The rain is falling lightly, the sun is still trying to poke thru the thick grey/black ominous clouds, the wind is present but not ‘gusting’ and I am trying to put some food in me before the race starts. I’ve already given myself a bit of handicap (I forgot my ‘clip’ shoes) so I am riding today’s race on Bonniers (Brandons friend and my savior for the race) magnesium flat pedals. Race director gives us instructions something about be cautious and careful about lightening strikes, horn sounds flag drops any my heat is off.
The angry buzz of knobby tires fills the rain soaked air, pace is fast, the group is large, but thins considerably on the first punchy climb. 6miles later we are on the dirt. The roads are wet, and filled with puddles, mud, and sand all the items chains and bearings enjoy. The first 25miles are in the books, and at the top of the summit I stop and put on my arm guards on(just in case my bike wants me to high five the ground again) I begin the descent from 10,000+ and get to pass thru the clouds – which was pretty awesome. All the folks who passed me on the dirt downhill – I am now catching up and passing on the road, as I pass they give shouts of encouragement like ‘it’s gotta be the shoes’, ‘wow, your riding in those’, ‘when did ADIDAS make cycling shoes’
Right turn and the next 20 miles are climbing, with 85% of it being on dirt. I grind up the KOM area (thinking to myself “Shutup Knees! Do what I tell you!!!”) this is the hardest part of the course for me, because my cadence is slow, my chain and bottom bracket are popping, creaking and making sounds only heard during earthquakes. Next 15miles are much easier and the mileages to go signs are good at keeping my spirits up.
Mileage 5 is very welcome it indicates two miles dirt downhill, and three miles of paved road. Dirt descent is slow and cautious, road starts off with a punchy climb – knees tell me “YOU DO WHAT I TELL YOU!”, the next 1/2mile is painful but I push and get to the summit for a quick one mile descent , where we again turn right and begin the 1mile 850+foot elevation gain to the finish line. At this point I see two people in front of me, and I tell myself 1mile and the sooner you get to the top the sooner your knees can rest. So I PUSH cadence goes from an estimated 50-60rpms, to 90-100rpms I keep telling myself this is nothing, YOU commute on the BIG dummy with more weight in it, push and pass push and pass. I keep believing it and before you know it I’ve reeled in two people, and look up and see 5 other carrots with 500meters to go, so again I dig deep and PUSH hard picking them off one at a time, last 50meters I see one more guy, I want to catch and beat him to the line SO again big push as I get shoulder to shoulder he steps on it but I’ve already got momentum on my side and slide right past him entering the finish line first. Once past the line I’m greeted by the wonderful volunteers from Beaver who take my bike, give me a blanket, a drink, and some food!
In closing this was A great race! AMAZING Support from the local community! And this is the only race I’ve ever been to that I’ve had grandma’s and grandpa’s cheering us on, shouting, clapping, and just making us feel like we are the stars
An especially important component of Crusher in the Tushar is the preparation. Of course, every competitive event requires that you have the fitness and your equipment is sound enough to complete the event, but with almost 70 miles of racing, with 10,000 feet of climbing, some of it at 10,000 feet of elevation, a course encouraging a light weight, aerodynamic, road-friendly bike, that will have to negotiate some steep, very rough dirt roads, the Crusher requires that all of the preparation come together seamlessly.
Which is precisely why I decided to hang my bike in the garage, move down to 700 feet of elevation and basically stop riding for three weeks prior to this year’s race.
I did wake up at 4am to fly back in to town the day before the race to do some simple last minute preparation, like new tires, new chainring and singlespeed freewheel, trying to fit the tools which I tried to remember to bring back with me to my bike, replacing my wife’s bike’s cassette… that type stuff. OK, I didn’t really do ALL of that the day before the race, but adjustments were being made.
