Smelser falls short in repeat bid
A Kansas native again had what it took to win the USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships Division I men's criterium race Sunday on the streets of downtown Lawrence.
This time, however, it wasn't Mark Smelser.
The McLouth native, who rides for Kansas State, couldn't make it two straight criterium titles, but did find a spot in the breakaway pack and finished 10th in this year's event.
While he wasn't successful in his attempt to defend the title, Smelser said the top-10 finish was affirmation of his national-championship victory a year ago.
"It is kind of a confirmation that I was up there in the lead group so it makes me feel a little bit better about last year's win," Smelser said. "Obviously, I feel like I am at that level where it wasn't just a freak accident last year. ... In the shadow of last year, it's not what I was hoping for, but still it's a really good day."
Smelser was part of the breakaway that was able to open up a large margin over the rest of the field, with the peloton finishing nearly a minute behind.
"Today, we had a group of really strong guys, and it was anybody's finish," Smelser said. "I was amazed that we didn't get caught. We were all just completely committed to that breakaway, and you get that many guys that want to stay out in the front. In the field it can kind of be chaotic because people don't want to work too hard."
Phil Mann, a 2002 graduate of Shawnee Mission East High who is now a graduate student at Colorado State, won the event.
The criterium concluded a busy three-day weekend for Smelser. He opened the championships by competing with his Kansas State teammates in the team time trials Friday on the South Lawrence Trafficway.
"We haven't done a whole lot of time trials, so we just came out here and did our best," Smelser said. "That's about all we could do. I think we left it all on the course, so we did a good job today."
On Saturday, Smelser was one of the fortunate riders who didn't let the double whammy of warm temperatures and gravel disrupt his circuits around Perry Lake in the road race. While the rocky rout forced numerous riders out of the competition, Smelser finished the 84-mile course in 24th place, just a few seconds behind the lead pack of cyclists.