Todd Wells has not improved his beer-chugging ability much in the last year. But at 40 years old he is still, clearly, one of the best mountain bikers in the country.
Wells pedaled to the finish line at Tetherow Golf Club first Thursday night, then took his time downing a craft beer from Deschutes Brewery to officially claim the victory in the Blitz pro mountain bike race.
His lead was big enough that he could afford to nurse his brew as a driving rain pounded the racers and hundreds of spectators. After finishing the drink, he emphatically spiked his cup onto the ground and grabbed another beer, much to the delight of the wet-and-wild crowd.
Last year Wells, of Durango, Colorado, hit the finish line first but lost the race because Bend’s Adam Craig finished his beer first. (In the Blitz, riders do not officially finish until they drink a beer.)
Wells’ brother Troy Wells, also of Durango, finished second, and Bend’s Carl Decker took third in the seventh annual race.
“I’m not a big chugger, I usually try to savor it,” said Wells, a three-time Olympian. “I knew I couldn’t chug with these guys, so I needed as big a gap as possible. Last year losing that on the chug was disappointing. This course, people really only see the last few minutes. To come in there with the lead and lose it on a beer chug (last year) is a pretty embarrassing thing. So it feels good.”
The 18-mile route started at Wanoga Sno-park, about 11 miles west of Tetherow along Century Drive, and took cyclists down the Funner and C.O.D. singletrack trails and into the Lair jump park near Tetherow.
From there, they raced to the big-air jump near the golf club’s patio and then up the cart path on hole No. 18. Next, riders raced across a “cyclocross” section through some grass and into the rowdy finish. The rain did not start to fall until well into the evening, about five minutes before Wells finished.
Wells got the “hole shot” to take the lead early, but then he was passed by Craig. He managed to surge past Craig later in the race and then increased his lead as Craig faded and Troy Wells and Decker battled for second and third.
The 90-foot wood big-air-jump was set up on scaffolding with a roll-in, a takeoff and a landing, and was surrounded by spectators.
“My one thought was make sure I clear it, and my other thought was make sure I don’t clear it by too much,” the victorious Wells said. “So it wasn’t necessarily the best jump, but I got over it safe and was able to keep it rolling. I was able to ride my own pace and take it a little easier, knowing I had to guzzle that beer at the finish line.”
In the women’s race, Kelli Emmett, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, claimed her third Blitz victory. Bend riders rounded out the podium, as Laura Williams finished second and Brooke Blackwelder took third.
“I was in fourth position and then we opened out into a road section and I attacked to get ahead,” said Emmett, 39. “I just went for it and was able to get a little gap.”
Emmett said she took the big-air jump fairly conservatively, then powered through the grassy cyclocross section.
“It’s brutal,” she said of the cyclocross stretch. “It’s like pedaling on a sponge. You feel like it’s wrapping around your tire. It’s like a bad dream where you’re pedaling as hard as you can and you’re not going anywhere.”
Still, she finished with a sizable lead and downed her beer quite impressively with barely a pause between gulps.
“I had a lot of practice when I was younger,” Emmett said with a boisterous laugh. “I did a lot of keg stands in college.”
Emmett added that she is planning to retire from professional bike racing after this year.
“That’s why I came out,” she said. “I can’t miss this my last year. It’s such a fun event.”
Williams said she has raced the Blitz “pretty much every year” and her second-place finish was her highest so far.
“It was just so much fun,” Williams said. “I love it. It’s just a good way to get women together and ride.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0318,