By Jared Eborn
Known as a guy who liked to dish out a little punishment as a cyclist, Burke Swindlehurst wasn’t about to let a little thing like retirement stop him from doing it again.
This time, though, Swindlehurst will be serving up the hurt from the somewhat comfortable role of race director as more than 300 brave – or is it foolhardy – cyclists line up to race the Crusher in the Tushar on July 16.
Described by Swindlehurst as “America’s most unique and challenging bike race,” The Crusher in the Tushar is a 79-mile test of endurance that will rival anything American cyclists have seen. With more than 12,000 feet of climbing and a mixture of asphalt and dirt road, the Crusher will almost certainly live up to its name.
“Of all my travel to far-flung places, I always enjoyed most getting back to ride my bike on the many roads, both paved and dirt in and around Beaver, my ancestral hometown,” Swindlehurst said of the race he’s drawn up in his backyard stomping grounds. “The concept of the “Crusher” has lived in my head now for more than 10 years and I have long dreamed of the day when an event would incorporate the incredible terrain and breathtaking scenery afforded in the surrounding Tushar mountains.”
The Tushar Mountains are one of Utah’s highest, though not best known, ranges. For those who join the 325-member field, however, the Tushars will certainly make a memory.
The Crusher is one of a growing number of ultra-endurance events in the state. The Rockwell Relay, Salt to Saint and Saints to Sinners relays are following the popular Ragnar Relay running format in some ways with teams riding non-stop over a couple of days and covering a few hundred miles. The Hoodoo 500, if you want it to be, might be Utah’s most-demanding individual cycling test with more than 500 miles and 30,000 feet of climbing across Southern Utah awaiting those who enter the solo class.
Swindlehurst’s Crusher in the Tushar, though, will blend the disciplines of road and mountain bike racing and make the choice of a bike second only to fitness in importance for the race. Tire choice will also give participants plenty to think about as they debate which set of rubber to put on their hoops.
Cyclists are free to choose any bike they want to ride in the Crusher – but once they start riding, they are not allowed to change bikes.
So while a racer might have an advantage on the dirt roads by using a mountain bike, a road cyclist might be able to build a huge lead over the first 17 miles of action because the road is paved and steep. Not having to haul the extra pounds of a mountain bike up the hill could prove to be the difference.
Then again, after hitting the dirt, a road bike will likely be sidelined numerous times with flat tires – allowing the mountain bikers to catch up and wave merrily at the poor unfortunate roadies searching desperately for a spare tube or CO2 canister.
Swindlehurst had just this conundrum in mind when dreaming up the event and has even included an entire section on the race’s website devoted to bike choice. Many participants have indicated they’ll likely chose a cyclocross bike – sacrificing a little speed on the asphalt for a little durability on the dirt.
“I recently had a friend liken the decision of which bike to choose for this course to that of a ski racer choosing his wax,” Swindlehurst said. “You’re probably not going to know for certain until the event is done. It’s all just part of the appeal, right?”
With a top elevation of more than 11,500 feet, Swindlehurst said it’s quite possible racers will – in true cyclocross fashion – have to cross some barriers to follow the course. But instead of jumping a hay bale or hurdle, there could easily be a snow bank or two in the way.
The Crusher in the Tushar, thanks to Swindlehurst’s reputation, has received its share of star appeal. Cyclists no-less-famous than Levi Leipheimer, David Zabriskie and even Lance Armstrong have mentioned the event on Twitter. Armstrong’s recent participation in Leadville 100 races gives some hope that he’ll break out one of his lesser-used bikes from the stable and join the 325-person field in the mountains above Beaver in July.
Less than 24 hours after registration opened, the Crusher’s field was nearly half full as racers rushed, perhaps against better judgment and hoping to avoid the rapid sellouts the frequent other events, to sign up for the race.
Swindlehurst said the race will have an 8-hour cutoff time to get on ‘official’ result. So racing hard is the only option.
“This event is certainly not to be taken lightly,” Swindlehurst said. “Simply finishing will be an epic achievement and it’ll be mandatory that one is prepared physically and mentally for the challenge.”
Otherwise, one’s Tushar will probably meets its Crusher.