No amount of reading about the course or looking at maps can get you ready for the Crusher in the Tushar. You just have to experience it to believe it.
Race day started with rain and cooler than normal temperatures. It was great to hang out at the starting line and see the different bikes, gear options, and tire choices people had decided to go with. Even at the start line people were second guessing their decisions. The great thing about the Crusher is that at some point in the race, whatever decision you made, it was the wrong one.
The first 11 miles of paved, the weather didn’t make much difference. Once the groups hit the first offroad section, that moisture, which had let up at this point, started taking it’s toll. It never poured the morning of race day like it had the day before, but there was just enough rain to make the first unpaved section feel like you were riding in Elmer’s glue. Those that had done the race last year knew that the race would not be won in the first 15 miles but it could certainly be lost by going out too fast and suffering for the rest of the day trying to recover. A steady climb in the dirt for several miles was finally greeted by some undulating terrain at the top of the climb. Beautiful scenery various small groups of fans and scout troops came out to the course to shout, bang on pans and check out the spectacle of a bunch of spandex clad freaks on skinny tires riding in the dirt.
The course rolls along with not much elevation loss or gain for a few miles until you hit the descent. I was warned about the descent and had been doing a little bit of descending on my cross bike to prepare.
I was not prepared.
Riding with my hands on the hoods, it felt like your hands were going to slide/bounce off, leading to certain death. Or you could get down into the drops and white knuckle it. The struggle with this the drops was that the washboards were so bad that you were hanging on for dear life and you could not feather your brakes. It was either no brakes, or locked up brakes. I had one water bottle shake itself free of the cage but I was not alone. The whole road was littered with bottles. Some still in their cages. There were a few switchbacks that required some braking but a lot of it was steep, straight and wide open, and allowed you to go as fast as you felt comfortable (comfortable being a relative term).
Hitting pavement in circleville was a pleasant relief for several reasons. It was smooth. It was fast. There was no climbing and if you were lucky enough to come off the descent within a minimal distance of anyone else, you could push it and catch them or sit up and wait and form a small group and work together. Making a right hand turn off the pavement puts you back onto a smooth dirt road for a while but you are soon led onto a jeep road through some desert land. It did not look like much elevation gain but I inched along this section wondering why it was so hard. We hadn’t even started the climbing yet. Luckily the rain was coming down lightly here to pack what would have been a fairly sandy section of road and made it slightly easier to pedal. A few rollers in this section and you are spit back out onto the paved road looking straight up at the Col de Crusher that you shook your way down a short time ago.
Right as the pavement ends and one of the last times you will see pavement until the end of the race there is a sign that says “20 MILES to GO” and you think, “that is not too far”.
Then you start climbing.
I kept looking down at my computer which was telling me my speed was between 3-5 mph. I was wondering why I was not tipping over going so slow, but was just glad to keep my bike upright. With all of this time to do nothing but pedal and think, It occured to me that most of the rest of the race is climbing and I am doing an average of 4 mph.
20 miles at 4 miles an hour is a really, REALLY long time.
It was all I could do to keep the pedals ticking over. I just kept thinking “Baby steps, Baby Steps.”
On Col de Crusher, I was passed by some people, I passed some people. I saw people walking their bikes. I saw people hunched over their bikes,…Crushed.
There was not as much laughing and joking here as there was at the start line only a few hours ago.
It is amazing what a few hours, a few miles and a few thousand feet of elevation gain can do to a group of people.
Although you think it will never end, it eventually does. But not without a good fight.
Sometimes the cyclist won. Sometimes the hill won.
Some relatively flat meadows, a little descent, some pavement and then “1 Mile to Go”. THe last mile is paved but after the previous 68 very grueling miles, it feels like it is 10 miles long. Eventually you can hear the crowds and the announcer. Then you come around a corner and can see them. But it still takes you a good couple of minutes to ride that last few hundred yards
In the end, 265 out of the 361 entrants actually finished with the fastest coming in at 4:28 and the slowest coming in at 9:39.
The jokes and the laughing slowly return, but are much more labored now.
You can not fake this event like you can some of the other long endurance events.
As I explained this event to a few non-cyclist friends, they asked what is fun about this event?
It is not necessarily about “FUN”. It is about challenging yourself. Suffering with friends and trying to do what you have never done before, or do it again but faster.
It is a wonderful event put on by a bike racer, not an event promoter who knows what cyclist want in an event.Most Photos courtesy of Cotton Sox