An enormous fellow in t-shirt & jeans, with a shaved head and Van Dyke plopped down next to me on the 8AM flight from DTW to SLC. He looked like Mean Gene Okerlund except way, way fatter. I sipped on the orange juice that I had ordered, side-eying my row-mate until he ordered his 8:00AM tarmac beverage.
“Give me the biggest glass of champagne you got.”
I didn’t know it at the time, but Superfat Mean Gene Okerlund ordering “the biggest glass of champagne you got” would be the perfect metaphor for Crusher in the Tushar.
Beaver, UT is nestled up against the mountains on the east side of a large central basin. There are two exits qualifying it as a significant town. The streets are all laid out in a grid and labeled with numbers instead of names; the land is so even and not-swamp (Michigan!) that if there isn’t a road, you can just drive across wherever, and people do. The West man. The West.
It was still early, and it only takes a few minutes to unpack my Exploro from the Evoc bag so I went out for a little spin to test the equipment. I looked for the beginning of the route but instead found an enormous, beautiful, man who seemed to know what he was doing. He agreed to show me the beginning of the course if I promised to rub some of his turbo-jelly on my legs. YES, Obviously.
The Crusher in the Tushar starts with your front wheel on the first climb. It winds up a few miles of shallow grade pavement before making a right turn and climbing up to about 10,000ft. Then you bomb down to 6,000, do a U turn, and climb back up to 10k. This is the Superfat Mean Gene of bike races. There’s exactly zero messing around on this course.
In addition to the altitude and climbing, the course also features hard packed (but rocky) fire roads and fast (but loose gravel). It has long stretches of high-speed pavement including a 10 minute stretch at around 40mph. It has a solid 30 minutes of sandy climbing. Then some washboard climbing before finishing off with a steep paved climb. So, you know, Willy Wonka’s wet dream of opposites.
The Crusher’s tagline is “at some point you’ll have the wrong bike” referring to a mountain bike being preferred sometimes, while a CX bike is better for other sections. That tagline didn’t apply to me as I don’t have either of those.
Neither a Mountain bike nor a CX bike, I set my 3T Exploro up with 650×42 slick tires (Compass) and 50/34 road rings to a 11×30 cassette. Plus I had the Rotor 2InPower to watch my watts get absolutely destroyed by the altitude.
The 42 slicks are plenty wide enough to float on the high speed gravel of the high valley, and I never lost traction on the sandy portion of the climb. I was running 30psi in the front and 35psi in the rear; I would probably drop the rear down to 25-30psi in the future as the top of the climb is fairly rocky and why not. Unless it’s pouring rain, you want slicks on this course to save watts, and not be extremely frustrated on the pavement sections. Knobs won’t do you any good on this course anyway. The fatter the better though; the Exploro will go up to a 44 at 700c or a 2.1” on a 650c. I got home and immediately ordered some 44x700s because who doesn’t want to ride an aero road bike / monster truck hybrid?
The Exploro with road gearing is the only thing that kept me even in respectable position. I lost a lot of ground in the top couple miles of the first climb as I gasped for air and floundered around in the stratosphere, but I was able to bomb the paved descent (even scooping up the Strava KOM) and subsequent low-altitude pavement section to reel in three large groups of riders.
The Col du Crush starts with a section of steady climbing in deep sand. The scorching heat is only broken up by the odor of cattle turning their colons inside out. There’s a moment where I was debating whether I’d rather be hot and choking on beef-butt-methane or cold and suffocating at altitude. It was right about then that I rolled through a group of volunteers in the middle of nowhere who sprayed me down and passed me a beer.
This is “the biggest glass of champagne you got.”
Burke and the army of volunteers are damn champions. I was blown away by the level and amount of support for an event with only 600 racers. I’ve done events with thousands, and big, pro stage-races that don’t have half the coverage that Crusher in the Tushar manages. I assure you I have no idea where they came from; there were probably more volunteers than the entire population of Beaver. Is it possible Burke has developed some sort of bike-race-handup synthetic intelligence? Someone should let him know there’s a better use for that level of AI.
On top of the official aid stations every 10-15 miles (way more than enough), there were at least three large “aid” stations with spray-downs, ice-stockings, Coke and beer scattered around the course all fully staffed on both sides of the road with full bottles enough to hand-up a large group without stopping. Next level shit.
What? MORE? Yeah… in addition to that there were at least a dozen spectator groups armed with coolers, gels and random goodies sprinkled around the mountains. This race puts you into some serious wilderness, but you’re never isolated or alone. You can ride hard and dig all the way down knowing that there’s a bottle, a gel, or a friendly hand around every corner.
So when I was in the last K and a bolt of lightning struck close enough to shake my teeth, I didn’t shit my pants. Okay, I shit my pants a little bit but it was manageable. After overheating in 95 degrees all day, the sky opened up in a torrential downpour. I was shaking and pale when I crossed the finish line, freezing. I had gone from feeling rather relaxed, unable to work very hard anyway due to oxygen deprivation, to “uh, crap, I’m shaking so hard I can’t stand up.”
You know what though? Volunteers immediately surrounded me. One pulled me off my bike and shuttled it off to the bike racks. Another pulled my Garmin off and handed it to me while still another wrapped me in a space blanket. “Really, I’m fine, it’s cool” I said as my eyes crossed and I slowly tipped backwards on my heels. That’s when the support army had my back, literally.
They ushered me over into a camping camping chair in the warm up tent with my fellow racers, all wrapped in space blankets, sipping hot-chocolate and not caring about a thing.
Make no mistake, this event is hard. The 65 miles doesn’t sound bad. Events like BWR at 140+ miles or the NUE series with 100 miles of single track are more intimidating on paper but Tushar sneaks up on you. It’s all up hill. It’s all at high elevation (for those of us who live at zero). The roads are rough. The weather is fucking bananas.
An event this hard is great. We love hard. Hard is why we do this. A hard event with this level of support is a different animal entirely. Your experience changes as you feel safe pushing well beyond, and finding your new limits.
Huge thanks Burke, for showing us his Beaver. OH CRAP BEAVER JOKE I LIED!
All photos by CottonSox or me.