Cyclist Dan Stimpson was so close to victory, he could smell it.
Having rounded the final corner of last weekend's Fort Meade Cherry Bomb Criterium, the 25-year-old Annapolis resident was just strokes away from catching the eventual winner -- who was on the far left side of the road just 10 feet ahead of him.
With the finish line in view and a small pack of riders separating Stimpson -- on the right -- from the leader, the former captain of the Naval Academy's cycling team began increasing the velocity of his pedal strokes in an all-out, 40-mph final sprint.
"I had just made the final turn and was maintaining my position. At that point, I thought I could win," said Stimpson, who graduated from the Naval Academy this past spring with a degree in oceanography.
Just then, fate threw a wrench into the spokes of Stimpson's vehicle. An unidentified racer blind-sided Stimpson and sent him sprawling out of contention.
"He just swung out of the main crowd, our shoulders made contact and I just lost control," said Stimpson, a native of San Diego, Calif., where he was a high school soccer player and triathlete. "I never even saw it coming, but luckily I landed on the grass instead of the road. That's what saved me, I think."
Stimpson, a powerfully built, 6-foot, 170-pounder, escaped with minor cuts and bruises but decided not to re-enter the race.
After leading the Midshipmen to a runner-up finish in their collegiate conference and to 13th overall in the NCAA, Stimpson has enough potential to embark on a professional cycling career.
"But for me to go professional, I'd have to quit work in order to get better. I'd have to devote an inordinate amount of time to [training]," said Stimpson, who tried both cross country and rowing as a Navy Plebe before joining the school's cycling team in his third semester.
"But in the future, I won't have that much time for serious racing."
For Stimpson, who says most cyclists don't reach their peak until "around 30 years old," the criterium is one of the last few races the former honor student will be able to compete in before September, when he'll begin serving active duty in Quantico, Va.
"I've been pretty serious about competing up until now," said Stimpson. "I've been riding just about every weekend during the spring and fall."
He currently is in training for a July 18-19 run in Richmond, Va., followed by an Aug. 12 race, which is sponsored by the Military Cycling Association.
After that, however, Stimpson says cycling will have to become "a recreational hobby."
"It's a great sport to be a part of," Stimpson said. "I'll miss it."