Contender Rides the Crusher in the Tushar
Joseph rode Crusher in the Tushar, a gravel bike race that starts in Beaver, Utah. He outlines what he brought, what bike he chose, and what changes he would make to be prepared for one of the hardest gravel races around. - Alvin
On the morning of July 10th, I participated in the Crusher in the Tushar gravel bike race. When I say that this was the hardest race I have ever done, I mean it. Held high in the Tushar Mountains, the ride covers 69 miles of alternating asphalt and gravel roads. Worse still, the ride features about 10,000 feet of vertical, with just over half of the climbing in the last twenty miles.
Morning of the Race:
Like most people who race Crusher, I made sure to arrive in Beaver, Utah the day before. Check-in happens the day before, and you know I had to let everyone know I was pulling up with the jorts. I repped the jorts so hard that the Crusher Instagram put me all the way on their instagram story. Now I really had to double down on jorts.
On the day of, I woke up at 5:30 to make sure I had enough time to make it to the 7:00 am start and to be fully awake at that point. I ate an Apple Fritter for breakfast because it has the fast-acting Carbohydrates coming from the sugar in the apples and the frosting, and the long-acting carbohydrates coming from the dough. I arrived at the venue at 6:15 and started getting ready for the day ahead of me.
I packed up my Camelbak with the necessities: water, tools, a patch kit, Honey Stinger Chews, Redbulls, and a windbreaker. The Camelbak is a typical choice for rides like this, particularly if you don’t intend on spending much time at any of the five aid stations. Not that you need a Camelbak, but if you’re trying to finish the ride as fast as you can, a Camelbak helps.
I then donned my Pedal Mafia Contender Kit and the infamous jorts. The jorts I made by taking a pair of old jeans and cutting them into shorts. Much to the chagrin of some people, I do everything in my jorts, from working to riding, so when someone said that I would not race in them, I had to prove them wrong. To be clear, I did have a pair of bib shorts underneath, if only because I needed the extra padding on the bumpier parts of the ride.
At 7:05 am, the race began. We started on asphalt and it was a pretty mellow start in my eyes. All the racers were just chatting on the road and letting ourselves get warmed up on the mellow uphill that averaged about 2 percent grade. Once the group that started behind us caught us though, that all changed. The pace picked up and it started to feel like a real race.
We were in a large group up until we hit the dirt at mile 10. From mile ten to mile twenty you gain about 3000 ft in elevation, and because rain hadn’t fallen in the area in some time, most of the road was dry and very dusty. I started up this climb feeling good, with a consistent pace that kept me out of the redline, critical as this wasn’t even the big climb of the ride.
I could feel myself getting tired around mile twenty and starting to hurt but lucky for me the terrain evens out slightly and you get more rest before the downhill at mile 25. Here, you have to make sure you really cover your nutrition. Water and Honey Stinger Chews really helped me out here.
The downhill was one of the sketchiest downhills I have ever ridden. It is a loose gravel road with tight switchback corners and washboards the entire way down. The washboarded roads are rough on the body, suspension or no, as you’re getting beat repeatedly while concentrating on keeping yourself rubber side down. Would a knobbier tire have helped me here? Probably, but I think tire volume is more important in situations like this. Here, I would really recommend, a 40mm tire at the minimum is needed.
This is the type of downhill that you just have to hold on to your bars tight, and hope that you do not swing wide on a corner and fall down a steep slope. Worse still, the descent drops you about 4000 vertical feet in ten miles. You really have to trust your tires and brakes here, almost more than a mountain bike.
When I got to the pavement as the base of the downhill, I took my hands off the bars and rested my forearms on the tops of the bars to try to get the feeling back into my hands. My hands were so stiff and sore from the descent that opening and closing my hands was painful. Again, tire volume, not a ton of tread, is a good idea for this ride.
After the descent, there are about 10 miles of asphalt roads around Circleville before you hit the infamous Sarlaac Pit. The Sarlaac pit on paper does not look like that tough of a climb but it is a sandy dirt road, and it was in the triple digits temperature-wise. Mercifully, Garmin had set up a tent at the end of the climb with ice water and cold Cokes.
After the Sarlaac pit it flattens out for about a mile or two, and then the Col ‘d Crush. I started bonking right at the base of the Col ‘d Crush. The bonk lasted until I got over the Col, but I had to stop at a feed station to eat to make sure I could recover. There, I ate an Uncrustable, a handful of Hi-Chews, some applesauce, some watermelon, and I drank a Coke. That aid station felt like an oasis in the desert. Probably because it technically was one.
I ate all that in about three minutes to not waste too much time. Mercifully, I was spared an upset stomach. I thank the jorts for that.
Never underestimate how an Uncrustable and Coke helps in overcoming a hardcore bonk. After the KOM segment of the Col, there are just about 10 miles remaining, with the final mile on paved road. Fortunately I was able to ride strong until the finish here, though many people who finished after me really had a tough time with the final few miles. I can’t blame them, it isn’t easy!
After the Race
After I finished I was super gassed. I sat down, drank a chocolate milk, and just tried to recover. I waited for some friends to finish talking to them about their race and tried to track down some faster friends than me.
The welcome party at the finish line was strong despite COVID cutting down the overall number of people at the race. Having people to cheer you on feels great when you’ve done something as challenging as the Crusher, all that meant to me was relief that the ride was over. I know I’m not alone there.
After finishing there was a lot of just sitting around trying to get the feeling back into my legs while trying to replace some of the many calories I had lost throughout the day. We went to the award ceremony where I slammed some tacos before making the drive back to Salt Lake the same day.
I rode what was probably the most bike of the race, an OPEN UP. This was my first serious gravel ride on one and it stood up to the test. No wonder why so many people like this bike!
I was running 700c x 38mm Schwalbe G-One Allround tires, which provided enough grip and the all-important low rolling resistance on pavement. I think a low-tread tire like this is a great option, and the 40mm tire (as measured) is just enough of a tire to feel okay on the washboard roads without sacrificing much on asphalt.
Of course, this bike had Campagnlo Ekar, which gave me plenty enough of a low gear on the steep climbs. I also really liked that the 13-speed cassette had relatively tight gear changes when I needed them on the pavement. Not really so easy to do on a 1x drivetrain, but Campagnolo did a great job.
The bike felt smooth everywhere, still descended with the confidence of a rigid mountain bike. I passed a few people on the descent who were on mountain bikes with front and rear suspension who I was a little jealous of the comfort side of things, but they could not keep up with the rolling speed of the OPEN on asphalt.
It isn’t often that you can say that there is one right bike for the Crusher. After all, you see everything from cyclocross-width tire bikes to mountain bikes. My opinion though is that the OPEN U.P proved itself to be the right bike for the Crusher. After all, you need something lightweight for the long climbs, but something with wide enough tires to feel okay on the descents.
Is there one right bike for the Crusher? The popular answer is no, but I think a gravel bike like the OPEN UP comes really close. I would maybe run a slightly wider with a similar light tread, but the low weight and road bike geometry of the OPEN UP matches the high speeds and efficiency needed in this race.
Here’s the full pack list, including food I ate:
- 2 8.4 oz cans of Redbull, 5 packs of Honey Stinger Chews, 2 12 oz cans of Coca-Cola, 5 hi-chews, 3 pieces of watermelon, a handful of gummy bears, 1 Uncrustable (highly recommended), 2 packs of apple sauce, 2 strips of fruit leather, and about a gallon of water.
J = Joseph
O = Out
R = Riding
T = Trails
S = with Swag
Photos courtesy of Marathon Photos.