Sam Schultz (Subaru-Trek) raced to his first-ever elite cross country national championship title on Saturday afternoon in Sun Valley, Idaho. It was a tight two-up battle for most of the six-lap race, until his rival and defending national champion Todd Wells (Specialized) flatted with one to go.
"It feels pretty dang good. It's amazing, and I'm pumped. That was hard!" said Schultz, still catching his breath at the finish. He crossed the line in 1:48:17.
Coming out of the pit and into the final lap's climb, Schultz had 20 seconds on Wells and he extended his lead to 1:04 by the finish. Wells rode to a strong second place while the next three finishers came in on their own: Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Trek) in third at 1:48; Ryan Trebon (Cannondale) in fourth at 2:31 and Jeremiah Bishop (Cannondale Factory Racing) in fifth at 3:05.
On the first lap, it was clear that the day's action at the front would be a battle between the two 2012 US Olympic team members: Schultz and Wells. The two were in a league of their own and decisively rode off the front.
For the first five of six laps, the two marked each other and took turns surging. At times, they were so close, they looked like they were only an inch or two from bumping wheels.
"It was a battle. We kept on going back and forth. He would come around me on the bottom of the climb and take some big pulls, and I would always nip him just before the singletrack," said Schultz. "He was descending pretty well, and I was not descending that great, so I made sure to get ahead of him before each downhill. That was my tactic, I had to do that."
On each downhill, Wells would ride Schultz closely, looking for chances to get around. "Sometimes he'd try to get by me on the inside line, but I was holding my line because I knew that was the race," said Schultz.
"I figured Schultz would be up there. He was good last year and was good last weekend when he had his best ever World Cup result in Windham," said Wells. "I figured [Ryan] Trebon and [Jeremiah] Bishop would also be good."
"The way this course is, with the steep climb at altitude, it just kind of sorts itself out. Everyone has one pace he can ride, and Schultz and I were fairly evenly matched today. We just happened to be together and ride off the front."
Wells said he tried to surge a few times on laps three, four and five. "Sam always answered. On the fifth lap, I did a surge and couldn't drop him and pulled up. Then he hit it and got maybe five seconds on me by the top. I was able to close it on him on the descent, but I knew then that I would need everything to go right in order to have a shot at it."
Unfortunately for Wells, everything didn't go right. Just after the downhill rock garden before the one to go bell, he noticed his tire going soft. He lost more time in the next rock garden - the flat one - and had to stop at the pit.
"I did catch wind of his flat," said Schultz. "I was just ahead of him. So from that point on, I was head down. It would have been real interesting if he hadn't flatted. It definitely would have come down to that last lap."
The experienced Wells, who won the title the past two years, knew he shouldn't give up. "Once I got that flat, you never know. Sam could have flatted or had cramps, so I kept pushing as hard as I could, but he rode a great race."
Schultz was nervous to be at the front and said his last lap seemed to take forever. "I was a little cautious because I didn't want to crash. It felt like I was out there alone for an hour." In reality, he was probably out there alone for about 15 minutes.
Behind Wells and Schultz, the race was for third. For a time on lap three, Bishop rode himself into third place in a bid to bridge to the leaders, but a flat cost him some time and required a stop at the pits. Afterward, he spent the rest of the race in fifth place, where he finished up.
"I was about 12 seconds from making contact when I flatted. Guess I was hanging it out," said Bishop. "I was a long way from the pit and rode the rim through some hairy sections including the rock downhill and rock garden. I was surprised I got back to fifth after all that and thank the Cannondale staff for keeping me rolling."
Horgan-Kobelski was having a good day and triumphed over Trebon.
"I felt good and very strong. I had a crash on the first lap - I was with the top two guys, just behind them and kind of pushing and on one of the first switchbacks, I crashed. The course had deteriorated from when I rode it yesterday from all the traffic on it since then. I overcooked a corner and went down. I had to meter my effort from there."
"Sam and Todd were a step ahead today, and I'm happy to get third," said JHK. "I'm so stoked for Sam. I knew it was coming and that it was just a matter of when."
Trebon was appearing in his second mountain bike race of the year. "I felt good. This is a hard course for me," he said. "I'm a big dude and going up those steep climbs, I always suffer on that stuff. I'm happy with how I rode and how the race went."
"I was kind of gunning for that third spot when I realised how fast Sam and Todd were racing, but Jeremy was just a little bit stronger on the climb today."
Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) finished in sixth place and barely had time before he had to dash off to do some last minute super D practice. "I felt pretty decent. I've been kind of beat up all week and it was hard to dig super deep. It's good for Sam - it was coming. I was trying to catch Bishop and get on the podium, but that didn't happen, so then I was trying to save something for super D tomorrow morning."
The following video shows the top elite men riding through the flat rock garden on lap 2.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Sam Schultz (Subaru-Trek)||1:48:17|
|2||Todd Wells (Specialized Racing)||0:01:04|
|3||Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Trek)||0:01:48|
|4||Ryan Trebon (Cannondale)||0:02:31|
|5||Jeremiah Bishop (Cannondale Factory Racing)||0:03:05|
|6||Adam Craig (Rabobank/Giant Offroad Team)||0:04:11|
|7||Spencer Paxson (Kona Bicycles)||0:05:39|
|8||Alexander Grant (Cannondale Factory Racing)||0:06:15|
|9||Colin Cares (Kenda/Felt)||0:07:01|
|10||Mitchell Hoke (Team Clif Bar)||0:08:04|
|11||Macky Franklin (Orbea-Tuff Shed)||0:08:45|
|12||Stephen Ettinger (Wenatchee Valley Velo)||0:09:50|
|13||Braden Kappius (Team Clif Bar)||0:10:20|
|14||Tad Elliott (Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory)||0:10:43|
|16||Travis (Tj) Woodruff (Trek Bicycle Store Boulder)||0:11:57|
|17||Michael Broderick (Kenda-Seven-NoTubes)||0:11:58|
|19||Russell Stevenson (Cycling Northwest)||0:12:18|
|22||Logan Wetzel (Noble Bikes)||0:16:05|
|23||Robert Marion (American Classic Pro Team)||0:16:46|
|24||Colton Andersen (Durango Devo)|
|25||Peter Ostroski (Wild Things/Rocky Mountain)||0:17:57|
|27||Adam Snyder (Jamis bikes)||0:19:29|
|29||Jason Siegle (SDG Felt)||0:20:21|
|30||Stevie Cullinan (Bicycle Haus Elite)||0:20:37|
|31||Tyler Gauthier (Culvers Racing p/b Meyer Family)||0:21:20|
|32||John Nobil (Team Velosport Club)||0:23:04|
|-1lap||David Harrison (Wild Rockies Racing Team)|
|-1lap||Brent Pontius (Roosters/Bikers Edge-UT)|
|-1lap||Kalan Beisel (Orbea-Tuff Shed)|
|-1lap||Bryan Dillon (Alpine Orthopedics)|
|-1lap||Rich Weis (Subaru-Trek)|
|-1lap||David Hall (Mt. Pleasant Velo)|
|-1lap||Matthew Freeman (Team Redlands)|
|DNS||Jeffery Frost (Absolute Bikes Team)|
|DNS||Michael Hosey (Marin Factory Team)|
|DNS||Colin Osborn (Honey-Stinger)|
|DNF||Drew Edsall (Kenda / Felt)|
|DNF||Robert Fish (Carolina Flyers)|
|DNF||Jorge Munoz (Dominion - Falcon Bank)|
|DNF||Thomas Sampson (Team Alpine Clinic RCN)|
|DNF||Brent Gorman (Volkswagen Boise)|