Minnesota cyclist Colton Barrett ready to make repeat title run next weekend

His teammates think it’s funny. Luckily, Colton Barrett can laugh about it, too.

Barrett is an up-and-coming 20-year-old road-and-track cyclist from North St. Paul, a product of Minnesota Junior Cycling who joined the highly regarded Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth team this season. A 2009 junior national sprint champion, Barrett will return to the Twin Cities to defend his endurance omnium title at the Minnesota Fixed Gear Classic June 10-12 in Blaine, the first event of the annual Nature Valley Bicycle Festival.

That victory, at the National Sports Center Velodrome, marked Barrett’s first major title as a senior rider. Repeating that feat will be a challenge. This year’s field is expected to include Franco Marvulli, a four-time world track champion from Switzerland, and 12-time U.S. track champion Michael Blatchford.

Those names might not be familiar to folks outside the cycling world, but they should mean something to an impressive kid like Barrett. Right?

Not exactly. Mentioning them to Barrett drew zero response. That’s when Barrett sheepishly admitted he doesn’t follow pro cycling, and couldn’t identify more than a handful of the sport’s elite.

Colton Barrett
Colton Barrett

He’s not big on cycling history, either. Until somebody clued him in, Barrett said he had no idea that Jonas Carney, Kelly’s performance director, had won 17 national road titles and raced at the 2004 Olympics.

“My teammates are like, dude, you’ve got to pick up a cycling magazine and get to know the names,” Barrett said in a telephone interview from Baltimore before a recent race. “Lance Armstrong, who really doesn’t know that name? Mike Cavendish, my mom read his book and said she thinks he’s a lot like me. That’s about all I really know.”

Paul Schoening, who coached Barrett with Minnesota Junior Cycling, chuckled when he heard that story.

“It’s interesting,” said Schoening, a former competitive cyclist. “It serves him well this season. He’s kind of a happy-go-lucky kid. Colton doesn’t really know — and doesn’t really care — who his competition is. That’s got to change over time.”

Barrett came to the sport late, which might explain his lack of institutional knowledge.

Originally a speedskater, Barrett took up competitive cycling at age 15. Speedskaters often dabble in cycling to keep their powerful legs in trim between skating seasons; three-time U.S. Olympic speedskating medalist Christine Witty excelled enough at cycling to make the 2000 Olympic team. Barrett and his younger sister, Dano, both cycled as well as speedskated.

“I didn’t feel it helped my skating as much as skating helped my cycling,” said Barrett, who tried to qualify for the 2010 Olympics in speedskating but did not make it. Winning the age 17-18 junior national sprint title helped persuade Barrett to concentrate on cycling. He based his choice of college, Marian University in Indianapolis, on its national success in collegiate cycling.

Nature Valley Bicycle Festival

It’s difficult for a young rider to hook on with a pro team like Kelly, but connections helped Barrett. Though Carney lives in Colorado and his cyclists come from all over, the team’s management company, Circuit Global Sports Management, is based in Minneapolis. Schoening works for OptumHealth, a co-title sponsor, and has known CGSM founder Charles Aaron for years. Schoening lobbied Aaron and Carney to consider Barrett.

“They had an open roster spot, and I called Jonas and said, ‘You’ve got to take a hard look at this kid,’ ” Schoening said.

“He’s very coachable, a great kid, with a great attitude. He’s obviously got the natural talent, and they can take him to the next level. Jonas is going to be a great teacher for him, and I think they’re going to be a great match.”

Barrett has been exclusively road racing for Marion and Kelly, but isn’t sweating the return to a banked-turn track. “Luckily, I have the ability to adjust pretty quick from the road to a 45-degree wall,” he said. “Not many people can do that.”

Oh, and he’s making one other adjustment. Now, at races, he’s asking about the big names that everybody knows but him.

“I say to my teammates, ‘Who should I watch? Point them out and I’ll find them,’ ” he said. “Then I’ll watch them like a hawk.”

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For more information
To learn more about the Nature Valley Bicycle Festival, including the Fixed Gear Classic and the five-day Grand Prix through Minnesota and Wisconsin, click here.

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