The Crusher in the Tushar is one of those races that sounds like a great idea in February when registration opens after months of snow and little riding. It seems like a long time away with plenty of time to train. Riding up a forest road in the Tushar Mountains with the smell of the pines, little traffic and scenic lakes sounds idyllic.
In February, I don’t remember that I'll have my head down for the first 3-hour climb through the forest and won't really see the lakes. I don’t remember, that at my pace, I have to keep pushing non-stop or I won’t make the cut-off. I'll have to carry all I’m going to drink and eat because I won’t have time to stop at the mid-climb rest-stop.
I think to myself, I’ll train and I’ll be faster this year. It will be easier. Then, about a month out, I realize that I haven't trained so it's unlikely that I'll be any faster. Again, I'll have to work hard just to make the cut-off.
The Friday before the race, we drove south to Beaver, Utah and camped a few miles out of town and just off the race course. We camp at this location every year, and this year, there were eight members of the KÜHL cycling team camping together. We had a subdued, early dinner together on Friday night. The party followed on Saturday.
The race started at 8 a.m. There were 600 registered riders, including 71 female riders divided into four categories: pro-women, 35 and under, 36-49, and 50+. I’m in the oldest group. This year all the women started together before the pro-men. This was nice because we all rode together for the first nine or so miles. Eventually the pro-men caught us. The pro-women and a few others chased after them, and our group broke apart. Eventually, the other groups of men passed us too.
Before we knew it, we were on dirt road and climbing. It no longer mattered that I wasn't riding in a group. Regardless of others around me, I only have one climbing pace, so I put my head down and rode.
Up. Pedal pedal. Don’t stop. Repeat.
I rode briefly with one fellow while passing Anderson Lake, and I joked that he was behind me. He said it didn’t matter because we were on track to make the cut-off. Then he passed me. He was on track.
I watched for landmarks. First one and then a second cattle crossing meant I was approaching the cut-off point, but I wasn't close enough to let up. I kept climbing. In the rain.
The final stretch to the cup-off point was down hill. I was cutting it close, so I had to descend as fast as I could. Gravel and mud were flying off my tires and into my face. I couldn't see. I took my glasses off and stopped twice to wipe mud out of my eyes.
Time was short. I could see the cut-off, and the monitors weren't standing out in the road to stop me and take my race number. But I wasn't safe yet. More mud. With one eye shut and the other squinting, the clocked ticked. I flew by, and the monitor yelled my time: 10:59. I made it with one minute to spare.
Soaked and covered in mud. I stopped at the rest stop, splashed water on my face, got a snack, filled my camel back and put on my rain coat. Up ahead was a long descent, first on the gravel switchbacks of the "Col D’Crush," then on the paved road in to Junction Utah. I thought I was last, but four riders pass me on the col, and four more on the road.
I couldn't keep up with the bigger riders on the down hill even though we were all coasting and resting. As I descended the Col D'Crush, I saw the pro-men coming up. It was exciting to have a front row seat to watch the pros. I saw Jeff Bender, a KÜHL rider, near the front. The first pro-women were not far behind. I saw a few more KÜHL riders. I was still going down. Next, I had to loop through the valley on the road, cross the miles-long, life-sucking sand "sarlacc pit" and then ride back up the hill I just descended.
In the sarlacc pit I thought I was last, but again I was passed by other riders. Now surely I was last. The rest stop in the middle of the sand was no longer manned, but I got a bottle of water. There were a surprising number of riders at the rest stop at the end of the sand. Some were waiting for the sag wagon, and some were just resting before the big climb.
The climb started on pavement before hitting the dirt. I passed a couple of riders and began the dirt climb. I alternated between riding and walking. It felt good to get off and walk, and then even better to get back on the bike and ride.
Just before the mid-col rest stop I passed one rider struggling. I suggested he walk for a bit, and he gave me the evil eye. As a cross-racer, I have no problem being off the bike for obstacles, and this hill was certainly an obstacle!
While I rested, this rider came in to the rest stop. He gave up and waited for the sag wagon. He should have taken my advice.
The rain continued, and I heard thunder and saw lightning in the distance. I pulled the hood over my helmet to keep water from running down my back. I passed the KOM and QOM near the top, and asked if there's a prize for the LAST women. They all laughed, but as it turns out, I still wasn’t last.
Finally, I was back at the cut-off point. I took the final turn for the finish, but still had 10 more miles with a lot of climbing to go. I felt really good despite the on-and-off rain. The last mile up to Eagle Point ski resort felt like the steepest segment of the entire 70-mile ride. Spectators at the finish cheered on the final riders. They made an arch with their arms for us to ride under.
As I crossed the line, someone took my bike, and someone else gave me a mylar thermal blanket. 70 miles, 10,000 feet of climbing, 8 hours 52 minutes, and eighth in my class.
I’m soaked but still smiling.
Lisa Fitzgerald is a member of the KÜHL Cycling Team.