“69.9 miles you say? That shouldn’t be too hard. Hold on, over 10,000 feet of elevation gain?!?”
2022 marked The Crusher in the Tushar’s 11th year anniversary. An idea created and directed by none other than Burke Swindlehurst. Of all the editions this one held a particularly bittersweet note. The icon Burke was finally passing along the directorship torch and taking a step back. For the first time since it’s conception, Burke would race the Crusher in the Tushar.
For me, I couldn’t think a better way to experience my first Crusher. It was a true honor. Thank you to Burke and all other members within their team on perfecting an event which I can only assume like I have, will remember forever, as well as continue to come back for.
The sun was beginning to lick the western facing Tushar’s as we rolled out from the quiet little town of Beaver, UT. This was the third stop of the Lifetime Grand Prix and another opportunity to put OpiCure Foundation on the map. Notable faces in the pro field included: Keegan Swenson, Laurens Ten Dem, Ted King, Lachlan Morton, Alex Howes, Alexey Vermeulen, Howard Grotts, Peter Stetina, Kiel Reijnen, Russell Finsterwald, Payson McElveen to name a few.
The group turned from Hwy 153, a mellow meandering climb following Beaver River, onto S Kent’s Lake Rd. This was the unofficial start of the day. Very quickly the group began to thin and pick up pace. The dirt was smooth, fast and according to the research I had done the night before about an hour to reach the climb’s peak. Howard Grotts and Keegan Swenson ripped the field apart, including myself. I redlined and was distanced from the group. A few deep breaths, a knock down in the gear box and a short time to refocus. Shortly thereafter I saw a rider up the road also coming back. Rider Alex Wild and I linked up for a few pulls. The legs continued to open up more and more. I distanced myself from Alex and quickly saw Andrew L’Esperance a few bends ahead. We linked up and worked together. And again, a few bends ahead we could see Peter Stetina, Alexey Vermeulen and Payson McElveen. I distanced Andrew and bridged across to make the group a quartet. We crested onto the plateau and started making our way to the descent of Col ‘d Crush. While traversing, I had an issue with my shifting and had to stop to fix it. A very common observation with the rough wash boarded roads we were traveling.
The Col ‘d Crush descent was rough. Deep wash board, very loose gravel all while rocketing downhill into exposed hairpin drop offs. White knuckles and teeth rattling.
Exiting the small town of Junction, UT we picked up a few extra riders from ahead as well as behind. We were now a group of roughly 10.
Leaving Circleville, UT we began the long climb back towards the Tushar’s. What lay ahead first was “The Sarlacc Pit”. A deceptively steep grade, loose sand and irregular dirt conditions. At this point many rider’s wheels started coming off.
Col ‘d Crush
As we exited the previous dirt climb the group was Peter Stetina, Howard Grotts, Cole Paton Payson McElveen and myself. Unfortunately Payson punctured so we took on the Crush as 4. The Col ‘d Crush delivered. Sweltering heat, 10% grades, loose dirt, washboards. No matter how hard you tried you couldn’t find a smooth line. More often than not, the smoothest line was also the preferred line of fellow competitors descending the Crush. We finally hit the aid station at the top and again the group whittled down, Howard Grotts losing contact.
Keegan Swenson was still solo up the road. He was having an incredible day and we would never see him again until the finish. In the group vying for 2nd was Peter Stetina, Cole Paton and myself. One person would miss out on the podium, that person was still to be determined.
The dirt ended and we found ourselves at the foot of the final turn and last climb to the finish. We took the turn, Stetina, Easter, Paton. At 7/10ths a mile to go I took the front and put in a dig. After some time I looked back and Stetina and Paton were still on the wheel but had slight grimaces. I stayed on the front but eased the pace. At 3/10ths a mile to go I put in another dig. Again I looked back, this time distancing both Stetina and Paton. I could see the finish but my legs were burning from my efforts. I looked back and saw Paton charging quickly as well as Stetina. Paton passed me. I thought I had nothing left. However, I told myself to dig deeper. I kicked again and at the end managed to make distance back on Paton and keep my spot ahead of Stetina. However, it was too little too late. Cole Paton finished 2nd and I held on for 3rd.
Final Notes and Takeaways
The Crusher in the Tushar is a serious race. The altitude combined with the rough terrain and 10,000 feet of elevation gain make it the only mountain top finish gravel race in the USA. The landscape and views are jaw dropping and unforgettable. No matter if your experience was at the front or back, The Crusher is a race everyone needs to put on their bucket list.
Our mission and goal at OpiCure Foundation is to utilize the bicycle and gravel community to help individuals struggling with opioid use disorder. We believe that more education, less stigma and showcasing the power the bicycle can provide as a tool for recovery is a very real solution to this huge problem. We were so happy to again attend another gravel event and put the OpiCure flag on the map. It brings awareness to more eyes and starts more conversations. We can’t thank all our partners enough who believe alongside us in this mission. THANK YOU! The next races up are SBT Gravel August 14th for Griffin Easter and for the whole team including Lucie Kayser-Bril (our sponsored rider in recovery) September 24th at BWR Cedar City. Follow our instagram (@opicurefoundation) and website (www.opicure.org) for the latest updates. Until the next one #opicurestrong
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