The short of it is that this was the most fun race I've ever done.
The long version is about 70 miles with 10,000 plus feet of climbing on mostly dirt roads through the stunning high elevation terrain of the Tushar mountains. It took me four hours and thirty six minutes.
The even longer version is below (with photos taken from the internet, likely attributable to Winger Studios and Cotton Sox Photography).
The Crusher was one of my goal races for the summer as I don't have the time with work or feel the desire to leave my family to travel often. Thus, I tried to pick out a few races that are well known to have good competition, good courses, and a good vibe.
My preparation seemed to go well and I spent a lot of time on my cross bike riding some gorgeous dirt roads above Davis County, Squaw Peak, Heber, and in Park City. One of my biggest concerns was my suspect bike handling but a day out with Josh Whitney and THE Burk Swindlehurst showed me that the bikes are solid and that on long straight dirt, I need to just let off the brakes and go for it. I even got a chance to pre ride the majority of the course but was cut a little short by a powerful electric storm. I hoped it would be stormy and cool again on race day.
The week, night, and hours before the start, I agonized over tire size and tire pressure. It seemed most folks were running 35-40c tires while I was on standard 33c cross tires. Then Danny Pate of Team Sky rolled up during the pro call out and he was on 25c road tires. I quit worrying.
From the gun, a couple guys shot away in a clearly preplanned break. The rest of the field was content to meander up the road to the start of the dirt and the real climbing where we were already eight minutes in arrears. I was kicking myself for not being up the road with the other two as I would have liked an advantage for both the climb and the subsequent long descent.
We settled into a nice tempo with Robbie Squire and Alex Grant setting the pace. I felt comfortable for the majority of the climb but near the top felt like I was starting to push a little too hard considering how early in the race we were. I let the lead group of 6-8 pull away but soon found myself in no man's land for the next 10 miles of rolling terrain. I also dropped my bottle in which I had mixed four gels and had to go back and get it since that represented the majority of my nutrition. By the time I looked up those guys were out of sight.
I worked hard over the high plateau and regained contact with the lead group, who looked up with expressions that seemed to say, "Where the hell did you just come from?" That was pleasing for a second and then we were all launching off the edge of the world down the long descent toward Junction. I quickly moved to the back of the group so as to not wreck anyone's day. The guys looked like dirt missiles with plumes of dust trailing behind. Near the top Jamey Driscoll streaked past me as I yelled at him how sketchy it all felt. The sketchiness didn't seem to bother him in the slightest. Speaking of sketchy, Danny Pate and his skinny tires gave us all a clinic in bike handling. Near the top as he went around me on a switchback, he seemed to be laughing while drifting his rear wheel through the turn.
|Dirt Missiles (Photo by Winger Studios?)|
Fortunately, Robbie Squire played the descent a little more conservatively and I was able to follow his line and we hit the pavement together. We had lost maybe 20-30 seconds but with some collaboration, were able to regroup by the time we hit Junction. We were now a pack of five as Alex, Jonathan Paige, and another guy had mechanicals on the way down. The original two from the initial break were still off the front.
|Photo by Cotton Sox Photography (found on the internet)|
Pacelining through the valley was kinda surreal and I definitely felt a little out of place in that group. In my pre race aspirations, I had envisioned myself right there. To actually be there was quite nice but I would soon pay for my previous efforts.
|Pretending like I know how to pace line with the pros (Photo by Winger Studios)|
As we began the dirt climb from Circleville, we passed LeRoy Popowski, and as the road steepened, Robbie made what would turn out to be the winning move, powering away from the group. Jamey was the only one to give an honest chase while the rest of us splintered apart. I followed Jamey, well gapped, with space between each subsequent rider. Through this "Mojave Deseret Hell "(Strava segment name) there is a short downhill where I once again got in the way of Danny, who eventually passed me after I accidentally cut him off. I apologized for my DH skills and he kindly said his aren't great either. I knew that to be BS and commented on his descent of the Col de Crush to which he replied that it was his bike that was performing well. Whoever said roadies are all dicks hasn't met this guy.
Hitting the real climb up the Col de Crush, other racers were descending and cheering us on. The lead car handed up a Coke and I was excited. I felt strong, was in good position, and started to dare to dream about the podium. I settled in at a effort I felt I could maintain to the finish. LeRoy passed me back, but I passed Danny and then Ben Blaugrund (one of the original break) to move into fourth on the road. I was exceeding my expectations but was quickly brought back to reality when my right leg began to cramp quite suddenly and without warning.
With only a few hundred meters to the top of the KOM climb and some 10 miles of rolling terrain to the finish, I thought I was done. I stood at the side of my bike pissed as first my hamstring and then my quads would cramp while I tried to stretch the other. Finally, the leg relaxed and I started walking backwards up the hill. Then I could walk normally, then I could ride, but with greatly reduced power for fear of cramping again. Now in seventh, I could see Alex, who had recovered from a flat, charging up the climb behind me. He went by just past the top and laughed that when he saw me standing there he could tell I was an easy target. He offered some encouragement and blasted away for an eventual fourth place finish.
Now, hoping to limit the damage, I set about the frustrating game of trying to ride as fast as possible with limited power and ever lurking cramps. Neil Shirley, was the next to go flying by. He mentioned that behind him there was a big gap and also offered some words of encouragement. His words were nice but a strong tailwind was nicer.
Climbing the final pitches to the finish were comical. I was zig zagging across the road to lessen the pitch and keep the quivering quads at bay. I felt amazing but was joking with people on the road about how pathetic I must have looked.
After looking back a dozen times over the last kilometer, I finally crossed the line, barely holding onto ninth. It was done in my typical suicide style but it was a fantastic way to almost die. Burke was standing there to shake my hand and even though I could barely pedal my bike at that moment, I was already thinking about next year...
|A "podium" of 10?? Not complaining.|
- Maybe I should try to get into the break next time since I did so much work in the first half alone anyway.
- I think my cramps were due to neuromuscular fatigue and not secondary to nutrition. I ate and drank well, had a good stomach and good energy. I'll need to do more hard sustained efforts with change of pace to simulate a race. I hadn't experienced anything similar prior to the Crusher.
- My bike was perfect. Everyone seems to worry about bike choice, gearing, tires, etc. This year, the course was in great shape but I likely won't change a thing next time. I rode a Cannondale SuperX cross bike with 50/34 rings and an 11-32 cassette with a mid range rear derailleur. I went with Stans Valor clinchers and tubeless Hutchinson 33c tires.
- The volunteers, aid, marking, and entire event were of the highest level. As I mentioned previously, this was the most fun race I've ever done.
- In the same vein, I felt the race offered a good return on investment. The schwag bags included a cool shirt, socks, and some nutritional products. The event was amazing. There's a decent meal afterwards. And they paid $$$ 10 places deep! I felt a little sheepish cashing a check for 9th but I did anyway and now I'm even more motivated to return next year.
- We got lucky with the weather. It was cool, overcast, and we benefited from a tailwind over the last 10 miles.
- I need to remember to register in January as it sells out quickly.