Beaver, Utah (July 13, 2019) — More than 600 riders, including a number of current and former U.S. professional national champions, descended on Utah’s Tushar Mountains for the ninth annual Crusher in the Tushar gravel race. 69 miles and 10,500 feet of climbing later, after one of the fastest races to date it was professional mountain bikers Alex Grant (Gear Rush) and Evelyn Dong (Pivot-Stan’s No Tubes) who crossed the finish line first ahead of their respective Pro/Open fields that were particularly stacked this year with notable road cycling talent.
[Editor’s Note: Tim LeRoy at the Lyman Agency contributed to this report.]
Those fields included recently crowned U.S. national road champions Alex Howes (Education First Pro Cycling), Travis McCabe (Floyd’s Pro Cycling) and Lance Haidet (Aevolo Cycling) and perennial favorites Alex Grant (Gear Rush) and Jamey Driscoll (DNA Cycling-Mavic), along with 2018 winner Zach Calton (Summit Bike Club) and three-time winner Rob Squire (Hangar 15). The women’s field was also stacked with talent including Team Tibco’s Laurens Stephens and reigning “Queen of Kanza”, Amity Rockwell, along with Hanna Muegge and Amy Charity, both of whom race for the Utah-based DNA Pro Cycling Team.
Pro-Open Men’s Race
LeRoy Popowski (Juwi Solar) went for the early flyer as has been his style every year that he has done the race, along with Noah Granigan (Floyd’s Pro Cycling) and Mat Stephens (Panaracer), opening a good gap on the rest of men’s field by the time they reach the top of the first climb at Betenson Flat.
The main contenders stayed together for the first climb, but the group started to splinter on the descent of the Col d’Crush, reeling in Popowski and Stephens in the process. By the time the riders reached the pavement at the bottom of the Col d’Crush descent into Junction, there were several groups on the road.
Once the leaders hit Circleville, the various lead groups had merged back into one large group heading onto Doc Springs Road, also known as “the Sarlacc Pit”. Through the Pit, riders dropped out of the group one by one, until there were only six riders still together making the turn back onto the Col d’Crush for the climb: Alex Grant, Alex Howes, Eddie Anderson (Axeon-Hagens Berman), Zach Calton (Summit Bike Club), T.J. Eisenhart (Araphoe-Hincapie), and Lance Haidet (Aevolo).
Once again, the men’s race came down to the aptly dubbed “Col d’Crush”. Just after the climb started, Haidet and Eisenhart were dropped. Shortly thereafter, Driscoll was also gapped off the lead group but managed to keep them in sight. Grant launched the decisive attack about halfway up the 2500 ft. climb, dropping fellow leaders Howes and Anderson.
39 year-old Grant, a stalwart of the US professional mountain bike scene, sealed the deal on the Col’s steep upper switchbacks, opening up a lead of more than a minute and a half at the KOM/QOM line. Still 13 miles and several climbs from the finish line Grant continued to twist the knife, coming across with a finishing time of 4:15:08, after initially going up the wrong side of the finish chute fencing, and having to backtrack to officially cross the line, some three minutes before Eddie Anderson (in 4:18:08) and with Howes a further minute adrift in 4:19:19.
Rounding out the 5 rider podium was James Driscoll in fourth, and Zach Calton in fifth.
“Two years I’ve done [the Crusher] I’ve had flats, two years I’ve had catastrophic bonks, and last year I had a pretty good year,” said Grant. “This is my sixth time racing, and I finally got the win. Honestly, this was like a dream, like ‘maybe I’ll win the Crusher someday, maybe not.’ I’m so pumped to win it, it was a super-fast day out there, tons of strong riders.”
“That was a war of attrition all day. Lived up to expectations would be an understatement, I think it exceeded them for sure. It was really hard, doing 10,000 feet of climbing in really only two climbs is no joke, said Anderson. “On the last climb of the Col d’Crush, Alex (Grant) & Alex (Howes) sort of rode away from me and I knew I couldn’t hold that tempo so I just rode my own pace, and eventually bridged back up to Alex (Howes), and just kept throttling it to the finish.”
“Oh man, it was tough,” said freshly-crowned U.S. road champion Howes. “I was down at sea level before this, so coming back [to altitude], at the bottom of the Col d’Crush, I was feeling like a real champion, and then we hit a certain altitude and I just detonated. I’m actually pretty surprised I held on for third. It’s a funny thing at altitude, it’s like a bad dream. You just watch people ride away, and there’s just nothing you can do. Hats off to Eddie and Alex, both of them rode great.”
Pro-Open Women’s Race
The women’s race took shape when Lauren Stephens, who set a blistering early pace, latched on to the Pro Men’s group as they passed the women’s field, and stayed away for most of the day.
Feeling the efforts of her early work, Stephens started fading back just after cresting the race’s notorious KOM/QOM. Stephens was eventually caught by Evelyn Dong after the final feed zone with 10 miles to go, From there, Dong cruised to the win, opening up an eight minute gap over the course’s final miles, to finish in 5:02:14. Stephens had done enough to secure second in 5:10:18, with Sarah Max (Argonaut-ENVE) following in third, three minutes later in 5:13:27.
Rounding out the women’s podium was Amy Charity (DNA Pro Cycling Team) in fourth and Aimee Vasse (Blue Factory Team) in fifth.
“I definitely didn’t expect to win coming into this, having never ridden this course before,” said Dong. “It’s my first time. A lot of my training is like this, high altitude riding, this is what I love to do. In that sense, this pretty much feels like home.”
“It’s an absolute honor and thrill to have some of the country’s top pro riders add the Crusher to their schedules,” said race founder and director Burke Swindlehurst after the race. “But what really fills me with pride and gets me emotional is seeing the weekend warriors–some of whom walked many of the climbs–come across the line hours after the pros have finished. I have crazy respect for anyone who crosses that finish line, and it’s seeing those folks achieve their goals that is the most rewarding part of this job.”
|EF Education First
|Araphahoe-Hincapie Racing Team
|Floyd’s Pro Cycling
|Team TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank
|DNA Pro Cycling Team
|Blue Factory Team
|Nero Veloce p/b Michael Thomas Coffee
|DNA Pro Cycling Team
|Panaracer-Factor p/b Bicycle X-Change
See https://results.rmraces.live/Race-Day-Timing/events/2019/2019-Crusher-in-the-Tushar/results for complete results.