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By Neal Rogers
Six hours before kicking off their cyclocross season at the Full Speed Ahead Starcrossed UCI cat. 2 event in Redmond, Washington, Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com riders Tim Johnson and Jeremy Powers sat down with VeloNews.com for a post-lunch, pre-nap chat on a rainy Seattle afternoon. The following day both men were headed to Tacoma for the UCI cat. 2 Rad Racing GP, presented by Kona and FSA, known for its dreaded UCI-limit 80-meter run-up. Top cross racers Ryan Trebon, Barry Wicks, Adam Craig, Carl Decker and Geoff Kabush were also expected at both races.
Both Johnson and Powers finished up their road seasons just six days earlier at the Tour of Missouri. Johnson, the national cyclocross champ, rides for Health Net-Maxxis on the road and spent stage 4 in Missouri in the race-winning breakaway. Powers, who rides for Jelly Belly, spent stage 7 in a break. Both men hail from New England, as does third Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com team member Jamey Driscoll, who did not make the trip to the Pacific Northwest.
VeloNews: When did you arrive in Seattle?
Tim Johnson: I arrived late Thursday night. I arrived after Jeremy. He flies from Hartford [Bradley International Airport in Connecticut], I fly from Boston.
VN: I’m sure you’ve heard that there has not been a drop of rain in Seattle for a month, and now it’s pouring out, just in time for cyclocross.
TJ: We checked the weather to see what tires to bring, and we left the [Dugast] Rhinos at home, and brought the Typhoons and Pipistrellos because we figured it was going to be dry tonight and wet tomorrow. But Tacoma is sandy, so wet isn’t a big deal — the Typhoons are fine. Tonight we will be slipping and sliding in typhoons. Then again, I used Michelin Muds here three years ago when it was sloppy.
Jeremy Powers: Those off-camber sections are going to be really tough. It depends on who is going to go before us, and how beat up the course is.
VN: So this is the first race of the year, and it sounds like all the heavy hitters are here, in the rain and mud. Should be quite a weekend.
TJ: Except Jonathan Page, yep. It should be hard.
VN: You two both just ended a long road season at a hard Tour of Missouri, while Ryan Trebon’s last race was probably the NMBS in Brian Head. How much of an advantage does that give him?
JP: I know he won the Teva Games and at mountain bike nationals, he was second [to Adam Craig]. I don’t know what he’s done since then. [Trebon finished 7th at the NMBS final in Brian Head, Utah.]
TJ: For freshness, it’s a disadvantage. Ryan is going to be fresh. But our road fitness will pay off in the long run. I’m taking a longer view of the cyclocross season than just tonight.
JP: Tonight, this weekend, this is not the end-all, be-all, it’s just the season kickoff.
TJ: We don’t have our full quiver of bikes and tires, and we don’t have [team manager] Stu Thorne. We’re more just shaking down new equipment and getting ready for Cross Vegas [held Wednesday, September 24]. Jeremy had a great race in Vegas last year, and I rode okay for a while there. By Wednesday, I would consider that more mid-season cross racing than this weekend. But we’re both stoked to be here in Seattle.
VN: Tim, you are known to excel in bad conditions, could the mud be the big equalizer this weekend between you and a fresh Trebon?
TJ: I am just psyched to be riding on the dirt, ripping through a cyclocross course. I haven’t done that since [the world cyclocross championships] February 1st.
VN: Tell us about your schedule for cyclocross this year.
JP: My tentative plan is to do all the big U.S. races, get as many UCI points as I can and have a serious shot at going to worlds, hopefully with a top-30 UCI ranking. Maybe even top-20. Last year I was ranked 31st when I went over to Europe, which gets you closer for call-ups. There are more races designated C1 in the U.S., and more points available this year.
VN: How do you feel this year after a full road season compared to last year?
JP: I feel good. Like Tim said, I think the road miles will pay off. Missouri was hard but flat, and I think it will pay dividends later in the year.
VN: What about you Tim?
TJ: I’m going to go from here to Veags to Wisconsin to Gloucester. Gloucester is the first big race for me, that’s when I know cross has truly started. That’s October 11th and 12th. After that I’ll be racing all the North American Cyclocross Trophy events and the Crankbrothers U.S. Grand Prix events, with nationals as a season-ending goal.
VN: So you have no plans to race a European cyclocross campaign again this year?
TJ: None as of yet.
VN: How did that affect your road season last year?
TJ: I have a thriving road career and cross career. To keep both going… going to Europe to race cross for six weeks doesn’t allow me to do that. My international standings against those guys, when things are going well, I can compete. My goals are to race and help the sport in the U.S. grow, and also race well on the road. Last year going to Europe I was searching for something, but I didn’t find it.
VN: What were you searching for?
TH: Great results and good races, but I couldn’t put it together. And I realized I have a lot asked of me from my road team, from training camp in January through the Tour of California, so I am going to put that back on the front burner.
[Powers’ phone rings.]
VN: Ryan Trebon just called — is he going to be the guy to watch in North America again this year?
JP: Definitely. If Ryan doesn’t show that he is the strongest guy right now I would be surprised.
TJ: Ryan will definitely be full-guns blazing. If he’s not, that would be a shocker.
VN: But you both beat him last year, so at least to you two, he is beatable.
JP: I am not freaking out over Ryan right now. We will see what he brings to the table. If he’s going that good, he will probably go to race in Europe again.
TJ: Which is good for us. If he races in Europe he can spread himself thin enough so that when he comes back here, he’s beatable.
VN: Was there any rider last year that made big gains and should be considered a threat this season?
TJ: That’s a tough question. Bjorn [Selander] had some great starts in Portland last year. We’re betting on [teammate] Jamey Driscoll.
JP: I think we were more surprised that Barry Wicks didn’t have a better season than he did. He almost beat [2007 world champion Erwin] Vervecken last year, and he had a great Cross Vegas.
TJ: It looked like it was going to be the year of Barry Wicks.
VN: Tim, this evening will be your first race in the national champion’s jersey on U.S. soil. What will it be like racing in the stars and stripes?
TJ: Yeah, it will have truly sunken in. But the jersey won’t mean much if I can’t win with it on.
VN: For this weekend Jeremy will be wearing Tim’s Cannondale Nine-ball kit and racing on Tim’s Cannondale bikes from last year. He’s going to look a little like Tim’s little brother, wearing his hand-me-down clothes.
JP: I am Tim’s little brother, in case you didn’t know.
TJ: He will look like me this weekend, but in Vegas Jeremy will have his own kit and new bikes.
VN: What have you two heard about Lance Armstrong racing cyclocross this year?
JP: I want all the road guys to come out and race cross because it’s good for the sport. Right now it’s just Time and I and Chris [Horner].
TJ: I think if Lance came out to a cross race everything would explode. It would be great. He’s mentioned it in Tour de France interviews five years ago and people took notice. To show up at a national level race would lend credibility to the sport Jeremy and I love so much.
VN: Do you think Lance racing cross would be a case like Horner — a strong engine but lacking the skills and technique?
TJ: I think Horner showed that only lasts for so long. He has shown huge improvements, and he keeps doing it and having fun with it. He’s doing better and better. He is catching up with his engine. Plus he has the right attitude — he has from the get-go.
JP: With Lance I don’t think he would do it half-assed. I think he does everything pretty seriously.
VN: Do you think Lance could beat you?
JP: It would be a great race. I would love to race Lance Armstrong at any cyclocross race.
TJ: Yes. Sure. We’re talking about the world’s best athlete in a discipline that is not far removed from road racing. He can run and swim and move sideways. I think he definitely could beat me.