Even on the best of days, there are few road races more appropriately titled than Devil’s Punchbowl. For decades this high desert event situated among the foothills on the north side of the San Gabriel Mountains has been a true demon. This traditional 16-mile circuit with 1500 feet of climbing per lap is always a road to perdition.
This year it turned into pure h-e-doublehockeysticks with the curse of an infernal SoCal heatwave. The last classes of the merciless day were damned to temperatures reaching triple digits and humidity at about the -5 percent mark.
Of course this wasn’t the only bicycle race in the region to be affected. These incandescent conditions took a toll on the almighty Tour of California just a couple of hours south as well. But the Devil’s Punchbowl is the People’s Race. A local legend. It’s an equal-opportunity leap into the abyss.
images by Phil Beckman/PB Creative
This year it was like hopping into a convection oven lined with cactus and sagebrush. It didn’t take long — generally one trip up “the staircase” — to smear the field into a long line of tongue-draggers. After a lap or two it seemed that riders were seeing mirages, crawling along and rasping for water just like in the cowboy movies that used to be filmed around these parts. The only shade available on the entire course was under a few spectators’ awnings, usually stocked with coolers full of icy redemption. Many could not resist the temptation.
But as always a few well-hydrated ectomorphs made a race of it.
In the Men’s Pro-1-2 division, Dion Smith (Full Circle Cycling powered by Pure Gear) powered away from a small group late in his five-lap, 80-mile pilgrimage to win by over a minute. French teammate Aurelien Passeron made it a Full Circle sweep with second place ahead of Eder Frayre Moctezuma (Cali Mex) of Mexico.
The three-lap Women’s 1-2-3 sufferfest was also taken out in a solo move, this one coming from Kristabel Doebel-Hickok (SPY Giant Ride). She too had a teammate backing her up as Tracy Tilton crossed the line in second. Julie Cuts of Michelob Ultra – La Grange +21 grabbed bronze.
This race was presented by Santa Clarita Velo and sponsored by Road Bike Action, Mechanix Wear, Performance Cyclery, Specialized, Primal, City of Santa Clarita, Cannondale, Ferraz, Friends of the Santa Clara River, Vita Nova Mosaics, Rydell Chevrolet, Jersey Mike’s and TomsRecovery.com.
Words and images by Phil Beckman/PB Creative