With a solo attack in the closing miles of the race, Tyler Wren of Jamis-Sutter Home won the second edition of the Beaver County Travel ‘Crusher in the Tushar’ presented by DNA Cycling. It was Wren’s second-straight victory at the race. Held in Beaver, Ut., on 14 July, the Crusher in the Tushar followed a 69-mile course over dirt and paved roads in Utah’s Tushar mountains. In the women’s race, Gretchen Reeves of Tokyo Joe’s won in commanding style and broke the course record set last year by Olympic medalist Clara Hughes.
“The weather made the day much more memorable and intense,” said Wren after his successful day. “It didn’t change the tactics, though. I had great legs from the start, but I know how difficult the course was, so I held back early on.”
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The race set out from Beaver under cloudy skies and light rain fell intermittently throughout the day. The course runs through remote wilderness areas of Utah’s Tushar Mountains and the Fishlake National Forest. The riders face washboarded dirt roads and steep, unrelenting climbs on their way to the finish at Eagle Point ski resort. The finishing elevation is a dizzying 10,500 feet and comes after a relentless series of rolling climbs.
“It turned out to be one of the more beautiful, scenic races of my life. The vistas absolutely inspired me and the fact that the weather was overcast and rainy just added to the majestic value of the race,” said cyclocross racer Nicole Duke of Spy Optics-Cannondale, who rode the Crusher for the first time this year.
In the elite men’s race, a select group escaped on the first Competitive Cycling KOM climb of the day. Chris MacKay of Backcountry.com, Ryan Trebon of Cannondale-Clement Cycling, Jamey Driscoll and Wren of Jamis-Sutter Home, Neil Shirley of Road Bike Action, and Jay Henry of Tokyo Joe’s made the split. Approaching the summit, Shirley and Henry were gapped, but the two riders soon rejoined the front group of six.
The washboarded descent took its toll, and Trebon lagged a short distance behind the lead group. “It was the hardest climb and the most appalling descent,” laughed Trebon. “It’s like your eyeballs are bouncing out of your head!” Back on the pavement, the lead group reformed, though Wren had a moment of added excitement when he dropped his chain.
On the final climb, the game of attrition began. MacKay, Henry, and Driscoll all soon went out the back. Then Trebon, who later said he was overgeared in his 39×26, stalled on the rutted dirt road, and eventually had to walk the upper slopes of the climb. Soon only Shirley and Wren remained together and the leading two riders reached the Competitive Cycling KOM together. “I felt like we were crawling, everyone was suffering,” said Shirley.
Wren’s winning move came in the rolling plateau the follows the final climb. In fact, Wren attacked in exact same spot as he did when he won the Crusher in 2011. Wren finished in 4:28:58, just under two minutes slower than his winning time from last year. Shirley could not match Wren’s acceleration, but he held on for second and crossed the line around four minutes later in 4:32:45. Jay Henry finished third at 4:41:26 with Cannondale rider Alex Grant and local cyclocross rider Reed Wycoff of Contender Bicycles rounded out the five-man podium.
The women’s race stayed together for the first 10 miles of the race. Once the climbing began, the field split immediately. Reeves and Tammy Jacques of Honey Stinger gapped the field early. As Jacques turned the screws, Reeves dropped back. “I couldn’t hold her pace, and had to let her go, hoping to keep her in sight,” said Reeves.
Reeves attacked the descent and opened a gap on Jacques, who struggled to navigate the deep ruts without suspension. “It was rougher than I expected,” said Jacques. “I had to stop and rest my hands!” Though Jacques put up a strong chase on the next climb, Reeves held on all the way to the finish. Reeves set a women’s course record with her time of 5:18:41.
“My plan was to put some distance on the downhill, so I wouldn’t have to hit the second climb with her. The plan worked, although I got a split of only 1:30 just before the climb. I turned it up another notch, because I know Tammy is such a great climber,” said Reeves. “I was completely done for on the final climb to the finish – the Crusher crushed me!”
Behind her, Jacques dueled with Anna Jo Dingman of Team Rockford-Cliff for second. In the relentless rollers of the final 10 miles, Jacques struggled against a bonk and Dingman overtook her. “She passed me, and I was like no way,” said Jacques. “I really had to rally back my head.” Jacques attacked on the final climb and just barely held off Dingman to finish second in 5:32:28. Dingman crossed the line in 5:32:35. “I was so blown by the finish, I almost fell over,” said Jacques.
The unique combination of dirt and paved roads makes bike selection a crucial element of preparing for the Crusher, which is the brainchild of ex-professional Burke Swindlehurst. “Most people settled on the mentality that cross bikes are the way to go, but the third and fourth placed riders on the men’s podium were on mountain bikes,” said Swindlehurst. “Which bike is best is still an unanswered question!”
Men’s winner Wren rode a prototype Jamis cyclocross set-up with Di2 and hydraulic brakes. “Even after four hours in the mud, the shifting was still dialed,” Wren said of the Di2. Second-placed finisher Shirley also rode a cross-style bike with hydraulic brakes. Shirley spent six months assembling his Calfee Designs project bike. “Most races you don’t have to think about equipment, but at the Crusher it really adds a whole different dynamic,” Shirley said.
Women’s winner Reeves, meanwhile, was among the riders to opt for a 29er mountain bike. Reeves rode a Gary Fisher Superfly 29er. “I can’t imagine riding another bike – it was perfect,” said Reeves. The mountain bike served her well on her gutsy attack on the washboarded descent off the first climb. Fourth-placed Duke rode her Cannondale Super X cross bike, but struggled with her gear choice. “A 36×27 was far too hard!” Duke plans to ride mountain bike gearing or a slim-tired 29er if she returns to the Crusher next year.
Over three hundred riders participated in this year’s edition of the Crusher, and the race sold-out in three weeks. “I was blown away by how quickly it sold out,” said Swindlehurst. “I’m asking people to make a leap of faith to drive at least three hours to a place they’ve probably never been to do the race.” The women’s field nearly doubled from last year.
The course was well-stocked with aid stations staffed by volunteers from surrounding areas. “First Endurance really spiffed out the aid stations,” said Swindlehurst, who organizes the aid stations in part to keep cars off the course’s narrow roads. “The community support was great,” said Shirley. “It’s throwback to the early ears of mountain biking, it had that festival feeling.”
For Swindlehurst, a big part of the event’s appeal is the sheer range of riders who come out to play at the Crusher. “It’s about the passion and the camaraderie,” he said. “I love having people out riding for the experience of it all.” Swindlehurst watched top-level cross pro Trebon walk the final climb with a smile on his face, and he also waited for the last rider to cross the line after spending more than nine hours out on the course.
The riders agreed that the Crusher was plenty hard. “The Crusher was a nice reminder of what it’s like to really suffer,”said Trebon. “I would definitely do it again, but if you’d asked me thirty minutes afterwards, I would have said no way, dude!”