By Adam Lisonbee — Five hundred cyclists crowded the small Beaver, Utah street. Some of them were riding in lazy circles. Others sprinted up the road a short distance, then turned around toward the group. And others simply waited.
A deep voiced boomed over the loud speakers. “Can you dig it?”
A few people clapped or cheered.
“I can’t hear you! I said, CAN YOU DIG IT!”
Hollers of excitement rippled through the crowd, which by now was gathered into a massive array of age-group arranged color and energy. Road cyclists were lined up next to mountain bikers and cyclocrossers. In attendance were former Grand Tour riders and weekend warriors. Some of the people had intentions of riding fast, while others were content to “only” finish. But fast or slow, there is nothing easy about finishing what has become one of the nation’s most grueling and rewarding bike races: The Crusher in the Tushar.
“Ten, nine, eight…”
Most of the riders at the start line had spent months planning, training, and preparing for the next 70 miles of their lives. They had spent hours climbing dirt roads, doing high-intensity sprint intervals, and skipping dessert. The long days in the saddle, the deprivation, and all the worrying about tire treads and gear ratios was over.
“Seven, six, five…”
There is no other race quite like the Crusher. It attracts a dynamic cross section of road racers, mountain bike riders, international pros, age-group amateurs, and novices, looking to find out if they are really all that serious about this new cycling hobby they’ve picked up.
The course is equally unique. Half pavement, half dirt, it climbs above 10,000 feet and boasts over 10,500 feet of elevation gain. It passes through high alpine meadows, forests, and near pristine mountain lakes. It also contours along the Tushar foothills, through ragged cedar and juniper forests. The crux of the entire race, the crown jewell of the Crusher, is the Col d’ Crush, a heart-breakingly long and steep climb.
The combination of diverse riders, and the one-of-a-kind course make the Crusher one of the most popular races on the cycling calendar. In just its third year, the race sold all of its 500 available spots in 2013. Among those who raced were Levi Leipheimer (Clif Bar), two-time Crusher winner Tyler Wren (Jamis/Hagens Berman), reining USA cyclocross national champion Jonathan Page (Fuji/Spy), Jamey Driscoll (Jamis/Hagens Berman), Alex Grant (Cannondale), Barry Wicks (Kona Bikes), and Jeff Louder (A Little Bit Louder Now).
In the Women’s pro field, defending Crusher winner Gretchen Reeves (Tokyo Joes) was back to defend her title. She would be challenged by Nicole Duke (Alchemy/Spy), Joey Lythgoe (Kuhl-Rocky Mountain), Meghan Sheridan (UtahMountainBiking.com), Anna Jo Dingman (Team Rockford/Clif), and others.
“Four, three, two…”
The first two editions of the Crusher lived up to its name. Riders finished the race completely spent. 2013, with its deep pro field, ideal weather, and the fastest course conditions yet, promised to be the best Crusher yet.
Category after category, and rider after rider rolled across the start line. Whatever expectations or ambitions each rider brought to the race were now about to play out in perfect execution, or be dashed to pieces. The Crusher doesn’t tolerate off days. And it isn’t too keen on mercy. Those who pedaled unprepared into the depths of the Tushar Mountains would pay the price. But, even the prepared would suffer through the next 70 miles.
Immediately, each category’s race started to unfold. Riders attacked early, were caught, and attacked again. Groups formed into pace lines, that eventually splintered in small alliances of two or three riders working together to bridge or lengthen gaps. Off the front, Levi Leiphiemer, Jamey Driscoll, Alex Grant, Jonathan Page, and Tyler Wren yo-yo’d up the winding climb and through the early morning shade. Behind them, pro and amateur alike chased the riders they could see, in hopes of catching those they couldn’t.
From front to back, everyone was learning (or re-learning) how to be a Crusher.
All the climbing, and all the exposed pavement and rolling double-track in the first 50 miles of the race are simply prelude to the main event, the Col d’ Crush. The climb begins with a long, treadmill-like section of pavement before turning to gravel. When the dirt begins, so does the steep grind. The 5.2-mile climb averages 8.3% and gains 2,300 feet. There is no shade. And there is no respite from the brutal indifference of the road. With 50 miles already behind them, the Col d’ Crush becomes an exercise of long suffering for Crusher racers.
Climbing the road, narrow cyclocross tires struggled to find purchase, while wider mountain bike tires felt sluggish and cumbersome. Riders shifted into their lowest gears, and were dismayed when there were no cogs left on their cassettes. No gear is too low. No rider too fit. Everyone suffers on the Col d’ Crush. The only way up, is up. Slowly, churning, and methodical.
The top of the Col d’ Crush isn’t the end of the climbing. Twelve miles of rolling, high-altitude dirt and pavement separate riders from the finish line. For some, the rolling road sparks a second wind, and for others, it’s a bridge too far. But Crushers are resilient, and so they each pedaled across the plateau, and finally to the day’s ultimate climb. The finishing stretch of the Crusher requires racers to dig deep just once more, and to truly earn the title “Crusher”. Crossing the finish line, itself resting at 10,300 feet above sea level is a huge triumph for pro and amateur alike. For many it is the culmination of months of hard work, planning, and training. Minutes later, after the pain has subsided somewhat, Crushers gathered around the finish line were already talking about how to be faster in 2014.
Levi Leipheimer set a new course record en route to winning the race. He was joined on the podium by Tyler Wren and Barry Wicks.
Gretchen Reeves successfully defended her 2012 title with a new women’s course record despite a flat tire, edging out Joey Lythgoe and Meghan Sheridan. “I had to charge it up the second climb,” said Reeves. “She was climbing strong, but I managed to catch her soon after the QOM, and was able to hold it to the finish.”
After the race, Leipheimer summed up his experience,
“It’s good for the soul to do something like this. It just flew by. You go around every corner and there’s something different. It’s about going home with an awesome story. That’s why I ride a bike.”
For complete results, visit tusharcrusher.com.