For years, Schultz has been clawing his way up through the U23 and more recently the elite men's ranks. On Saturday afternoon, he beat defending champion Todd Wells (Specialized) for the win. It was a tight battle that came down to the last lap, when Wells flatted and had to stop for tech assistance.
"I'm pumped - that was hard," said Schultz after six laps. "It was a battle. We kept 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. 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."
Schultz was just in front of Wells when he heard the news of his rival's flat. "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."
Had it come down to a two-up sprint, Schultz thinks he would have had a good chance. "When it picked up really steep, I felt like I had a little more speed then him. I felt good about winning that sprint on the last lap going into it, but obviously that didn't happen."
The last lap was a nervous and lonely one for Schultz, who fought to keep his head straight as well as his lead. "Mostly I was thinking 'don't choke,' but then I started thinking more positively. That last descent felt like it took forever. I was a little cautious because I didn't want to crash. It felt like I was out there for an hour."
Wells was gracious about finishing second and complimented Schultz on his first national title. "He rode a great race," said Wells after taking the silver medal.
Schultz's teammate Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski said he saw it coming.
"I'm so stoked for Sam," said JHK. "I knew it was coming and that it was just a matter of when."
Both men will race the short track championship event on Sunday.