Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Crusher in the Tushar - Race Report

Five hours, seven minutes, and forty-two seconds after leaving down town Beaver, UT I arrived at Eagle Point ski resort. The end finally came after 69 miles of riding, 10,000 feet of climbing, 975 mg of caffeine, 550 grams of pure sugar, 6 bottles of water, and one endless grin across my face stretching from ear to ear. As challenging as the infamous Crusher in the Tushar may appear on paper, it is easily twice the beast in real life.

Kinda like meeting a pro football player in real life. They look pretty big on TV, but nothing will make your slightly above average biceps look more like they came from the same roll of dental floss as Michael Rasmussen's chicken limbs, than seeing a linebacker up close in person.

The Crusher, from a comfortable distance, looks like this:

Up close and personal, the Crusher feels more like this:
But it's fun. The kind of fun you can't describe. So I won't even try. The only thing I'll say is that one of the best moments I've ever had on a bike came at 3.5 hours into the race. I was halfway up the col d'crush, I'd settled into a perfect rythm, a flask of gels and caffeine had just hit the blood, the right tunes were crankin' on the ipod, I was thinking about how lucky I was to have the most amazing family to go home to after the race, and everything, for that moment was just absolutely perfect.

And that was the general gist of the entire race for me; one big perfect moment. Not easy, not comfortable, and definitely not painless, but very enjoyable. The mixture of hills and flats, the seemingly constantly changing terrain, and the company of other riders and the volunteers made the Crusher one of the best races I've ever done.

I'll fully admit I didn't enjoy the beautiful scenery at all. I was staring at the road immediately in front of my front wheel the entire time. I probably missed out on some spectacular views and sights. But, for what its worth, I don't feel like I missed out on a thing. The feelings and emotions that came from riding at the brink of blowing my legs off for 5 hours straight were more than enough to supply all of the sensory input I could handle. You can accuse me of missing out on the simple, beautiful things of nature. But that's not why I race. I race to push myself. And if it happens that I get to go push myself along roads with beautiful views, then I'll usually just hope somebody else is taking pictures to look at later.  

The race started kinda slow. I took off the line with a quick little sprint, just to say I was ahead of the full pro field, even if only for a moment, but quickly coasted back into the group. Two riders, Bryson Perry and Tom Cook, however, felt the need to get away and continued an attack off the front. Nobody seemed too worried. I heard Levi Leipheimer asking another rider if either of them was anybody to worry about. They responded by saying Bryson might be a threat. I think Bryson ended up with some mechanical issues, and Tom ended up finishing somewhere in the top 10.

The pro group was in no hurry along the opening 10 miles of pavement. I had a few friends racing in the age groups I wanted to beat, so I got a little nervous at our slow pace. Not enough to charge off the front (like Bucky Gibson decided to do) but did take a few pulls up at the front of the group.

That's the funny thing about the difference between the pro fields and the age group mentalities.  The pros are racing each other. They don't care how fast the group goes, or what the final time is, they just want to save as much energy for when it counts, and put their stock in getting the best final result in the pro standings. Age groupers, on the other hand, seem to be more willing to lay it down the whole race. That's my guess why the Lotoja course record was actually held by an age grouper in his 50's and not anyone in the pro field. But that's just my opinion, loosely based on observations. 

Here's the field rolling along the opening miles up the paved canyon.

It was fun to cruise along for the first half hour on the road. I took advantage of riding alongside some of the bigger names in cycling. It was cool to be in a race next to guys I look up to and respect as people and athletes like David Weins and Levi Leipheimer. So I didn't complain at our leisurely pace up the road. I knew it would be the only time I'd even be able to see these guys during the race.

Another pleasant bonus to riding at the front of the group was getting to ride with Racer. I sat in his slip stream most of the time (6'6" slipstreams are really nice), but rode alongside with my buddy for a little bit of the way too. It was fun to ride with him for a stretch.

Once the group hit the steeper climb at the turn, it all blew apart. Levi took off, destined to hunt down the attackers, and the rest of the pro field followed suit. I knew exactly what intensity I would be able to sustain for the 90 minutes of climbing that would follow, and quickly settled into my own pace.

The climb was fun. A little group of us soon formed and started catching some of the guys that took off a little too fast at the base of the climb. I knew my limits, and kept it in check, despite the urge to really rally it up the first climb. I knew it would be good to go over the top with a good group that would be able to work together along the flat pavement of Circleville. I got over the first climb and started the descent with Jon Russell. It was definitely bumpy, and bottles covered the road. We ocassioinaly passed a rider with a flat which caused me to doubt my little Raven tires. They held up, however, and we made it to the long paved stretch. A large group of us quickly gelled together as we hit the flats, allowing us to for an efficient pace line. The 2/3 of us who felt good took turns pulling, while the back 1/3 took advantage of the draft.

I didn't mind having a small following behind the working riders, but apparently one of the guys did. He kept asking the trailing riders if they were ever going to take a pull. I figured they were all so tired they weren't exactly going to be a threat heading back up the hill, and we might as well bring them along and help them out as much as we could. I did make the comment to the unofficial pace line police man that if any of the tag alongs passed us going back up the hill we would be allowed to kick them off the trail. But as I anticipated, it wasn't a problem.

