By MIKE ECKERT
TRAVERSE CITY — Sam Schultz closed out the 2012 mountain bike season with a bang.
The Missoula, Mont., native captured his first title at the Iceman Cometh on Saturday at Timber Ridge, after finishing in the top five the last few years.
"It's awesome," Schultz said of the win. "I'm looking forward to hoisting that trophy and then taking it downtown tonight and filling it with a couple of drinks."
Winning the 30-mile Iceman from Kalkaska to Timber Ridge Resort caps what has been a banner year for the 26-year-old. He captured the national championship earlier in the year and represented the United States in the London Olympics, where he finished 15th.
"This is the last race of the season, for sure," Schultz said. "This is a good way to go out. It's been great. Everything sort of clicked at the right time. It definitely hasn't been without difficulties, but things came together right when it was important to. I got pretty lucky this season."
In Saturday's race, Schultz won in 1 hour, 37 minutes, 43 seconds, which was just a second better than another Olympian — Canada's Geoff Kabush. Three-time Iceman champ Brian Matter finished third, just a second behind Kabush as all three poured it on to the end in front of a loud crowd at the finish line.
"I'll take it," Schultz said. "It definitely wasn't easy out there. I got lucky in the end. I had just enough to squeak it out in the end."
A group of 11 riders were in the front of the pack for much of the race.
"Normally, it's five or six guys," Matter said of the lead group. "That makes it a little more nervous racing. Especially towards the end when it was getting a little more slippery. I was confident in my tires, but I was definitely watching other guys slip and slide a little bit. You're worried about yourself and worried about somebody else crashing into you."
"There was a big group in the final selection," Kabush said. "It's a really tough race to break up because the speed's so high. I tried everything I could, especially the last 15K. I applied a lot of pressure along with Brian Matter and Schultz was there too."
In the closing stretch, Schultz took Kabush in a corner and held on for the win.
"(Kabush) is a super tactical guy and he takes calculated risks, so he was running some really light tires," Schultz said. "At the start I could tell he wasn't taking the corners super fast, so I knew I might be able to corner a little bit faster. I was able to carry a little more speed out of a corner and passed him in a straightaway."
Schultz said his experience at the event helped against Kabush, who was competing for the first time in Traverse City.
"It definitely did a little bit," Schultz said. "Early on he was pushing the pace a little bit, but I knew it was going to stay together no matter what. There was no sense in wasting any matches early on. So it definitely had to help having done this before."
Despite the second-place finish, Kabush enjoyed his first Iceman.
"Fantastic event," he said. "This is my first time here. It's neat to see the enthusiasm in Traverse City. It's a nice way to finish out the mountain bike season."
While riders were mud-covered at the finish from the melting morning snow, they seemed happy with the course.
"It seemed like there was a little more single-track than years past, which was good," Matter said. "It gave it a little more of a mountain bike aspect to it. The conditions themselves were in perfect shape. It was fast, it was hard packed and really good grip in the corners. It was just a little slippery towards the end, but overall it was really good conditions."