Sam Schultz (Subaru-Trek) raced to victory in front of a huge hometown crowd at the final US Pro XCT round in Missoula, Montana, on Saturday evening. His teammate Jeremy-Horgan Kobelski (Subaru-Trek) held off newly crowned Canadian National Champion Plaxton, who finished third and clinched victory in the overall US Pro XCT series.
"I was super nervous," said Schultz after earning what was his second US Pro XCT victory of his career in a time of 1:18:49. "There are so many friends and family out here I didn't want to choke. I tried to push that to the side of my head and I just went out there to see how hard I could ride and have fun with it."
Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) secured fourth place while Carl Decker (Giant) put in a strong ride to claim the fifth and final podium spot.
From the start, Schultz, Horgan-Kobelski and Plaxton formed the lead trio. They stayed together until lap four of five. That's when Plaxton, who was outnumbered, made his move.
"I never wanted to give up that lead. I felt like I was riding well on the descents and I wanted to keep that going," said Schultz.
So Schultz countered to get back in the front. Riding with the home course advantage, Schultz was the fastest on the descents and preferred to be in the front.
"On the fourth lap, Max laid down a solid attack, and I was sitting there and suffering super hard, but I had to go. I thought, 'It's now or never'," said Schultz. "I got around him at the top of one of the longer fireroad climbs and I had a small gap. I knew I was riding the steep switchbacky climb, and my friends were out there cheering, so I figured I might as well go there."
With teammate Horgan-Kobelski running right behind him for most of the race, Schultz didn't have to pin it to get to each singletrack section first. That enabled him to save energy until he made his move on the final lap.
Once Schultz was at the front, he rode the rest of the final lap solo at the front. As he dropped down toward the finish at the Marshall Mountain venue, large, vocal crowds cheered him on. Even after he finished, they were so loud, it was difficult to do post-race interviews.
Horgan-Kobelski gave Subaru-Trek the second top spot, too. Finishing 1:03 apart, the teammates congratulated each other after the finish.
"It was awesome. Look around, it's like a World Cup worthy crowd," said Horgan-Kobelski. "I had great legs today and was riding well. I could not possibly be happier that Sam won in front of his hometown crowd. We were talking all week about how fun it would be for us to go one-two here."
Plaxton rode in for a solid third place at 2:34, securing the overall series title.
"Today, I definitely didn't feel as good as I felt in the past week or so, but I was happy," said a clearly fatigued Plaxton.
"That was a hard course. I did a bunch of laps yesterday, and it was fun to ride, but hard to race."
Fourth place finisher Craig said, "It was pretty awesome and a little brutal. I think I might have ridden too much this week in Sun Valley, but it was worth it. Starting on tired legs was hard, but once I got going it was sweet. The crowd was loud. Missoula was dishing it out. The course was super fun."
Delighted to take the the final podium spot, Decker said, "There was a lot climbing and steep descents so there wasn't much recovery, but it was the kind of course you would go out and ride for fun, maybe even do a few laps. That wasn't true of the course last week. Considering they didn't have trails here a year ago, this course is really impressive."
Riders generally raved about the cross country course at what is a new venue in the US Pro XCT. All of the top five men except Plaxton chose the A-line jump option on the main descent, and most of the top 10-15 men also picked that same option, which gave riders as much as six seconds' advantage each lap. The A-line certainly played to the advantage of the two Subaru-Trek riders.
"It was perfect when Jeremy would come around Plaxton in the A-line and hold him up. It wasn't planned like that, but that's how it worked out," said Schultz. "It was sweet having Jeremy behind me so I didn't have to sprint into every singletrack.
"I was happy to get that jump dialed," said Horgan-Kobelski. "That's close to the limit of what I would ride on a cross country bike. I rediscovered my youthful self by getting air and having fun on a mountain bike course."
Of all the riders, Schultz seemed to be having the most fun on the jump as each time over, he'd pull a move to flick his bike dramatically as he flew through the air, making the crowds cheer even louder.
"I figured that was where I could get some bonus points," said Schultz. "You have to have fun while you're in the middle of suffering."
In the final US Pro XCT standings, Plaxton held on for the overall series win ahead of the absent Todd Wells (Specialized) while Schultz claimed the third spot.
Race note: Both Carl Decker and Adam Craig ran dropper seat posts. "I've never run a dropper seat post in a cross country race before, but that five inches gave me the confidence to do that jump every lap. The climbs were steep enough that I was faster on a hardtail than on a dually."
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Sam Schultz (USA) Subaru-Trek||1:18:49|
|2||Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (USA) Subaru-Trek||0:01:03|
|3||Max Plaxton (Can) Specialized USA Factory Racing||0:02:34|
|4||Adam Craig (USA) Rabobank Giant||0:03:27|
|5||Carl Decker (USA) Giant||0:04:16|
|6||Spencer Paxson (USA) Kona Bicycles||0:05:57|
|7||Rotem Ishai (Isr)||0:06:19|
|8||Adam Morka (Can) Trek Canada||0:06:50|
|9||Jack Hinkens (USA) BMC Mountainbike Development Team USA||0:07:47|
|10||Mitchell Hoke (USA)||0:08:37|
|11||Travis (TJ) Woodruff (USA) Trek Bicycle Store Boulder||0:10:02|
|12||John Curry (USA) Gallatin Alpine Sports/Intrinsik Archite||0:10:35|
|13||Colton Andersen (USA) Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory Devo Sweet Elite||0:10:42|
|14||Drew Edsall (USA)||0:11:21|
|15||Brad Bingham (USA)||0:11:41|
|16||Kerry Werner (USA) BMC Mountainbike Development Team USA||0:12:38|
|17||Russell Finsterwald (USA) Subaru-Trek||0:13:10|
|18||Colin Cares (USA) Kenda/Felt||0:14:45|
|19||Ben Parsons (USA) Sportsman & Ski Haus||0:14:59|
|20||Thomas Sampson (USA)||0:15:34|
|21||Tad Elliott (USA) Durango Devo Sweet Elite Rocky Mt Chocolate Factory||0:15:40|
|22||Phil Grove (USA) Sportsman & Ski Haus||0:16:10|
|23||Adam Snyder (USA) Jamis||0:16:50|
|25||Ryan Woodall (USA)||0:18:48|
|26||Peter Ostroski (USA) Wild Things/Rocky Mountain||0:19:26|
|28||Andy Schultz (USA) Kenda/Felt||0:21:07|
|29||Brent Gorman (USA)||0:21:24|
|-1lap||Blake Zumbrunnen (USA)|
|-1lap||Aaron Elwell (USA)|
|-1lap||Travis Glysson (USA) AZ Devo|
|-1lap||Kristopher Holden (USA) Vertical Earth, Specialized|
|-2laps||Chance Cooke (USA) Great Northern Cycling|
|DNF||Zachary Keller (USA)|
|DNF||Craig Wohlschlaeger (USA) The Cannonball-Hub Racing Team|
|DNF||Stephen Ettinger (USA) BMC MTB Development Team USA|
|DNS||Eric Emsky (USA) Fort Lewis College|
|DNS||Anthony Sinyard (USA) Specialized USA Factory Racing|
|DNS||Logan Wetzel (USA) Noble Bikes|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Max Plaxton (Specialized Factory Racing USA)|
|2||Todd Wells (Specialized)|
|3||Sam Schultz (Subaru-Trek)|