By MIKE ECKERT
TRAVERSE CITY — Going into the 2012 mountain bike season, Sam Schultz set three goals for himself.
He accomplished all three.
Schultz, from Missoula, Mont., will now look to add the icing on the cake at Saturday's Iceman Cometh.
"This is definitely one of the most fun races that I get to do," Schultz said. "Even though it falls late in the season and it can be a little awkward to get prepared for it, I'm always so happy to be there. The Midwest crowds, the other amateur racers and the spectators make it a really cool event. I can't wait to get down there."
He's also fared well at the annual 29-mile race from Kalkaska to Timber Ridge Resort, contending for the title the last few years.
Perhaps, though, this year will be different, as Shultz heads to Traverse City as an Olympian.
"It was a great season for me," Schultz said. "My biggest goal was to qualify for the Olympic squad. I was able to qualify and go to London, which was a great experience. Definitely one of the highlights of my career so far. I had a great time and actually put together a pretty good race for myself there."
Schultz finished 15th in London as one of only two Americans to compete in the race.
"That was the craziest thing, seeing how big a deal the Olympics really is," Schultz said. "Obviously since I was little, that had been a dream of mine. But actually getting there, it blew away any expectations I had. It was an amazing experience. The logistics went flawlessly for all the events and Athlete Village was just crazy. It was a like a self-sustaining city. And the mountain bike course, they did a great job putting that together.
"The crowds on race day were unbelievable. And competing in an event at that level, just lining up on the start line was a different feeling than even the biggest races we do. It's once every four years and so much more accessible to the general public. When you say mountain bike world championships, people don't really know what that is. But when you mention the Olympics, it's 'whoa.'"
Schultz isn't the only Olympian in the field Saturday. Georgia Gould, a rider from Fort Collins, Colo., took bronze in London in the women's race. She confirmed on Twitter this week that she's looking forward to racing the Iceman.
For Schultz, the Olympics wasn't the only big accomplishment of the year.
"I also managed to win the national championship, which was my second biggest goal this year," Schultz said. "And my third biggest goal was to win my hometown national series race, and I was able to pull that off as well. So man, it was a great season."
Last year, Schultz finished third at Iceman behind Switzerland's Lukas Fluckiger. He was fourth in 2010 and second to Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski in 2009.
"It's come down to end of the race tactics and moves," Schultz said. "It's been slightly in the wrong place at the wrong time, or not quite doing what I needed to do to pull off the win. So I'm hoping to get everything figured out this year and come through with it."
Horgan-Kobelski is expected to be in the field Saturday, along with his wife Heather Irmiger, who won the women's race a year ago.
Schultz planned on arriving in Traverse City today to get ready for the race. He was sick a few weeks ago, but is hoping it won't affect his race too much.
"It seems like I always get sick this time of year," Schultz said. "But, that's a typical thing and I'm sure a lot of people are dealing with the same thing. I've been feeling pretty good. There's a Wednesday night cyclocross race here, so I've been doing those, hoping to get a little power in the legs in preparation for the Iceman. I'm optimistic."