When I first found out that Burke Swindlehurst was putting together the Crusher in the Tushar, a half-road, half-dirt climbing sufferfest at altitude, I knew immediately that this was going to be an event in which I had to be involved. I’ve written in the past about my admiration for Burke, both as a professional cyclist and as a person … he is quite simply one of the classiest people I have ever had the pleasure to know, and it was my pleasure to volunteer to assist in anyway that I could.
Originally, I anticipated helping out with the timing and scoring of the race, but in actuality most of my pre-event involvement was tweeting about the event and general enthusiasm … before helping out with registration check-ins on Friday night night. My reward? The best seat in the house for the race itself, riding shotgun in the lead vehicle with Burke.
A beautifully crisp and cool morning greeted the field in Beaver, a small town in soutwestern Utah settled by Mormon pioneers in the 1856, just west of the Tushar Mountains, and birthplace of Butch Cassidy (notorious outlaw) and Philo T. Farnsworth (inventor of the television).
In attendance were 180 enthusiastic (and somewhat nervous) cyclists on a wide variety of bikes, ranging from cyclocross bikes to both rigid and full-suspension mountain bikes, geared and single-speed, with flat bars, drop bars, and even a few bikes with mustache-bars. Most of the field was from Utah, but the event attracted riders from all over the country with a few riders coming in from the low-lands in Southern California, New England and the Mid-Atlantic region to tackle an event that never dipped below 5900′ in elevation, and crested above 10,000′ as it approached the finish at the Eagle Point Resort on Mt. Holly.
Amongst the starters were Tyler Wren & Nick Frey (both road professionals for Team Jamis-Sutter Home, but racing off-road for Nick Frey’s Boo Bicycles), BMC’s Jeff Louder (racing as an individual), mountain bike legend Tinker Juarez (Cannondale), professional cyclocross rider Tim Johnson (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com), Paul Mach (Bissell Pro Cycling), former road professional Todd Littlehales (Rapha Racing), and multiple-time Canadian Olympic team member and medalist Clara Hughes (Right To Play).
After a short neutral roll-out, racing began in earnest as the road kicked up on the outskirts of town as the riders entered the Fishlake National Forest with an attack by Boulder, Colorado’s 38-year old Benjamin Blaugrund (Team Juwi Solar/First Solar) who quickly opened up a sizeable gap on the main pro men’s field. It seemed as if the rest of the field were happy to let him go as an unknown sacrificial lamb. Little did they know how strong an impression Blaugrund would make.
Back in the main field, Nick Frey moved to the front and and put the hammer down, and the main chase was soon whittled down to less than a dozen riders, including Tyler Wren, Tim Johnson, Tinker Juarez, Paul Mach, Zack Vestal (VeloNews), and Utah riders Jeff Louder, Reed Wycoff (Contender Bicycles), Jake Pantone (Roosters-Biker’s Edge), Evan Hyde (Realcyclist.com), Nate King and Dave Harward (both Canyon Bicycles). In this lead chase were 4 mountain bikes (Louder, Mach, Jaurez & Harward), 7 cyclocross bikes (Wren, Johnson, Vestal, Wycoff, Pantone, King, Hyde) and 1 road bike (Frey).
Shortly the pavement ended and the gravel climb began, Frey peeled off the front, his main job for the day of getting the group down to a manageable size for teammate Tyler Wren completed, at which point the remaining 10 riders settled in for the long climb ahead. Unable to hold the pace, Harward, Pantone, and Hyde soon faded, reducing the chase to 8 riders, with Blaugrund still off the front with a lead of about 1 minute by the top of the first climb.
On the steep descent into Junction, Wren, Louder, and Johnson opened a gap on the rest of the chasing group, but Juarez, Wycoff, King and Vestal were not far behind. Unfortunately, Johnson flatted and lost contact with the elite group when he stopped to change tubes (as this was a self-supported race, no outside mechanical assistance was allowed). Coming off the dirt descent, the riders still had a few miles of paved road to go before beginning the return loop down Highway 89 from Junction to Circleville and beginning the return climb.
