It’s still unclear which got more attention before the start of the Missoula XC at Marshall Mountain bike race, Sam Schultz’s bum right shoulder or his barren upper lip.
What is clear, however, is that the 27-year-old Missoula native is having himself a month to remember.
Schultz added to that sentiment on Saturday by winning his second consecutive Missoula XC on a hotter-than-expected evening at the old ski hill.
Schultz and the rest of the men’s elite division did five laps around the 2.75-mile dirt loop. The course got a little loose by the end of the day, but Schultz covered the terrain in 1 hour, 20 minutes and 4 seconds. That’s 1 minute and 15 seconds off last year’s winning time, but pretty impressive considering Schultz had to have a shot to reduce swelling in his injured shoulder earlier this week.
Schultz, who was named to the U.S. Olympic mountain biking team on June 15 and won USA Cycling’s national championship last weekend in Sun Valley, Idaho, was the overwhelming favorite coming into the Missoula XC, which is the second-to-last event on the Pro Mountain Bike Cross Country Tour. Neither pressure nor injuries got the best of him.
Schultz said his shoulder felt “solid,” but his spirits felt even better thanks to all the support he received from the hometown fans.
“This is so cool,” said Schultz, peeking up at the crowd of well-wishers waiting to shake his hand or get a photo with the new Olympian. “All my friends and family shouting for me. All the little inside jokes between us. It’s nice to be able to hear that out there.”
One such joke had to do with Schultz’s mustache, which he was instructed to shave off prior to a World Cup event earlier this season. Friends like Alex Gallego were handing out dozens of fake stick-on mustaches as part of a “Bring back the ’stache” campaign. Unfortunately, Schultz said it’s unlikely he’ll have a fresh lip sweater in time for the Olympics. He’s scheduled to compete Aug. 12 in London.
“Oh man, I don’t have time to grow one,” Schultz said. “It takes me awhile. One month is not enough.”
There were some in the crowd who thought Schultz might go easy on his shoulder and not race as hard as he could.
“No way, he was killin’ it out there,” said Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, a teammate of Schultz’s for Subaru-Trek. “He laid it down so hard at the start I was suffering just trying to keep up with him. ... He was definitely not taking it easy.”
Schultz, on the other hand, was a bit stunned by the start.
“I don’t know who it was, but there were a couple of guys who started so hard. They went flying out of the gates,” he said. “It was all I could do to hang with them.”
Howard Grotts, of Durango, Colo., finished second in the men’s elite division at a margin of 39 seconds behind Schultz. Grotts was the men’s category 1 winner last season, before ditching the amateur ranks for the pros.
Horgan-Kobelski was third in the elite division. He clocked a time of 1:21:06. Jack Haig (1:22:07) and Todd Wells (1:22:31) rounded out the top five. Wells, also of Durango, is the other representative on the men’s U.S. Olympic team who’s headed to London.
All in all, it was a good day for Schultz and his Subaru-Trek team.
Heather Irmiger won the women’s elite race by holding off a late charge from tour points leader Pau Mata. Irmiger, who hails from Boulder, Colo., finished her four laps in 1:17:18. Mata came home in 1:18:43 and Chloe Woodruff was third at 1:21:21.
Irmiger was runner-up to Lea Davidson at last year’s inaugural Missoula XC. Davidson chose not to race in order to focus on the Olympics. That suited Irmiger, who led start to finish, just fine.
“Being No. 1 is always better than being No. 2,” she said.
Part of Irmiger’s strategy this year included hitting the A-line jump near the top of the course. Last year, not a single woman rider took the A-line, which features a 6-foot high by 8-foot long jump. This time, though, three women elites took the jump.
“Last year, I hadn’t ever done one,” said Irmiger, who used the offseason to work on jumps. “I mean it wasn’t even in my realm of thinking.”
Irmiger said she’s glad Schultz gets a big following here in Missoula, but she was actually rooting for a different teammate – her husband, Horgan-Kobelski.
“I was hoping to get the same place as her, but I couldn’t pull it off,” a smiling Horgan-Kobelski said. “That’s a big win for her. I’m super happy for her.”
at Marshall Mountain
Top 3 placers
Men’s pro – 1, Sam Schultz, 1:20:04; 2, Howard Grotts, 1:20:43; 3, Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, 1:21:06.
Women’s pro – 1, Heather Irmiger, 1:17:18; 2, Pau Mata, 1:18:43; 3, Chloe Woodruff, 1:21:21.
Men’s Cat 1 – 1, Dario Fredrick, 1:11:42; 2, Joel Shehan, 1:15:40; 3, Adam Jensen, 1:16:12.
Women’s Cat 1 – 1, Shayna Powless, 1:02:12; 2, Heidi Gaskill, 1:07:57; 3, Corinne Prevost, 1:14:06.
Junior Cat 1 – 1, Casey Williams, 1:10:45; 2, Chase Dickens, 1:11:19; 3, Landen Beckner, 1:12:25.
Masters A – 1, Michael Gaertner, 1:18:27; 2, Tim Noonan, 1:18:37; 3, Eric Greenberg, 1:21:23.
Men’s Cat 2 – 1, Levi Hoch, 1:00:00; 2, Ian Foster, 1:00:35; 3, Blake Votilla, 1:01:41.
Women’s Cat 2 – 1, Sarah Halvorson, 1:14:15; 2, Elie Meierbachtol, 1:14:31; 3, Ivy Pedersen, 1:20:02.
Men’s Cat 3 – 1, Ryan Thompson, 48:32; 2, Brian Swenson, 49:05; 3, Winslow Lewis, 51:32.
Women’s Cat 3 – 1, Elle Williams, 56:43; 2, Debra Lassila, 1:00:30; 3, Sarah Castle, 1:01:31.
Masters B – 1, William Simmel, 1:10:08; 2, Chad Yurko, 1:13:13; 3, Andrew Wilcox, 1:15:17.
Men’s single speed – 1, Kristopher Holden, 1:01:03.
Women’s single speed – 1, Lisa Curry, 1:11:59.
Juniors – 1, Jake Yackle, 43:08.