The Boulevard road race is perhaps our only monument in Southern California. It’s got two modes, “up” and “down.” Those who win it cross a terrible no-person’s-land to do so. Those who finish it do, too. Those who quit plan for next year or focus on crits.
I could tell you all the terrible things that await when you line up at Boulevard. I could tell you about starting at 5,000 feet. I could tell you about the howling descent that goes on forever. I could tell you about the unforgiving climb that pinches off riders in bunches and singly until only the hardiest remain. I could tell you about the green road, or the lonesome desolation of the Mexican border, or the freezing winds when the sun drops, or the icy rain that falls in bad years, or the inhuman pounding that your body takes simply to finish.
But I won’t, because none of those things make Boulevard a monument. They just make it a bike race.
The seed of fear
A monument frightens you, and it frightens you early. It’s not the nervousness that precedes a race, or butterflies while you’re crumping a hairy beet in the port-o-let, or the anxious chatter you expel on the drive up. A monument scares you long before it ever happens. It gets inside your head, and outside it, too. The external world becomes a series of ominous warnings, of suggestively bad outcomes, of predictions that all end in “failure” and “pain.”
Boulevard stands at the head of the line because of its relentless climbing and because it’s the first major road race of the season. Some would say it’s the only major one, although those who say so haven’t raced Devil’s Punchbowl in the snow of Vlees Huis in the 100-degree heat.
With run-ups like Poor College Kids, and follow-ons like UCLA Punchbowl and San Luis Rey, Boulevard is at the head of the class. If you sign up for it, you’re afraid. If you don’t sign up for it, it’s because you’re afraid.
What’s in a bike race?
There’s no such thing as an easy one if you want to cross the line first. Think four-corner crits are easy? Well, perhaps they are if you just want to finish. But any event that requires you to pin on a number will take you to the limit if you want to win it.
As a monument, Boulevard takes you to the limit and then, if you’ve got your eyes on winning, takes you beyond. Boulevard is one of the few races in SoCal you’ll ever do that conveys a measure of respect simply by being able to say, “I finished.” If, like Greg Leibert, you’ve won it multiple times, it conveys more than respect. It conveys greatness.
My record with the beast
2010, DNF. 2011, 27th place. 2012, 39th place. 2013, 15th place. These are not numbers to be proud of, but they’re numbers I’m inordinately proud of, especially 2010, when I was lucky enough to flat on the first lap after being soaked to the skin in freezing rain that pelted us from the beginning of the race. Last year I got what Jack from Illinois (not his real name) would call “Enough of a result to further the delusion that next year it will be better.”
In short, 2014 is my year. The magical combination of experience, beer, homemade bread, butter, and high-rpm training practically dictates that this is the year I stand on the podium. And if I don’t, so what? At least I rode the monument, and with fortitude and luck, maybe I also finished.
I hope you’ll be there, if only so that you can say you’ve ridden a monument.