Subaru-Trek racer Sam Schultz has been on the form of his life the last two months, and has had a string of career-best results. Since June the 26 year-old Schultz has been named to the US Olympic team, notched his first top-10 World Cup result in Windham, NY, and taken his first elite National XC title in Sun Valley, ID.
He then won his first race in the national champion's kit, the Pro XCT in his hometown of Missoula, MT. Schultz recently took a few minutes to check in with MTBRacenews.com about his recent successes and his goals for the Olympics.
MTBRacenews.com: Letís start at the beginning of your recent string of successes. Did you feel confident that you would make the Olympic team given how the first four World Cups went for you this spring? Was it a surprise? How did it feel to get that call?
Sam Schultz: I thought I was looking pretty good to make the squad, but depending on how you read into the selection criteria they could have picked anyone. Knowing that was really nerve-racking. The hardest part was that people kept assuming I had made the team when I still had no idea. For some reason it was really stressing me out. It was definitely a long 30 days between that last spring World Cup and the announcement of the team.
I found out that I had made the team via email (which was slightly anti-climactic). I had been waiting for the announcement date for the past month. I had envisioned knowing first thing in the morning but of course they waited until really close to 5 pm on a Fridayóbut when I got the news I was ecstatic!
MTBRacenews.com: Getting top 10 at the Windham World Cup was a breakthrough ride for you. Did that race feel different from other World Cups that youíve done? Whatís the difference between 10th and 20th at a race like that?
Sam Schultz: The crazy thing about breakthrough races is that normally they feel almost the same as a normal raceóthe only difference is suddenly instead of battling for a top 30 or 40 placing you're battling for a top 10. Obviously that part feels great, but physically it's very similar.
At Windham in particular the gaps were super small so the difference between 10th and 20th was very small; as was the difference between 10th and 1st.
MTBRacenews.com: What was your plan heading into Nationals in Sun Valley? Was winning the goal?
Sam Schultz: Winning was definitely the goal at Sun Valley. I felt great leading up to the race but I'll admit I was a little bit worried about the form that Todd had showed in Windham. I knew the course in Sun Valley suited me well so I was confident that I could give Todd a run for his money if I had good legs on the day.
MTBRacenews.com: Walk us through the National Championship race. How did things play out? What went through your head when Todd Wells flatted with one lap to go?
Sam Schultz: Things played out about perfectly for me during the race (minus Todd's flat). Todd and I opened up a small gap the first time up the climb and kept stretching it out throughout the race so it was more-or-less a two person race. There was really no way to pass on the descent so my plan all day was to give a good effort to lead the descent each lap. The climb kicked up pretty steep at the end and that is where I felt the strongest. The first couple laps I gave it just enough to sneak around Todd at the top but later in the race I could tell he was trying to shake me on the lower slopes so I hit it a little harder at the top and was able to open a gap. He was descending pretty well so he would close it back down. Going into the last lap I was prepared for a serious dog-fight, with the winner of the climb very likely to be the race winner. Right before I hit the base of the climb someone yelled to me that Todd had stopped at the tech zone. I think Todd had a record fast wheel change because he didn't seem very far behind at the bottom of the climb. I put my head down gave it everything I had. That last descent felt like it went on forever, and all I could think was don't flat, don't flat... Luckily I didn't and I was able to open the gap further.
MTBRacenews.com: Can you describe the feeling of winning the National Championships for the first time?
Sam Schultz: Winning National Championships was unreal. It has been a goal of mine for a very long time and to be able to make it happen was great.
MTBRacenews.com: Was Sun Valley a course that you think played to your strengths as a racer, or were you just on superb form?
Sam Schultz: I think the steep climb at Sun Valley was good for me but I'm also pretty sure I was on just about the best form I've ever had. It has actually been a bit of a surprise to feel as good as I have the last few weeks because the plan has been to build through the last block, really looking for a peak in mid-August. If that actually comes together I will be pumped!
MTBRacenews.com: So, post-Nationals, you got to do your first race in the National Championís kit in front of a hometown crowd at the Missoula Pro-XCT. What was that like? Were you going to settle for anything short of a win at that race?
Sam Schultz: I was actually more nervous for the Missoula ProXCT than I have been for any other race. I had so much support from my hometown that I couldn't help but feel like anything less than a win would be letting everyone down. Of course that was all pressure that I put on myself. I knew deep-down that regardless, I would be having the time of my life with all of my friends at the post-race party, but I still really wanted to win that race. I just decided that I would go full throttle from the start and see what happened. Luckily I felt great (the support from the crowd certainly didn't hurt with that). To actually pull off the win was amazing.
MTBRacenews.com: What role have the town of Missoula and the people there played in your success on the mountain bike?
Sam Schultz: The town of Missoula and the people in town have had a huge impact on my success on the bike. For as long as I can remember everyone has been unbelievably supportive of what I've been up to. It's super motivating knowing that people actually care and folks are willing to do anything they can to help me out.
MTBRacenews.com: What have you been up to in the last few weeks to get ready for London?
Sam Schultz: After the Missoula ProXCT I got to hang out for just over a week of easy summer livin' at home. My brother, Andy was in town for a few days after the race and we hiked up to a cool mountain lake and caught a bunch of fish one day. My other days were actually pretty packed between riding, media requests (which is pretty new to me and super time-consuming, but also very cool), hanging with friends, floating the river, and getting prepped for my next trip. Right now I am in France getting ready to race World Cup Finals tomorrow. After the race I am heading to Kirchzarten, Germany with the rest of the US Olympic MTB team for a week of training, then it's off to London the week before the race to get the course dialed and see what this Olympic thing is all about. I am super pumped!
MTBRacenews.com: Whatís your goal for your first Olympics?
Sam Schultz: Given the fact that my best ever World Cup result is 10th, I would say that I am going into the Olympics as a bit of an underdog. That being said, I also feel like I'm on the best form of my life right now and I have more people backing me with incredible support than I could have ever imagined. Taking that into account I would say anything is possible. One thing is for sure; I plan on breaking the throttle off past full and giving it everything I've got. We'll see where that puts me.