You’re busy that Saturday

February 12, 2014 § 30 Comments

Trust me, you have something better to do. Training. Facebook. Prayer group. Leisurely review of all the glam photos from the local 4-corner crit.

What you don’t want to do is sign up for this race, because it will strip you of your ego and reduce you to an off-the-back has-been on the very first lap. Who wants to pay $35, drive out to the Meth Capital of LA County, and be instantaneously downgraded to Category W … for “wanker”?

This weekend’s menu offers up a foul smelling, bad tasting bicycle race called Punchbowl, and pretty boys and pretty girls need not apply, because this punch bowl will be filled with chunks of diarrhea, razor blades, and arsenic, and you’ll have your face shoved in all the way to the bottom. If all it took were a fancy kit, a lead-out train, and some bar-banging intimidation to get you to the finish you’d be in the mix. But it doesn’t, and you wouldn’t. “Why is that?” you ask.

Because, silly rabbit, to win this puppy you have to actually race your bike.

For many years now there has been the most false of dichotomies in SoCal bike racing. Someone came up with the idea that there were “crit racers” and “road racers.” But that’s wrong. The discipline is called “road racing,” and crits are one of the types of races that road racers do, along with time trials and, yes, road races. There’s no discipline on your license for “crit racing.” If you really are a road racer, you do it all, not just the crits and the namby-pamby road races where there’s zero danger of getting shelled. Road racing, when done properly and against people of your own caliber, guarantees that you will lose far more often than you win … if you ever win. But road racers don’t cherry pick. They show up when it’s “their” course, and they show up when it isn’t.

The “crit racer” v. “road racer” thing is there for one reason and one reason only:  To save your ego from being savaged.

This weekend’s course is brutal beyond belief. Unlike Boulevard (another race on the calendar that finds so many “road racers” busy doing besides doing a road race), UCLA Punchbowl throws a rabbit punch to the medulla from the first hundred yards of the race. You can’t muscle your way up because people fear you, you can’t get dragged over the climb by your minions who sacrifice for you, and you sure as hell can’t brag your way up the bitter pill of that first relentless stair step hill.

The only way you can stay in contention at Punchbowl is to have the right mixture of grit, lungs, and legs, which is why the masters field on Saturday will be lacking so many of the industrial park heroes and weekend pack fill. It’s easy to race when you have a chance of winning. It’s a bit harder to look yourself in the mirror when you’re guaranteed to be spit out the back, puked on, and forced to struggle through fifty nasty miles of hills, headwind, and anonymity. You really think Jesus loves you? Not at UCLA Punchbowl. He thinks you’re a fuggin chump.

Categories of fear

Everyone who races conquers fear. The fear categories are:

  1. Fear of crashing.
  2. Fear of sucking.

It’s the fear of crashing that keeps most people off the starting line of most crits. Riders who win crits overcome this fear and then take it to a completely new level by putting themselves in the deadliest and hairiest few seconds of what is already sketchy as hell, a/k/a the Sprint Finish.

But it’s the fear of sucking that keeps riders away from Punchbowl. It’s easy to tell yourself you’re good when you finish mid-pack in a crit. “I didn’t want to risk going down in the sprint. Not worth it.” Of course the reality is that even if you’d clawed your way to the very front you’d still have been smoked by the high speed specialists, but you don’t ever have to admit that to yourself, and you certainly don’t have to admit it to your wife/girlfriend/co-workers.

Tough road races are different in this regard. They will present you with irrefutable proof that you suck. You will give it everything you have, train as hard as you want, buy the fanciest equipment, wear the prettiest clothing, and you will get annihilated at the very beginning of the race by some scroungy dude who doesn’t have a job and who lives in a cardboard box. Not only will you get annihilated, but it will be painful annihilation. That’s because UCLA Punchbowl selects three types of people: Contenders, dreamers, and fools. The ones who win are a combination of all three. The ones who stay home? They’re the ones who can’t stand to see their carefully cultivated images smeared into an unrecognizable paste of collapse, inferiority, and abject defeat.

I’ve finished the Punchbowl race course in its UCLA or its longer course version only three times out of eight tries. Once I quit on the third lap during a snowstorm. Other times I got dropped immediately and gave up after a couple of hours of flogging. The closest I ever came to burning my bike was at Punchbowl, where I got caught, then dropped, by Brad House. Yeah. That Brad House.

Two years ago I didn’t get shelled until the very end. In every case I’ve gone home completely wrecked, exhausted, legs drained, mental state destroyed. Contrast that with most crits, where, a few seconds after it’s over, you’re ready to either do another one or go on a bike ride.

UCLA Punchbowl demands road racers, not scaredy cats who poop in their shorts when the road tilts up. Mike Easter. Jeff Konsmo. Chris DeMarchi. Mauricio Prado. Phil Tinstman. Roger and David Fucking Worthington. These are the hard men, bad ass, real deal road racers who cross the line first on this course. And guess what? Most of them race and win crits as well.

So tell me again about how you’re a road racer. I’ll check your results at Punchbowl.

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