California’s George Smith (Menlo Velo Cyclocross) has come close to winning a cyclocross national championship before. He has finished second not just once, but three times.
On Wednesday in the Masters 65-69 race at Lakewood Nationals, he had another shot to get that Nationals monkey off his back. The only problem? Opposing him move for move off the front was U.S. cyclocross legend Paul Curley (Spin Arts / American Lung Association). No problem, right?
Curley started fast, pushing the pace on the run-ups and forcing the rest of the field to chase him down. As the first lap closed, Smith was the one man capable of answering Curley’s call. The two held an advantage of 7 seconds after 1 lap and would duel for the next 3 trips around the Fort Steilacoom Park circuit.
For the rest of the race, a pattern repeated itself. Curley opened up gaps on the run-ups and descents, while Smith used his power to close those gaps on the flats. Still, as the final lap progressed, Curley was unable to shake Smith and the two approached the final corner, gearing up for a sprint.
Smith again called on his power and charged down the long paved straight wheel-to-wheel with Curley. An extra final kick gave him the ultimate win and his long-awaited Stars-and-Stripes jersey.
“I knew to win, I’d have to battle Paul pretty hard because he’s always strong,” Smith said. “Just to let you know, I’ve been second like three times in the past. So I’ve never won, and I was thinking another second, but it’s nice to get to the top.”