With the largest pro invitational award in the country—$20,000, enough for a down payment on a modest house—the annual (five years and counting) Blitz to the Barrel is becoming, if not one of the most important mountain bike races in the North America, then certainly the most eclectic and fun. The "barrel" in question is 10 Barrel brewery, and the course to reach there includes standard climbing, gravity defying jumps, a bit of quick-spinning street racing and a not-so-standard arm wrestle.
Arm wrestling? Yes.
"How else should you end a bike race?" plainly and rhetorically asks Erik Eastland, one of the race organizers. "It started back at the first race when we needed to end an argument or a discrepancy over a race issue, and it just grew."
The race is a kaleidoscope of bike styles; really, a greatest hits of cyclo-cross, mountain biking and beer drinking.
"Adam Craig (one of the other race founders) and I were agreeing on how boring races are in general," continues Eastland, "and with all the people that are there racing, we thought we should have a party, so we did."
In total, 41 riders will compete; 22 men, 19 women. With multiple UCI World Cups and a 2001 ESPY "Action Sport Athlete of the Year" title, Brian Lopes, 42, is a marquee name for the race. But about half of the group are hometown riders like Tyler Miller and Kirt Voreis, and members of the Thump (Coffee) team. In the women's pack, the competition largely squares off as an Oregon versus Colorado showdown, with a few additional standouts, like former Czech Olympic Nordic skier Katrina Nash, a current Truckee, Calif., resident who traded in her skis for cyclo-cross, and recent medal podium finishes at UCI Cyclo-Cross World Cup events.
Because the ride covers such diverse terrain and challenges, it truly is difficult to know which discipline—road or mountain, technical or turbo—gives a distinct edge. But it is pretty easy to know that, for racers and spectators alike, Blitz to the Barrel is probably the funnest bike race of the summer season.
Blitz to the Barrel
5:30 women's start, 6 pm men's start
Start: Wanoga Sno-Park, Hwy. 46
Finish: 10 Barrel Brew Pub,
1135 NW Galveston