Horse for the Course: Crusher in the Tushar

'Whatever type of bike you choose, you'll be unhappy with it at some point'

When the Crusher in the Tushar first started, everyone made a big deal about which bike to ride: MTB or road. The tagline was, "no matter which one you choose, you'll be dead wrong at some point in the race!" I won the amateur race in 2013, and went back this year with what I hoped was the right bike.

Held high in the Tushar mountains of Utah, the Crusher in the Tushar is a climb-tastic gravel race, featuring 10,000ft / 3,048m of elevation gain over just 70 miles of alternating pavement and dirt.

After a few editions, riders figured out that this was clearly a course for a cyclocross bike. The really important questions then became, what wheels, what tires and what gears?  

  • The course: 70mi with 10,000ft / 3,048m of elevation; 40 percent paved roads, 60 percent dirt and gravel
  • The horse: Focus Mares CX with Di2, SRM and Clément X'Plor MSO 36mm set up tubeless on HED Ardennes +
  • The equipment goal: A bike that can handle racing on paved roads and dirt roads with equal aplomb 

My race rig for the Crusher is a slightly modified version of my cyclocross race bike
My race rig for the Crusher is a slightly modified version of my cyclocross race bike

Tubeless for the win — or, at least, for a flat-free race

Tubulars would be great for pinch-flat resistance and comfy psi, but if you sliced a sidewall — which is highly probable — you'd be hosed. If you run clinchers, there will be a 99.789 percent probability that you pinch flat. 

This leaves us with a tubeless set up that is the best option in my opinion. There's no tube to pinch and you can run tyre pressures as low as 40psi (which I did) for some shock absorption. The bailout is a tube and CO2 cartridge if you flat. In two years of competing in the Crusher I have used a tubeless set up at 40psi without any issues. 

Once you decide on tubeless, then you want to think about wheel and tire choice.

HED Ardennes + wheels, with their wide rim bed, plump up the 36 Clément X'Plor MSO tubeless tires to nearly 38mm
HED Ardennes + wheels, with their wide rim bed, plump up the 36 Clément X'Plor MSO tubeless tires to nearly 38mm

The last time I raced the Crusher, back in 2013, I used a HED Ardennes and a homemade Clément LAS 38mm tubeless set up. I found the LAS's needed to be brand new to get the bead to seal to make them tubeless, and the Ardennes at that time weren't "tubeless ready".

This year I used a pair of HED Ardennes +, which were tubeless-ready, and I elected to go with the Clement X'plor MSO 36mm. These sealed up right away and I tested them on dirt roads and trails for the three months prior to putting them through the same paces I'd face in the Crusher.

The preparation and the results

I've been a professional coach for 12 years, so hopefully I know how to train at this point! To prepare for the Crusher I did a huge amount of Sweet Spot training and raised my CTL from 32 to 114 in the two weeks before. [Editor's translation: 32>114 translates roughly as 5 hours of training to 20 hours of training per week.] I lost 10lb / 4.5kg.

We rode in a group until the first climb when my 45+ age group caught every 5-year age group down to the 30+ group. So it was actually pretty dicy running up into 75-100 riders and manoeuvring to the front from there. 

The 70mi Crusher climbs 10,000ft / 3,048m
The 70mi Crusher climbs 10,000ft / 3,048m

Once we hit the first climb 25 minutes into the race, the field shattered within about 10 minutes of a 40-minute climb. I crested the climb with my good friend who drove with me to the race from Boulder, and we rode together until the bottom of the Col where we began to catch other riders and formed a group of 20. In this group we were missing one of the guys from my field so I knew I was racing for second.

Once this group hit the Sarlacc Pit, the field shattered again and I pressed on ahead, alone in chase mode in case I could catch the leader in front of me. Serious suffering ensued and I crested the Col with a guy named Dave from SRAM from Chicago. We became blood brothers for the next two hours, surfing deeper than usual gravel to the finish.

The race went well and my time was faster compared to 2013 when I won, but this year the field was stronger — so overall I was happy.

Verdict on the bike, the gear and the event

The wheels and tires worked beautifully, and I bombed the first descent. You are always worried you may flat, but not enough to slow down that much because everybody else is flying too. Slowing down is not a competitive option!

With 40psi in the Cléments, I floated over the big gravel hits. I didn't use gloves because it's just too hot. I used extra thick cushy bar tape instead. 

I won my age group in 2013. This year, I went faster — but so did the competition
I won my age group in 2013. This year, I went faster — but so did the competition

I used my Focus Mares ’cross bike, but put on 50/34 chainrings and an 11-32 cassette. The 34x32 was better than the 28 I used in 2013, but the Col de Crusher is so hard I could have used an even lower gear! I was only able to average 67rpm for the 50-minute climb and I like to spin over 80rpm.  

The race is hard — just... hard. Would I do it again? Well, immediately after the event and on the drive home I thought, never again. But I am warming up to the idea of racing it in 2017 based on what I learned about myself and training, which relate to areas I could improve upon. 

I would definitely use lower gearing for the Col de Crusher as I mentioned above. I wound up losing another 8lb / 3.6kg in the weeks after the race from the nutritional changes I'd made beforehand. Carrying that into next year with the same power puts my power-to-weight ratio at 5 percent better. This would have made a huge difference up the climbs.

Additionally, I think I'd do one or two races beforehand to prepare for digging that deep. I went into the red up the first climb big time and paid for it later in the race.

The Crusher is about 40/60 paved road to dirt road
The Crusher is about 40/60 paved road to dirt road

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