Mountain biking on a golf course? Huge cash payouts for not only an extended podium, but for the longest wheelie? Sprint finishes decided by the tipping of a plastic cup? Arm-wrestling in the bonus round? Only in Bend, and only at Blitz the Barrel — a super-exclusive, and rightfully unique professional enduro style race that requires not only crowd-pleasing bike handling chops, but serious beer-quaffing chops to win. And as we all know (perhaps a little too well), mountain biking and a few cold brewskis go together like, well, mountain biking and brewskis.
We arrived at the 10 Barrel Brewing Company several hours before the riders would be shuttled to the start of the race, high above Bend. Unsure of what to expect, we could only assume that what was about to unfold would be as irreverent as it were highly competitive, and overall a spectacle to be eagerly anticipated.
There were essentially two viewing points on the course — the first, at Tetherow Golf course, which came shortly after the crux of the race’s downhill portions were to be completed. Here, riders were presented with several shorter, albeit difficult lines — each with a slightly meandering bail-out path. Would they take the big boost, or play it safe and risk losing time? This unique risk/reward aspect, coupled with the size of the ledge drop would make for plenty of crowd-pleasing opportunities, and the occasional disappointment as not every rider chose to throw caution to the winds on the golf course.
After clearing the obstacles on Tetherow (and ripping a wheelie or two across the main fairway), it was a road race through the outskirts of Bend to finish at the 10 Barrel Brewery. There, racers would quickly thread through the massive awaiting crowd and belly up to the Pallet Bar for the “sprint finish” — the downing of a pint of 10 Barrel’s signature “Swill” in order to complete their ride.
As expected, the spectacle at the Pallet Bar even further blurred the lines between professional mountain biking and professional beer drinking. Aren’t they one and the same anyway? From polite sipping and thirsty guzzling, to outright pint-pounding — the latter of which would have made John Belushi proud — the drink-offs ran the full gamut of imbibing technique, and even helped decide a few podium places by sudsy-thin margins.
The day’s fastest time was decided when Canadian pro Geoff Kabush slammed an empty cup to the bar, adding a mustache to his impressive sideburns and a trifecta of wins (Blitz enduro racing, beer drinking, and arm-wrestling shortly thereafter) to his already lengthy international palmarès.
It’s not hard to throw a fun and casual, spectator-friendly event (hint: add beer), but to do so with a super-exclusive field of world-class talent is not only slightly risky, it’s also very bold — two things that truly encapsulate the very renegade spirit of mountain biking, and a big part of what makes Blitz the Barrel such a compelling facet in the Northwest’s cycling landscape. It wasn’t until after winners were crowned for the holeshots, arm-wrestling, most air, longest wheelie, and several other ridiculous categories, it was time for the main podiums to pop the ceremonial champagne — quite possibly the only traditional part of the entire event.
Not bad for a Tuesday night.
Many thanks to everyone who suggested we check out Blitz the Barrel — remember you can always follow the conversation and chime in to tell us which events we should check out by using the tag “#sendthesprinter” on Twitter or Instagram. We’ll see you out there. [zp]
See more from the ‘Blitz photo essay here on the Kitsbow Flickr channel.
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