Leading up to the third annual Crusher in the Tushar race, there was much discussion between participants about the details of the race. What bike should I ride? With what gearing? Suspension or no suspension? Knobby or slick tires? What pressure? How many water bottles do i carry? Will i die out there? Maybe.
The race had gained momentum and had drawn names such as Levi Leipheimer and Jonathan Page. It’s no wonder as Burke Swindlehurst had proved himself as a top-notch promoter in the events previous years. The race is dialed, and runs like a well oiled machine with volunteers working as if they owned the race itself, with intensity, joyousness, and pride. Every rider receives a professional mtn bike style number plate with tracking device inlaid on back, event t-shirt, gourmet lunch, beer, stickers, drink koozies, 1st Endurance supplements, and 5 of the most beautifully laid out aid stations with all the food and drink you could ever want. And then, there is just the pride and satisfaction, knowing that you’ve finished, Crushed, or survived, The Tushars.
Happy before the start
Ben signs for some fans
Amanda and Danger dare to brave The Crusher
Kimberly and Cheryl, teammates ready to have fun!
My tool of choice for this race was my Alchemy CX bike equipped with my SRAM gearing of 34/28 and Zipp tubulars with extra tire and screw driver taped under the seat. The year before I ran a 36/27 and paid the price. I debated heavily and had the mtn rig set up to go also. I knew the gearing would be a better choice but was torn to ride the cx’er as this was is my discipline and I felt I had to represent.
Unfortunately, I had come down with a summer cold in the week leading up to the race so needed to lay low leading up to the start. I figured I would recover and do ok for the race. The year before, I remember it being hard but enjoyable, if not just from the pure beauty of the mountains. This year the ladies field was a bit larger and held returning winner Gretchen Reeves, former road National Champion Kimberly Baldwin, and many other strong women representing many different disciplines.
We would take off on the first road section of the race at our usual mellow roll out pace. The non-pro men started behind us this year and would soon catch and pass us on the road. We glommed on with the men half way up and our pace quickened, we would not wait for the dirt climb to start racing this year. I was surprised to see that even the single speed men were pacing as fast as all the other muti-gear heads. My friend Danger, who I thought was absolutely nuts for doing it on a single speed would pass me and never look back.
As soon as we hit the dirt, I knew my race was over and that this day would be pure survival. Either you have it or you don’t and this day, I didn’t. I would sit at 4th and 5th place for most of the day with men passing me constantly. The heat was getting to me, the year before cool temperatures and cloud cover would keep us protected all day, no such luck this year. My only moment of glory would come on the long, fast and washboarded downhill into the valley. The addition of disc brakes to my bike this year made a huge difference. If only there was a QOD on this section as there was a prize awarded for the KOM on the flip side of this mountain.
After the downhill there is a long road section that everyone searches for anyone, someone to pace with as you don’t want to be left blowing in the wind alone in the valley. I would tuck and apply my speed skills to catch the next rider far ahead of me. As I got closer and closer, I would realize that this rider looked extremely familiar. It was Ben Berden, my hero, come to save me and drag me through the heat, wind, and flats of the valley floor before attempting to climb back out and up. Ben had some technical problems and had fallen out of the race. I felt for him but was also selfishly happy to have him by my side on such a day of suffering.
climbing back up
The long road home
Our Valley road crew
our adoring fans
The largest complaint that I heard from most competitors was that they almost died riding the dirt section through the valley floor from heat exhaustion. This happens to be one of the slower sections in the race as it climbs back up to the big uphill on a 4 wheel drive dirt section and leaves riders exposed to all elements. I too thought that I might succumb to heat stroke as I had run out of water by this point.
We made it back to the tarmac, looked ahead and saw the misery that laid before us. The downhill that had been so long and fun now turned into my biggest challenge of the day as we would have to climb back up and out. This is where every gear counted. Up the tarmac and the road then turns to dirt as the climb steepens. A police Marshall sat at this transition point and I decided I had enough, I pulled over, asked if he had a gun, and told him he needed to put me down. With a chuckle he encouraged me and told me I could do it. Easy for you to say, I thought.
I would continue up the climb slowly but surely and would dismount and remount the bike around 8 times…..the year before, not once. I was sitting in 4th but this is where I would get passed by two riders. The last being my friend Kimberly Baldwin, and as she passed I heard her say, “are you kidding me, this is ridiculous”. Yes, yes, it is. I started to think maybe I didn’t want to be friends with Burke anymore, he was a cruel cruel man.
We would crest over what you think is the top and a sign reads KOM, another cruel joke played by Burke as we only kept climbing after this sign, albeit not as steep, but climbing none the less. I was suffering like never before and would tell Ben, “I really don’t know how im going to make it”. He would wait patiently, encourage me and every once in a while give me a boost. He could see if he did leave me, I might end up camping out for the night on the side of the road.
The miles went by, scenery kept me alive, and the last right hand turn would be one mile straight up to Eagle Point. Slowly but surly, Ben and I crossed the line together. As in true Crusher style, there was a volunteer waiting for every rider to take their bike, hand them a cold rag, and fetch what ever beverage was needed. My choice was coconut water.
We made it to the top!
I had finished 6th but less concerned with placing and more concerned with just getting across the line. It had been one of those days. My time was around 15 minutes slower than the year before.
Now time to relax, eat our gourmet lunch and watch the podium presentations. Gretchen Reeves won the women’s field and broke her record from last year by 2 minutes. Joey Lythgoe finished second, benefiting from a bike change from last years race. Meghan Shridan third, Anna Jo Dingman fourth, and Kimberly Baldwin fifth. In the mens field, Levi Leipheimer blew the competition away by 15 minutes. Tyler Wren, winner of the previous two years was second, Barry Wicks third, Jamey Driscoll, who blew away the downhill was fourth, Rob Squire 5th and Jonathan Page finished a respectable seventh.
Done and done, on the couch
Of course there was talk about how tough the course was and comments such as “I will definitely not ride that bike next year”. But most just couldn’t believe how much climbing there was. I saw people of all shapes and sizes out there and met a gentleman that rode a 32lb full suspension bike carrying about 75 extra pounds on his body that finished and said he would be back for more. We had all suffered together, bonded through the same experience and had come out able to laugh together. The Crusher makes you feel special, it’s a tight crew of 350 racers that have come to know the course and are looking for ways to tweak performance or just enhance the experience. Even though during the race I said I would never do it again, I will be out there next year, ready to bond, suffer, and bleed with fellow Crusherites.