Beats, turntables, peanut butter and a powerful conviction have helped fuel Rapha-Focus cyclocross pro Jeremy Powers to a national championship. Through his web video franchise “Behind THE Barriers TV”, Powers has also sought the broader goal of elevating the profile of his sport. In a cycling epoch besmirched by the failings of a Texan colossus, the adept DJ and former ice cream truck driver continues to inspire his countrymen. We caught up with Powers to talk about his sport, Belgian beer and finding inspiration.
Q. What’s one thing every man should know?
A. You never know everything so it’s important to listen. There’s something to learn from everyone.
Q. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
A. The hardest thing I did in cycling was go to Europe by myself. I went to Belgium in 2003 and lived there for the entire cyclocross season — and did it again the next year. I was learning a new language, living in a house by myself and doing a lot of logistics. That was the loneliest and hardest part of my cycling career. You miss the holidays. Those were long days. You have to look at the daily forecast in Belgium to get a feeling for what 31 days of rain in December looks like.
Q. What are you working on right now?
A. I’m working on Behind THE Barriers TV, a cyclocross video series that has five different episodes a week. As a pro athlete you entertain people, but hopefully you also inspire. Behind THE Barriers showcases every story in cyclocross, from the personalities to the culture, race previews and showing how races were won. BTB TV is set up to grow the sport and give back more than I could with my racing.
You have to look at the daily forecast in Belgium to get a feeling for what 31 days of rain in December looks like.
Q. Name one thing you can’t live without.
A. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t ride my bike and listen to music, or don’t think about or eat peanut butter on something. Growing up in Connecticut there was a hip hop station, Hot 93.7, that I’d listen to while I worked on the ice cream truck on Saturday nights. I thought it was amazing how they manipulated the music, so I researched it and went out and got turntables. If I weren’t a pro cyclist I’d want to be a DJ. I have a pretty deep library of music. If somebody said I could rock the party for Single-Speed Worlds I’d keep it Beastie boys and electro, but if it was downtown St. Louis it would be Nelly and more hip hop.
Q: Who or what influences you?
A: I don’t look up to a ton of cyclists. There were people I looked up to in racing that I don’t look up to anymore, and it has skewed my trust. I’m a talent whore. I love people who are the pinnacle, the highest level of sickness. I’ll listen to a Kanye West interview and he’ll be really cocky but really true. I look at musicians and people who have changed popular culture. I love Apple products, I love Jay-Z — they’re at the top of their game, and I look to see what they’re doing. I don’t have an athlete I put up on a pedestal. I do read a lot and I get inspired by people’s demons. You read about someone who has climbed all the 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado — and that’s inspiring.
Q. What are you reading right now?
A. I read training articles to learn more about how I can refine and improve. Cyclocross has grown and evolved, and you have to keep changing and evolving as an athlete, too. The most recent article I read was about self talk and why it is so important to keep it flowing and to reinforce positivity in your life and the lives of the people around you. I’m a big fan of nutritionfacts.org. The guy who runs it is a vegan; he’s crazy, he’s a doctor, but it spurs that whole thing for me where I’m pushing myself to be my absolute best. If he says drink three liters of beet juice and you can be 20 percent faster, I might look into it.
Q. Name one thing no one knows about you.
A. When I was younger, I hit my chin on a rock wall while I was playing basketball. There’s a nerve that runs from your chin down to your sternum to a group of muscles that triggers the hiccups. If I shave, wash my face or scratch my chin I get the hiccups.
Q. It’s your last drink and meal on earth. What’ll it be?
A. My last drink would definitely be an alcoholic drink, probably a Leffe Brune, a really tasty Belgian beer. You can only get the Blonde over here, not the Brune. My last meal would be something with cheese because I never eat cheese and I love it. Probably lasagna, crazy lasagna, monster cheese. Yeah, I’d go all in.
Q. If you could go back and tell your 16 year old self something, what would you say?
A. To surround myself with the absolute best people I could. I had a lot of great friends, but I wasn’t hooked up with the right people. I would also tell myself to work harder. There are a lot of different reasons people don’t make it and a lot of those come down to work ethic. I might not have been the most talented rider in the world, but I have a strong work ethic. I wake up every day and ask myself, “did I give absolutely everything I could do today to do 110 percent?” When I was younger I was like, “Uh, I’m good enough, I can do this and then go eat ice cream.” I wish I had gone back and said there will be time for that later and focus, focus, focus. Chasing that dream isn’t forever, and I wish I was even more regimented when I was younger.
Q. How do you want to be remembered?
A. As an ambassador. As a person who always raced clean, my entire career. It’s hard for me when I get on a plane and tell someone I’m a bike racer or I’m at the doctor and there’s a sigh. Having been a pro as long as I have and having been clean, I want to be an ambassador for the sport. I’ve based a lot of my existence on cycling and I want to be a good person who makes people laugh and to bring out the best in other people. I like laughing, I like smiling, I like jamming out and riding my bike and helping out other people, inspiring them to be healthy. To not refine my talent and not always ask myself how I could be better would just be a waste. To chase the dream, I’m doing everything I possibly can. That might be running up and down stairs 40 times with my dog at 6 a.m. before breakfast; it might be riding my bike for five hours. It’s not forever. I want to be remembered as someone who gave as much as he possibly could.
Andrew Vontz is a journalist, content innovator, cycling coach and adventurer based in San Francisco. He writes about people, places and things at the limits of human experience. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Playboy, Outside, Bicycling, Men’s Health, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, UFC magazine and many other publications. Find him @vontz on Twitter and instagram. Find more of his stories at andrewvontz.com.