We made it to Beaver at about 6pm after a pleasant drive down the I-15 only to find that Reza, the exceedingly nice new owner of the Delano Motel, was graciously installing new carpet in our room and that if we would kindly give him about two hours our room would be all set. Post-last-minute preparations could wait a bit longer. Packet pick-up to the tunes of Bad Brad and Wes (both cyclists themselves, mind you) and then an awesome dinner at what has to be one of the finest Mexican restaurants on the south side of Beaver along with Ali, Richard and Jamon, and we were back to the Delano Motel and a brand new room. “This bed has never been slept in.” we were assured by Reza. Well we’ll fix that! A few simple things like pumping up tires, attaching race numbers, strapping on seat packs, realizing I didn’t have any spare tubes, wondering if I’d chosen the right gear ratio (likely too high), assuring Kenny and Greg that they had indeed chosen the right gear ratio (“Na, ya need to go higher.” ;-), showering, stressing a bit more about how ill-prepared I was, driving to the gas station for a Twix and chocolate milk, and… sleep.
As I’m sure you’ve heard, we all woke up (or in Greg’s case, stayed up) to drizzle and ominous skies. Better than last year’s sun and heat? Possibly. But heading up to 10,000 feet in Utah in July is always a risky proposition. And with this morning’s skies… cold, rain, hail, snow… it could all happen. Take arm warmers? Knee warmers? Long fingered gloves? Maybe a jacket? What should I take? I know! I’ll take the only thing I brought… arm warmers. I think that will [have to] do just fine for today’s forecast. We were all staged by category and a quick glance to the left and right, my competition, made me feel like I was sitting on the bench at Brewvies! An interesting statistic about the first two years of the Crusher: entrants almost doubled from ’11 to ’12; singlespeed entrants decreased; and 5 of the 10 singlespeed entrants this year were Cutthroaters!!! (6 of 10 if you count Richard Hurst, which we will, but only because he won, and Ali likes him.) Moral: This is a popular race, but you have to be drunk to register to race it on a singlespeed and not many people in Utah are that drunk.
The ride itself was over in a flash. I don’t remember any of it. I hear that it was kind of cool, there was some rain, some kind of rough road, climbing… basically your typical UT race. I didn’t bonk, which must have been thanks to the volunteers at this race. Seriously, you may have seen this written as well, but they way Beaver and the other local communities turn out to support this event is truly impressive. These people become rabid TdF type fans, cheering, ringing cowbells (or banging pots) not to mention handing up bottles, bananas, gel flasks, Cokes to moving cyclists at the aid stations, which is not an easy skill. I finished within ten seconds of last year’s time (slower, of course) then spent the next few hours hanging out at the Eagle Point Resort, eating fine food, drinking fine Cutthroat, chatting with friends and rapidly forgetting all the pain and agony that I just told you I couldn’t recall.
The best part of looking forward to the 2013 Crusher in the Tushar is that I’m NOT going to worry about my gear ratio… only which tires I can fit on.
I have a serious disorder – pre-race anxiety syndrome. I fret and brood about each race for days before the event. Even when there are no decisions to be made except whether I am going to show up and pedal, I twist myself into knots with self-doubt.
And in this race? This mostly-dirt –climbing-but-with- a-wicked-bumpy-descent-and-a-long-stretch-of- pavement-flat race? My insides are churning. Should I be fat or skinny? Rigid or squishy? And most importantly, on my single speed bike, what gear should I run?
Oh, dear lord, what gear?
*This* question in *this* race brings all of my anxieties bubbling to the surface – *How strong are you, really? How much pain are you willing to endure? Are you feeling lucky, punk?*
Choose a good gear. This is obviously the key. You want to choose a gear that lets you not get dropped too badly on the flats and allows you to ride as much as possible on the hills.
But that’s the problem. There is no “good gear” for the tushar. For me, trying to race Crusher on a single speed is, quite frankly, ridiculous. The gear I need to climb will mean pedaling like crazy but going nowhere fast on the flats. **
But since I seem to enjoy getting eaten up and spit out on a single speed, I make my choice. I choose to climb. I am going to race on my mountain bike gearing – a 32:22.
I spend the next several weeks, and days, and hours before the race second guessing this choice.
“Hey, Kenny, do you think I should maybe try it on a 21? I could maybe climb on a 21?”
