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From the top of the world to the bottom of the barrel and back

Over the last month, things have been falling into place exactly like I hoped they would. I finished a career best second place at the US National Championships in Sun Valley, Idaho. I led out the first lap and hung close to the heels of Todd Wells until the final lap. I thought I might be able to pull off the win, but Todd rode smart and I couldn't quite get him. Still, I was pumped to be able to slot into second place, and most importantly I was psyched that I felt good.

The weekend after Nationals was the US Pro XCT finals in Missoula, Montana. Being my hometown race, it was arguably my most important race of the season. It was unreal how many fellow Missoulians pulled out all the stops to make sure that we hosted the best race possible. Countless individuals and businesses contributed to the race in various forms; from volunteer work, to donating sponsorship money, to offering up their rowdy cheers. As a result of all of the community support, I have never been more nervous for a race in my life. I felt like everyone had stepped up their game to make the race happen and it was my job to keep the win in the hometown.

I decided that the best strategy was to go full throttle from the gun. My plan worked better than I could have imagined. The cheers from the crowd were so loud I could barely feel my legs. I fended off a couple of attacks from Max Plaxton, making sure to fight for the lead anytime he tried to sprint me for the singletrack. Max attacked hard with two laps to go and I countered, feeding off the cheers of a large group of friends on the climb. I finished out the race and took home the win with teammate Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski coming in for second place. It couldn't have gone any better and it is the highlight of my racing career so far. Thanks again to everyone who made the race happen!

After the race, I had two and a half weeks at home to re-touch on training before starting a four-week Europe trip. I kept my time at home packed with awesome "soul rides", a lot of easy summer livin', and some old fashioned suffering in the form of gnarly interval sessions. Things were going great and only getting better until stuff slowly started to go wrong.

It started with a potato slicing incident the day before I was leaving for Europe. I was chopping away, a little too quickly, when I mistook my thumb for a piece of potato. I got it good--right down to the bone. Luckily it was just the tip and once I got it clamped shut it wasn't too bad. The next evening I went to bed feeling slightly itchy. I figured I just had a few mosquito bites from sitting outside. I woke up at 6:00 am feeling like an itchy mess. I looked down at my legs and sides and noticed that I was covered in nasty bumps. It looked like something from a Sci-Fi movie. I almost went to the ER but ended up waiting for a walk-in clinic to open at 8:00 am. During the two-hour wait, I watched the bumps spread, thinking there was no way I was going to be able to get on a plane at noon to fly to the Czech Republic. Luckily the doctor had good news. They were just hives from some sort of allergic reaction and the prescription antihistamines knocked them back pretty quickly, although some of them have been persistent and they are really itchy.

After using all of my will-power to avoid scratching everything during the flight, I made it to the Czech with my skin intact. I slept deep but woke up the next morning with a sore throat. I ignored it and went on with my day. I did some laps on the course and felt pretty good but my stomach was a bit "off".

After my course laps, I rode back to the hotel and had to make an emergency stop. I came back without my socks. I finished riding back to the hotel, set my bike in my room and hopped in the shower. When I got out my bike was gone! After spending hours with the Czech police filing a report, I went to bed thinking I would never see my bike again.

Now is the good part. Things are starting to look up. Despite everything that has been going on, I still felt great riding today, I fit in a good nap this afternoon, and the police knocked on my door this evening and told me they found my bike. It was 100 meters from the hotel, partially buried in a ditch. I am crawling my way back from the bottom of the barrel and I am looking to uncork a big one tomorrow because this bottom of the barrel stuff is no good. I want to be back on top of the world!

Editor's note: Sam Schultz finished an impressive 15th at the Czech World Cup on Sunday. Check out Cyclingnews' full coverage of the event.

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Sam Schultz, 25, is a regular at US National Series mountain bike events and on the World Cup cross country circuit. The Subaru-Trek racer is back at it again for the 2011 season.

In 2010, he had a break out performance - winning the Subaru Cup, a US Pro XCT series event in Mt. Morris, Wisconsin. It was Schultz's first national series event.

"I am really hoping to step it up another level in international competition," said Schultz of his 2011 ambitions.

Schultz hails from Missoula, Montana, where he lives for most of the year although he can be found from January through April based in San Luis Obispo, California, where the climate is more hospitable to gaining pre-season on the bike fitness.

When not on his bike, the good humored Schultz enjoys skiing, hiking and cooking and eating good food.