The Crusher has been on my radar for a few years. I’ve head whisperings. Legends tell of poor bike choices and massive suffering. Huge climbs. Loose gravel. No perfect bike. Mystery and intrigue…
DZ asked me a month ago if I wanted to join on a trip to Beaver to tackle the race. He’s childhood friends and a former cycling training partner of founder T. Burke Swindlehurst. Dave has wanted to do the race for a while and T-Bird convinced him to come out. I was a little more hesitant because it meant not finishing the Kenda Cup Endurance Series and forfeiting a possible series win, but you can always race in Big Bear. Utah is the real deal and this trip was too good to pass up.
The two of us hit the road at 5am Friday morning and put pedal to metal. We blew through LA before rush hour traffic accumulated and were in Vegas by 9am for breakfast. After a quick stop in St George we pulled into Beaver around 2pm and hit the populated registration line and met up with Robbie “Bear Cub” Schaeffer who was joining us on his way home from vacationing in Park City. Cub has done Leadville twice but is known for dropping explosive power grenades on our weekly Ride and Pint group ride from his restaurant/bike shop/coffee shop Pedalers Fork…not slogging for hours on fire roads. He wasn’t quite sure what he was getting himself into but oh man he’s a trooper. He re-geared his Moots Psychlo X RSL once he saw the course profile. Wise.
After checking in we hit the hotel and changed for a short leg opener on the road and fire roads right out of the hotel. Beaver is in a spectacular area. Right at the base of the mountains with endless rolling hills and dirt roads that go nowhere but meander for miles. There’s not much else to do in Beaver; except buy souvenir hats, shirts and shot glasses…which we did.
After suffering and sliding around the Belgian Waffle Ride a few months ago I knew I didn’t want to tackle the Crusher on a road bike. I’m not Danny Pate. That left the FSI as the next logical choice. It weighs as much as a gravel bike and with some Renegade 1.8’s front and rear it should be just as fast, right? Wrong.
When I chose the MTB I was hoping for a loose, gnarly, sandy fireroad course along the lines of Cedar City 100k to give me an advantage, but that wasn’t the case. Apparently there have been rainy years where the course was in terrible shape but, duh, we’re in a drought so the course was as smooth as glass in a lot of sections. Should have thought of that. Also my 1x 32front and 11-42 rear was not ideal, even with the Absolute Black oval ring up front. You just find yourself too spun out on the pavement and spinning too fast on the climbs. Live and learn.
We lined up at 7:45 on Saturday. The weather was spectacular; warm, sunny…but windy. The pro field went off at 8am sharp with one minute waves after that. The pace was relaxed. Very relaxed. Popowski went off the front early and no one seemed to care. Neil Shirley and I were chatting and he seemed to think the strategy could work to put a little time on the field before the dirt. At his ‘go’ we took off the front but this time the field took noticed and they bridged. Oh well. Jay Petervary went right to the front and stayed there, doing all the work for the first ten miles. He didn’t even seem to notice that he was pulling fifty dudes- but then again he’s the kind of guy to ride the course 5 times, camp at the top, and do it again the next day.
The real race started when we hit the gravel. Squire, Wells, Burleigh, and Driscoll burst off the front setting the pace. I held for as long as I could but Neil and I began to fall back a bit. By mile fourteen I felt like my heart was going to pop out of my ears and I was seriously doubting my ability to finish. Right then DZ blasted by and told me to push a bigger gear and get the heart rate down. Good advice. Saved me. Berry popped hard and disappeared behind us and Neil took off and began to disappear up the road with a few other guys. I yo-yoed for a bit but settled into my own pace, getting caught by a few riders from behind. We blasted along the rollers together until we hit the big descent and dropped a few thousand feet. It was so chattery that I lost all the contents of my awesome strap (spare tube, 2 CO2s, tire lever) but didn’t have the time to spare to pick them up. I knew when we hit the pavement at the bottom I’d need to be in a group and my gearing was a huge disadvantage. I’d have to put some time on these guys down the hill. We hit the bottom and I was immediately spun out. Jake Orness, Josh Berry and a few other guys flew by like I was standing still. It was a long and and painful push to catch them but we eventually regrouped and worked together through the 20mph headwind on the pavement.
By the time we looped around Jake had fallen off the back, Berry was disappearing ahead and Weiss was slowly catching and then passing me. The next 10 miles were a painful, sweltering blur as we chugged up the Col du Crusher. I don’t remember much other than thinking of turning the pedals over. Watching my speed hover around 6-7mph and a guy handing out pickles and Bud Light. By the time you get to the KOM you are so ready to be done but you’re still 15 miles away- 15 very rolling, hilly miles. Thoughts turn from triumph to anger as you feel cheated out of a mountain top descent finish. You constantly check over your shoulder and gauge your speed. On the climb you can see for miles, now you have no concept of distance. Miles tick away. I caught Dave with about 7 miles to go and I could see Weiss and a few guys in the distance. “Think we can get these guys?” I asked him. “I cannot.” “How many miles left?” “6” “ugh” he was going backwards. I charged ahead on the rollers and flew down the loose gravel. By the time we could got to the last mile, which happened to be the hardest last mile of any race ever, I could see Weiss dangling in front of me. I stood up and closed the gap, passing just before the line. So glad to be done.
Awards went quickly. There was beer, food, and hanging with my MTB hero Todd Wells. Very cool. What a day. Oh, and don’t let the ride back to town fool you. Sure it’s 19 miles downhill but if there’s a headwind you’ll be pedaling the whole time.