Kenny tries to reassure me by engaging, yet again, in my futile backing-and-forthing anguish. “I think that if you really want to try and be faster on the flats, you should try a 20.”
I am immediately unreceptive. “What?! That’s crazy! I can’t push a 20 – I would have to walk like everything! And besides, my knees might spontaneously explode!!!”
Kenny rolls his eyes. He has been very patient with my self-indulgent torment.
On race morning, thunderheads grumble from the horizon and clouds seal the sky in the color of tombstones – a foreshadowing omen?
I try to re-frame this pre-race anxiety in my mind. Instead of calling it “feeling like I’m going to throw up my esophageal lining,” I try calling it, “feeling alive.”
It doesn’t work.
The good thing about pre-race anxiety, however, is that it tends to disappear when the race begins – that moment when all I need to do is put my head down and pedal.
I start with the single speed group and watch them quickly take off at warp speed. I yell a goodbye and good luck to Kenny and the rest of my teammates (Team Cutthroat made up 6 of the 11 starting single speeders, proving, yet again, that we are an incredibly enthusiastic but perhaps not too bright group of bikers).
The cool rainy morning spins crookedly around my head, as I pedal up the lonely beginning stretch of pavement. But I’m not lonely for long. The women’s peloton catches me before the first climb and I smile as they yell encouragement while passing. Something I always seem to understand during the race, but can never remember in those anxious moments preceding a race – my fears and concerns are little things, too evanescent and human to impinge upon the immeasurable cycle of the world. I am pedaling my bike. I am one of the last riders to hit the dirt climb. And I am happy.
The first climb is hard, but I stay on my bike and actually catch a few racers. About 24 miles and 4500 vertical feet later, I crest the first climb and start to descend.
I love going down.
Even when it is a steep, gravelly washboard descent that combines downhill fun with rattling your dental fillings loose. I race down the bumps, carom ing from scenic viewpoint to scenic viewpoint, ever so pleased with my decision to be fat and squishy today.
Then the heavens open up, turning the road beneath my wheels into muddy brown rivulets.
I love getting dirty on my bike.
I am smiling and taking the waterboards with speed, even as the shivers begin and I can feel the goosebumps prickling my undefended flesh.
I wonder if geese just call them bumps?
I love thinking weird thoughts on my bike.
And then as I hit the pavement and the race levels out, I notice something strange.
I think it has something to do with anion particle sock dynamics creating a vortex in the space-time continuum which sucks me into a parallel dimension where I am pedaling but actually going *nowhere*.
As I bike towards Circleville, the flat section unrolls in front of me, dragging me back, accelerating me toward some distant event horizon that I never actually get to. I coast, and then pedal madly, my legs flailing around in not so much a pedal stroke as a potential spontaneous
dismemberment, indefinitely postponed. And I am not *any* closer to Circleville.
This bike race would be greatly improved by the addition of forward
And then I finally, finally, pedal through Circleville, and the mountains lean hugely towards me, accepting me into their hills. I pedal with an ever-slowing cadence until I am barely keeping my bike upright, breathing in and breathing out, until there is nothing but breath holding me together.
I feel alive!
I am pedaling pushing my bike up a crazy steep hill. And what else would I choose to be doing with my life at this moment?
This, I choose. This beautiful, perfect day in the Tushar mountains.
Sorry for getting tears of joy all over you.
Of course, my unadulterated joy tarnishes slightly by the end of the race, and facing the prospect of climbing this last hill, I would rather have my
brains ripped out by a plastic fork. But somehow I stay on my bike, and the brutal, lung-busting misery is eventually replaced by the elation of seeing Kenny cheering for me at the top of the climb. My conscious thoughts dissolve as I approach the finish, the announcer helping me across the line with a supportive push.
Jaw ache from smiling too much is a good thing.
As pre-race anxiety is replaced by post-race bliss, I now feel much more confident about my ability to single speed Leadville in four weeks. Four … weeks …
I wonder what gear I should run.
Oh, dear lord, what gear?