys like that.”
Powers pointed at perennial favorite Jamey Driscoll (Raleigh-Clement) too, noting that the course is particularly suited to him this year. “With the amount of climbing, it’s probably a good course for Driscoll,” he said. “He’s pretty good especially in the longer races with a lot of climbing.”
“I don’t expect anyone to come out of the blue and strike,” he said. “Where I’m at, I feel pretty confident in what I can bring to the table. I think I’ve had as good a chance as I’ve ever had to be able to hang on to the jersey. I feel strong as we head into this race.”
Stephen Hyde (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) — 4:1
The only man to beat Powers one-on-one this season is in the best position to upset the reigning champ on Sunday. His ascension through the ranks of pro ‘cross has been steady, along a trajectory that will surely put him on the top step at nationals at some point in his career. Is this that year? Probably not, but it’s possible.
The 29-year-old has three UCI wins this season, including back-to-back wins ahead of Powers at the Derby City Cup. He had two solid rides in Europe over the holidays, 23rd at both Namur and Heusden-Zolder.
Jamey Driscoll (Raleigh-Clement) — 7:1
Driscoll recently wrapped up the overall victory in USA Cycling’s Pro CX series, ahead of both Powers and Hyde. He did so with consistent riding, with eight wins and only three finishes outside the top five.
He’s a perennial threat, and has come close before — fourth in 2014, 8th in 2015, with nearly a decade of top-10 elite finishes. He’s had one of his best-ever seasons, and rides well on physically demanding courses like the one in Asheville. His lack of a heavy European race schedule could be a blessing or a curse; he missed out on tough racing, but was able to train carefully through the holidays.
Daniel Summerhill (Maxxis-Shimano) — 8:1
Summerhill stayed on U.S. soil this season, forgoing the European races that can add an edge to a rider’s form, but also threaten it with long, stressful travel days. That’s why he’s a dark horse this year.
“Danny is probably the biggest dark horse, because he could have been putting in a big training session and be coming into this fresh, whereas Logan and I have been back and forth to Europe a couple times,” defending champion Jeremy Powers said in the week before nationals.
Logan Owen (California Giant-Specialized) — 10:1
Owen’s first year racing in the elites (though he’s still only 20) could end his 10-year national championship streak, but a podium is very much in the realm of possibility. He has the talent; the question is whether he can put together a mistake-free race. He won both days of the Subaru Cup in November, but had a mediocre day at the Namur world cup in December. If he’s on, Powers and Hyde will need to keep an eye on him.
Curtis White (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) — 15:1
This season, 21-year-old White has beaten Hyde twice, Ryan Trebon three times, and Logan Owen once. He’s proven has what it takes to step on the podium, but he’s never been able to topple Jeremy Powers. He’s a good pick for a podium spot, but it would take a special day for him to earn the stars and stripes.
Ryan Trebon (Cannondale-cyclocrossworld.com) — 20:1
Trebon can never be left off a list of favorites, but he’s struggled with injury this year and hasn’t raced consistently all season. His form is a big question mark. That could prove to be an advantage, of course. We’d love to see the man they call Tree Farm back on the front.
Zach McDonald — 20:1
McDonald has been quiet this season, racing just a few times and without any spectacular finishes. But his technical skills mean that he can’t be ruled out, particularly if the weather turns. One insider recently noted that McDonald might be hiding a bit of fitness — if that’s the case, he could play a role at the front on Sunday.