With 4 previous attempts at T. Burke Swindlehurst’s masterpiece event of pain, misery, grace, and triumph under my belt, my goal for this year’s Crusher in the Tushar had nothing to do with beating anyone except myself. To understand this, I’ll give you a recap of my 4 previous Crushers:
1. 2011. The first year. Nobody knew what to expect. I raced the 40-49 age group and surprised myself by winning my group and posting the fastest amateur time of the day. I rode a Specialized Crux carbon cyclocross bike with carbon deep dish rims, TUFO tubulars pumped up to 60 psi, with TRP cantilever brakes that didn’t do anything to slow me down on Col de Crush, and 39 x 27 gearing. We were lambs to the slaughter. And we loved every minute of it. All 311 of them.
2. 2012. In my 2nd Crusher, I attempted to defend my title. I think I got too fancy with the bike build. I rode a Specialized Crux aluminum frame disc bike with 29er carbon clincher wheels. The frame was heavy, the wheels were heavy, so the bike was heavy, but the bike was also fast. Maybe too fast. The conditions were wet and cold, and big washboards had developed on the descent. The disc brakes gave me confidence to let it rip, but I pinch-flatted, lost the leaders, and blew myself up trying to catch back on after I fixed a flat. I finished 5th in my age group, but this was by far my slowest time. Somewhere in the 5:25 range. People always ask me what wheels/tires I have run and they always seem to raise eyebrows when I say tubulars. Ironically, the year I rode clinchers is the only year I have ever flatted so far.
3. 2013. The dawning of the Squadra Flying Tigers presented by Jamis. I rode a carbon Supernova cyclocross bike, and switched back to tubulars as my wheels of choice. I raced Pro/Open this year, and had been training quite a bit with some of the local hotshots. I felt confident in my training, but I tried to go when the fireworks started on the first climb up to Kent’s Lake, and later paid the price. Before Sarlacc Pit, I was riding in 10th spot, but I cracked hard on the Col de Crush, cramped at the top before the final feed zone, and limped home to an unremarkable time. Still…something told me if I rode a smarter race, a top-10 in the Pro/Open was possible.
4. 2014. The year of the Hobbit. Much controversy. Much anxiety. Common sense told me to ride my own race, but when the gun went off down in Beaver, I attacked before most guys were clipped in. Local hot shot Bryson Perry joined me for the first 10 miles and we built up a nice little gap on the rest of the Pro field. I climbed all the way to the first feed by myself, but soon I was chased down by Levi. I stayed with him only briefly, but managed to make it to the top of the big descent with the lead chase containing most of the favorites. I actually surprised myself by mastering the descent and being the first rider to the bottom, since by mid-descent we had passed Levi who was in a ditch changing a flat. 7 of us worked like we were in a road race breakaway, taking even pulls through Circleville, but the minute I hit Sarlacc Pit, I knew I had to throttle back. I let go of the bungee cord, took a cold can of Coke from Burke who was following us in the lead group, and started to wonder how the heck I was going to get to the finish line. I started to pay the price for my early race antics, and we hadn’t even hit the 3,800 vertical feet of reckoning yet. Somewhere near the top of Sarlacc, Levi passed me, asking how far up the group was. I don’t remember saying anything, maybe a grunt. The ensuing climb up Col de Crush was an agonizing eternity of trying to limit my losses, and perhaps might have been my slowest time, at least according to Strava. I lost a few places on the road, and despite fighting off cramps that had me stopped and off the bike to stretch, I still managed a 9th place finish, and a new PR of just under 4:54.
So there we were, 2015. One year older, but was I one year wiser? Was this the year I was actually going to ride my own race, no matter what? My only goal was to beat my PR, and the conditions were prime. It was not too hot, even borderline chilly at certain points. Heavy rain the week prior to the race made the descent firm and fast, and there was hardly any dust out there. Sarlacc Pit was not the usual soft and sandy quicksand that feels like hands reaching up and grabbing your wheels, pulling them down into the depths of despair. I literally rode my own race, and never saw another competitor from my age group once we hit the first climb, although this was deceiving, because 2nd and 3rd place in my age group were less than 2 minutes behind by the time we crossed the finish line. This is remarkable when you consider the 3 of us were 10th, 12th, and 13th over all on time. It all came down to a handful of minutes, but I rode my own race, and posted a new PR of 4:38.