McLouth native Mark Smelser set quite a precedent for himself a year ago at the USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships by winning the National Championship in the criterium - a road race through downtown Lawrence.
"When it happened last year it was just kind of unbelievable," Smelser said. "I was aiming for a top-10 spot for the crit, and just coming down that last half-lap by myself, in the lead, was kind of surreal. After the race I was riding around with my teammates, and it just took awhile for it to sink in. ... I've been trying to train and get prepared and everything for it, and it's just so cool that it'll be the same course and it'll be so close to home and I'm going to have more friends and family cheering me on - so there will be a little bit more purple on Mass. Street."
This year, Smelser, a senior at Kansas State, will attempt to defend his title and compete for the men's individual omnium, or overall, title after finishing just two points behind the University of Virginia's Mark Hardman last year.
"I'll definitely be more attentive and more aggressive this year because, in the road race last year originally, I was trying to finish with the field and get a decent place there, then do well in the criterium," Smelser said. "So the omnium wasn't even on my mind until after the crit was over. But this year I'll definitely be watching what attacks happen and stuff like that and try to be ready to put myself in position to win the race again."
He won the omnium at the North Central Collegiate Cycling Conference championships in Manhattan by winning both the road race and the criterium and should be one of the favorites heading in.
Smelser also will have a little extra weight on him because his national championship in the crit came on Mothers Day in front of both his of parents.
"It's definitely another side of how big of a weekend it is for me, on top of defending the championship also," Smelser said. "They are all excited. My dad's been calling me and e-mailing me, trying to make sure I have everything ready and don't forget anything."
Today's event is team's time trials. The spotlight will shift to individual performance with the road race Saturday at Perry Lake. The criterium will be Sunday.
"Mark is a friend, and if Mark won this year again I'd be thrilled for Mark," said David McLeod, Kansas University women's cycling coach and member of the men's team. "But obviously I'd like to see it come to KU instead of being at K-State,"
Smelser's response: "I think there will be some cooperation by riders within the conference and between KU and K-State. But if it comes down to a sprint, I'm not going to let someone from KU win if I can help it."