The earliest editions of the Tour de France featured notoriously bad roads. Indeed, roads can only be used in the most general, rudimentary sense. The high mountain passes that were introduced into the Tour in 1910 and 1911 were crossed using little more than dirt tracks that would later become the iconic paved and maintained climbs that the race follows today. New technology like variable geared bikes and better tires helped those riders cross the mountain terrain. But those bikes, and the roads themselves, are primitive by todays standards. Nevertheless, that crusher spirit of adventure and perseverance still lingers among bike racers. The desire to climb into the remote corners of the mountains still drives them to do the impossible. To ride the unrideable.
Burke Swindlehurst set out to capture that spirit with his creation of the Crusher in the Tushars. A 70-mile race that follows in the tradition of the early Tours de France, the Crusher combined the best elements of road and mountain racing. Like many of the endurance cyclocross races that are becoming so popular throughout the United States, the Crusher course included paved and dirt roads, but with a Tushar twist-10,400 feet of elevation gain in the shadows of the 12,000 foot peaks above Beaver, Utah.
The result? An instant classic.
It was the hardest day Ive ever had on a bike, admitted Joshua McCarrell, not the worst, but definitely the hardest.
The idea for a roadirt race in the Tushar mountains first occurred to me in 1996, when I was training for the Tour of the Gila, explained Swindlehurst. I explored the Tushars on my road bike, including the unpaved climb out of Junction, Utah, that became the King and Queen of the Mountain line in the race. It was a brutal day, but ever since then, Ive wanted to organize a race up there.
One hundred eighty racers lined up for the first running of the Crusher in the Tushars. And none was left wanting. The event organization, course markings, and marshaling, and volunteers were all superior. The countless hours and tireless effort that Burke and his crew put into the race paid off. What an amazing way to spend a weekend, Eric Bright said. The volunteers were awesome, the terrain was amazing, and the event was famously organized. Jake Pantone claimed that it was one of the best events Ive participated in.
Its glowing praise for an event that required racers to pedal not once, but twice, from 6,500 feet to over 10,000 feet. The course snaked through the Tushar Mountains on the well-maintained dirt roads and into the high country of the Fishlake National Forest. The views from the top were amazing. But I knew that we had to ride down to the valley far below, and climb all the way back again, lamented Todd Winner. That was harder mentally than it was physically. Almost.
Preparation for the July 16 event began long before anyone registered. I really havent slept in six months, Swindlehurst said. But, Ive also had a lot of help. The volunteers for this event have put in as many hours as I have, and they deserve a heartfelt thanks from me, and everyone who raced.
Training the legs and lungs was only a small part of the race-day experience for those brave enough to line up in the inaugural race. The important and entertaining question of which bike gripped the field of racers like a plague. Racers debated the potential merits-and drawbacks-of cyclocross bikes, mountain bikes, and traditional road bikes. In the end, the start line was a tapestry of steel, carbon, aluminum, and rubber. Tires of every imaginable width and tread pattern were attached to frames of every imaginable design. Racers used rigid forks, suspension forks, flat bars, drop bars, mustache bars, cantilever brakes, v-brakes, and disc brakes.
On the start line, everyone twitched nervously, wondering if they had made the right choice. No matter what bike youre on, exclaimed race-day emcee Bruce Bilodeau, At some point it will be the wrong one! In the end, the deciding factor in the race was not the bike, but the legs.
The deep pro field included Jeff Louder (BMC), Paul Mach (Bissell Pro Cycling), Tim Johnson (Cannondale-CyclocrossWorld.com), Tyler Wren (Boo Cycles), Zack Vestal (VeloNews), and Tinker Juarez (Cannondale). The womens pro field was headlined by six-time Olympic medalist Clara Hughes (Right to Play). Many local bike racers rounded out the pro and amateur fields, as well as riders from California, Colorado, and even as far away as Georgia. It was clear from the outset that this race would live up to its name.
The attacks began immediately. As the pavement turned to dirt, the grade of the road steepened, and the groups broke apart. Eventually, a small escape of elite riders established themselves off the front. Paul Mach, who finished fifth on the day, was surprised when the attacks went so early. I thought wed wait until the second big climb of the day to go, but the action started early. This was definitely a race.
Earning (unofficial) stripes for the days most aggressive rider was the 38 year-old Boulder, Colorado resident Benjamin Blaugrand (Team Juwi Solar/First Solar). His relentless attacks started early in the day and continued throughout the race. Benjamins efforts rewarded him with a podium finish (third place) and the elusive title of King of the Mountains.
Tyler Wren was able to separate himself from the lead group over the last ten miles of the race to secure a solo victory. He absolutely blazed the course, an impressed Swindlehurst said. I expected times in the upper four-hour range, but Tyler and his chasers were really quick, coming in at about four and a half hours. Bravo to everyone involved for making this one of the most memorable sufferfests of my career. Wren said afterward. To be the inaugural winner of his spectacular event was really something special. Zack Vestal was second, with Benjamin Blaugrand completing the podium in third.
In the womens pro race, Clara Hughes spent much of her day off the front. She rode through most of the mens amateur fields-whom she started behind-and finished with not only the womens win, but also the title of Queen of the Mountains. Her time of 5:21 was the 19th fastest time among all racers. Rachel Cieslewicz and Tana Stone rounded out the podium, finishing second and third respectively.
Behind the elite field, the races within the race were also playing out. Amateur riders were trading places along the mountainous route, racing hard and pedaling furiously through the pine forests and aspen glades. This race was unlike anything Ive ever done before, said Joao Battaglia. It was truly a roadirt race.
When the day finally ended, the energy and excitement were palpable. I had so much fun at this race, Alex Kim said. It had a little of everything. I had friends come out to race that I havent seen in 20 years, said Swindlehurst. I couldnt be more thrilled. The race was exactly what I envisioned-road, mountain bike, and cyclocross racers all on the bike of their choice, at the same event. I cant wait to do it all again next year. Hes not alone in those feelings. I wish it were still yesterday! Bruce Bilodeau said the day after the event. Wren summed up the day well when he said that the aspects of cycling I love the most are climbing, cyclocross and suffering, so I will definitely be back for next year’s Crusher.
In the days since the race ended, Burke has put a new spin on the traditional race-day raffle, giving out prizes via the events Facebook page to people who had unique experiences at the race. Hes handed out awards for the Most Crusher Bike, the Best Sandbagger, the Lanterne Rouge, and even an award to the racer with the best Crustache.
Truly, the Crusher has become a unique and special event. Will it grow into the vaunted spectacle that Le Tour has? Only time will tell. But the crusher spirt is alive and well in the Tushar mountains. Start training now. The 2012 version of the race is only a year away.
For complete results, visit www.tusharcrusher.com.