Reaching speeds that must have been in excess of 60mph (as we in the lead car had to hit 80mph in order to get past them), Louder and Wren caught and passed Blaugrund while the remaining 5 riders in the original chase regrouped as the road began to flatten out. Blaugrund and Vestal soon put in an effort and bridged the gap back up to Wren and Louder, with Wycoff, King, Juarez and Mach working together about a minute behind as the riders turned off the pavement again to begin the return trip. With Mach leading the effort, eventually all 8 riders regrouped as the road ever so briefly became paved again as the road turned left to begin the return ascent up State Road 153 to the King of the Mountains point.
Once again, on the long climb, riders began to fade and lose contact; first Vestal and Juarez, then Nate King, followed by Reed Wycoff and finally Paul Mach, reducing the lead group to just 3 riders, Juwi Solar’s Benjamin Blaugrund, Tyler Wren, and Jeff Louder. About half way up the climb, once again Blaugrund attacked and opened up a 15-second gap on Louder and Wren, which he managed to hold all the way to the summit to take the KOM prize, as Wren experienced a bad patch and was only able to sit in as Louder paced him up the remainder of the climb.
Once the three riders passed the KOM point reaching the turn off to the finish at Eagle Point Resort, with a little more than 10 miles to go, the three riders regrouped in a gentleman’s agreement for a quick nature break on the rollers; once all business was completed and the three riders were back together, Tyler Wren (recovered from his previous troubles) punched it on a short, steep rise with about 6-7 miles to go and opened up a gap on the chasing Blaugrund and Louder.
Meanwhile, back on the climb, unbeknownst to us in the lead car, Zack Vestal was riding himself back into the race, overtaking Juarez, King, Wycoff and Mach.
By the time the road turned back into pavement again for the final 3 miles to the finish, Wren had opened the gap back to Louder & Blaugrund to over a minute and continued to increase his lead to take a solo win at the inaugural edition of the Crusher in the Tushar in an amazing time of 4 hours, 27 minutes and 4 seconds.
As the clock continued to tick back, what did we see in the distance? A solo rider with followed by two others … Zack Vestal had put in an amazing effort to not only re-contact Louder & Blaugrund, but to pass them and hold on for 2nd place 2:44 behind Wren, while Blaugrund (who would have won the prize for most aggressive rider, had there been one) held on for third at 3:14, and Louder faded to 4th at 3:48. A little less than 4 minutes would pass before Paul Mach crossed the line in 5th to round at the long podium at 7:32 behind Wren.
Of the top 15 riders, 10 rode cyclocross bikes, 4 were on mountain bikes, and 1 (Greg Gibson) finished the race in a strong 14th place, 35 minutes behind Wren on a road bike, with 28mm tires.
Nick Frey suffered a double-flat at the near the summit of the first climb, accepting mechanical assistance at the first feed, disqualifying him from the final results, but allowing him to continue for a finish time. After 2 more flats on the first long descent, Frey abandoned the race, turning around and riding a flat tire back to the summit and finish.
Clara Hughes (Right To Play) dominated the women’s Pro/Open field, finishing in 5:21:12, with Rachel Cieslewicz (Church of the Big Ring) finishing 2nd at 21:10 and Tana Stone (Contender Bicycles) rounding out the podium at 21:32 behind Hughes.
Boo Bicycles had a excellent day, with Brad Cole winning the single-speed competition on a Boo 29er with a belt drive in 5:12:50 (the 16th or 17th rider overall across the line), taking the win by 30:03 over second place rider Brent Cannon, with Cutthroat Racing’s Steve Wasmund taking third at 46:38.
Many thanks to Burke Swindlehurst for putting on such an incredible event and allowing me to experience it from the vantage point I had. Many more thanks to Eagle Point Resort, RealCyclist.com, First Endurance, all the rest of the sponsors, and most especially to the Beaver County Sheriff’s Department and all the volunteers for making this event possible.
Official results for Pro Men are as follows. Complete results for all finishers available at Race Day Timing.
|PLACE||NAME||FINISH TIME||TIME BEHIND|