In late April as I was deep in self pity about getting sick and missing the Gila, I got an email from David Newell who was looking to sell an entry into the July 11th Tushar Crusher. David Appelo and Mindy Caurso from Scalo who both raced the Crusher in 2014 suggested that I give it go. Looking for something to keep me motivated, I jumped at the opportunity and almost immediately began to wonder what I had got myself into ….. Mindy’s comment about bruising the soles of her feet during the 2014 race stuck in my mind.
The Tushar Crusher: 70 miles. Mixed sections of gravel/road. 45 miles gravel/ATV track in total. 25 miles paved. 10,000 ft climbing that comes as a 4K ft climb, 4K ft descent, flat section, 4K ft climb, 1K climb during rolling section and 1K finishing climb. Saddle time between 4 and 6 hrs for typical riders.
Equipment: Addict CX with HED Belgium+ clincher using Clement USH mounted tubeless with Orange Seal (Stan’s would not seal) at 45 psi. About 2/3 of the 450 riders were on some type of CX bike with the other 1/3 on mountain bikes. Danny Pate from Sky was on a road bike.
I had to be get back in Santa Fe on the evening of the race, so I ended up flying into/out of Las Vegas and renting a car get across the last 200 miles to Beaver UT. I got into Beaver around noontime on Friday (the day before the race). There is not much in Beaver …. a DVD store, a gun shop and auto parts store. So after wasting as much time as I could at the packet pickup, I headed to the hotel to waste time while resting.
So Daniel Appelo was the first non-pro finisher in 2014 with a time of 5:06 to win the 35-39 category. Daniel is a stronger rider than I am, particularly at the longer distances. So I broke the race down in hopes of finishing in 5:10. Actually, I thought that time was a bit unrealistic — call it a stretch goal.
My only complaint about the race is the start. Race start groups were Pro Men, All Women, M 50+, M 29-Under, M 30-34, M 35-39, M 40-45, Men 45-49. Start intervals were 2 minutes. I was racing in the 45-49 field. I have no idea how this ordering came about, but it is stupid. And not because I was in the last group, but because (little did I know at the time) that I was in the 2nd strongest group after the Pro Men.
So 14 minutes after the Pro Men, we were off. It took me about 60 seconds to realize that the most strategic part of this 70 mile / 10K ft race was going to be on the flatish paved roads at the start. It was basically a game of “how fast can we catch that group ahead of us?” — the answer turned out to be about 6 minutes. The field was about 450 split roughly equal across the groups. So after 6 minutes we had one group of 60 riders trying to pass another group of 60 riders … then six minutes later the next group, and so on all the way to some large fraction of the 50+ group. They were drilling it. All the while trying to follow the yellow line rule on a narrow canyon road during each pass. The jostling, churning and friction was impressive. Every group/group “collision" led to a new mix of riders …. some new and some left behind. After the second remix, I had no idea who I was racing against. In retrospect, the purpose was clear — gather the best riders from each of the male age group categories in order to work together for the first 50 miles then fight it out over the last 20 miles.
So this “drill it from the gun” was not very well aligned with my race plan. I wanted to race, I wanted to be in the mixed on the final 4K climb and I wanted to place well. But I also did not want to blow up and “drag it home” over the last 5K of climbing. I also figured that with 10K feet of climbing, the best legs would end up toward the front. That turned out to be mostly, but not entirely, correct. So when we hit dirt and it turned steep, I decided to ride a pace that I could hold for all of the climbing. That turned out to be a bit slower than the fastest guns. I hit the top of the first 4K climb at 1:47, 7 minutes slower than my target. The climb was great fun. I was not super excited about the split and those 7 minutes would turn out to be important, but I felt good and I knew we were just getting started.
Now came the 4K decent on rutted washboard dirt road. For most of the summer I had been denting rims and blowing tires while bombing down Pacheco and Placitas in order to get ready for this descent. It was not nearly as bad as I expected. Basically it was very long, steep straight sections that ended in hairpins. I did great on the straight sections! The hairpins …. well, not so great. I did keep it rubber side down, but over cooked a few of the turns. I also learned that the CX tripod / leg hang does not work so well on loose gravel! Still, the rubber never left the road and I certainly made up some time.
We then hit a 12 mile section of flat paved road with a strong head wind. Groups naturally formed as we moved through this section, but it was a mix of those still racing and those who had blown up. So it was not particularly fast or fun.
We then entered a section of the race called Mojave Hell. This is a relatively low part of the race at about 6500 ft, is south facing and follows an ATV track. Apparently this can be a brutal section due to a combination of the heat and a road surface of fluffy dirt. We had some clouds and a few drops of rain, so it did not feel so bad. I probably made a mistake here. I was with a group of 10 or so and mostly let them dictate the pace. I should have started to push it harder. Still, I was getting closer to my time target. We exited Mojave Hell at 3:08 — 3 minutes off my target pace. Honestly, I did not know what to think here. I was on target for 5:10-5:15 time and Daniel has won with a 5:06 in 2014. But there was no way for anyone to know where they were at in the race …. i.e. was that rider I just passed a pro shot out the back or a M45-49 racer?
Now came the last 3500 ft of the climb that started with Mojave Hell. I have to say this was the highlight of the race. From the bottom it felt like we could see the full climb and I was excited to hit it hard. The climbing was steep for the first 2500 ft or so at 8%, then maybe 5% for the rest. Over the next 45 minutes I climbed at about 1000 m / hr. I would pick off a rider every few minutes. I hit the KOM at 3:55 — 10 minutes ahead of schedule. So I was now looking at something close to 5:00. In retrospect though, I probably left the gas in the tank a bit too long.
The last 20 kilometers to the finish are kind of hazy. Lots of up and down on dirt. Then 1K climb to the finish. I definitely emptied the tanks on the way to the finish. I finished in 5:01:11 — nine minutes ahead of the my target.
It was a fantastic race. I loved it. I like gravel. I like climbing. I rode well on beautiful roads. I felt great after finishing. I really wonder if there is another race like this in the US. So it was all good. The only thing to top it off would a spot on the podium, 5 deep. Yeah, that did not happen. In any other category (expect Pro, of course) it would have. But not in the M45-49 — I finished 9th out 71 (ouch!). The results of the M45-49 are a bit of a mind bender …..
M45-49: Top ten finishers were from 9 different states.
M45-49: Top ten finishers would finished in the top 20 of the pro-race
Other NM riders got results, D. Schulhofer won 2nd in the M50+ with 5:02:48 and M. Caruso won 2nd in the W Pro with 5:03:24 (both Mindy and the W Pro winner beat the previous W CR).
It is not entirely clear why the race times were so much faster in 2015 as compared to 2014. The temperatures were clearly better for racing in 2014 and I heard that the gravel roads were in better shape. I also think that the race, now in its 5th year, is starting to attract broader attention and, as a result, more competitive fields are turning out.
I suspect that I will go back …. and will drill it from the start.