The road quickly (although the pavement seemed to go on forever, making me remember why I quit racing road bikes. It's kinda boring circling around in a pace line. Thank goodness Chris Holley was there to keep the spirits high) turned uphill and sandy. I got excited because it allowed me to once again put my head down and settle into my pace.

We soon reached the climb back up the col d'crush. I was at about 3 hours of ride time and figured it would be another 2 hours of climbing. Mentally, I could handle that. The legs felt good, my spirits were high, and it all seemed to be downhill from there. Figuratively, anyway.

The col was rough, but doable. I don't remember much about the road. Just how I felt. I think I passed a few riders going up, but was really so deep into my own world I never really noticed. What I did notice was how delicious that little red solo cup of cold coke was at the KOM spot. I almost got off the bike and asked for more.

I soon got to the top where it turns to rollers and passed the aid station where the road turns out to head towards the ski resort. My brother was there to snap some photos and yell some encouraging words. I didn't really hear what he yelled, but I figured it was inspiring. Until I saw him after the race and he told me that he'd actually  just yelled out how far behind Levi I was. Yeah, that wasn't exactly very encouraging. But that's what brothers are for. (My brother had actually been a very solid source of motivation for me. He came down to the race to help out, and having him there played a large role in my exceptional day on the bike. Thanks, Brad)

With 10 miles to go, I started having my first doubts. I thought it would be another 10 whole miles of climbing. I knew I could climb for that long again, but I wasn't sure how fast I could do it. The sugar must have been wearing off, because for the first time, I started having trouble keeping my pace. Luckily, it was really only a few more miles of climbing that I managed to gut out until it turned to rollers, then downhill, then the last uphill mile to the finish.

Actual dollar bill I got from Slyfox's cycling handout fund

I'd heard people talk about the last mile being hard. In my prideful ignorance I'd refused to believe that any one mile could really be as hard as people described it to be. So upon hitting the base of the last climb, I stood up, accelerated, and began to drill it home. That lasted about 30 seconds. Less than 0.05 of a mile. Which meant I still had 0.95 miles to go. It was definitely the longest mile I've ever ridden. My computer seemed to refuse to register the distance I was covering as I watched the hundredths seem to take whole minutes to pass by.

Eventually, however, I made it to the finish line. 5 hours, 7 minutes, and 42 seconds after leaving down town Beaver, every single minute of which, was thoroughly enjoyed. It wasn't always comfortable, but it was 100% enjoyable. Couldn't have asked for a better day on the bike. It was a well organized race I already look forward to doing again.

2014 Results Here

Monday, July 14, 2014

Crusher in the Tushar 2014 - Equipment Report

Best day on the bike in a long while. Smiling strong at mile 59.
So here we are. A few months after building up the RLT.

My entire basis for becoming interested in building a disc brake road/gravel bike was in response to finally deciding to race the Crusher in the Tushar bike race down in Beaver, UT. I've had quite a few friends race it over the last 3 years its been going, and every single one of them, regardless of how they do in the race, seem to love it.

The Crusher is very well organized and quite challenging; two key elements to making any race fun. After watching the little promo video this winter, I became mildly obsessed with it. It spurred the building of the RLT (more on eventual frame choice later) along with my first serious and consistent training efforts since 2010. 

It all paid off. I haven't had a race come together as well as the Crusher did in years. Like everybody else, I was nervous about anything and everything (including tires) right up until the morning of the start. However, the moment the gun went off, it was all about just spinning pedals and eating sugar. Two things I've gotten pretty good at over the years. 

The following are some thoughts on the equipment I ended up using for the race. I'll post another writeup here shortly about the race itself. If anybody else finds it useful or entertaining, great. If not, feel free to go read a more useful blog about vaccines, autism, or Hobby Lobby's birth control policies.

I digress. Back to what's important.

After spending months planning out every meticulous detail of the bike I would ride in the Crusher, 3 weeks before the race I made some radical changes. I'd been planning on racing the RLT with a typical 2x10 setup that utlized a bunch of Force components I'd rounded up and an 11-36 XX cassette I'd had sitting in the parts bin since 2010.

However, after switching to a 1x10 setup on the cross country bike using a Sram X-9 Type II rear derailleur and a single Race Face wide/narrow chain ring up front, I was sold on the idea of running a 1x10 setup for the Crusher. I figured I'd lose a few gears off the top and bottom ranges, but after riding a single speed the last few years, I was no stranger to standing up to pedal when it got steep, or kicking the cadence up to 100+ rmp on flats and downhills.

I was hoping to find a 34t wide/narrow chainring in a 110 BCD for my compact cranks so I wouldn't have to lose any gears on the low range, but the smallest I could find was a 38t. When I put this together with my 11-36t cassette in the back, I ended up with very similar low end gearing as what a lot of other crushers with compact cranks and wi-fli rear derailleurs were getting with 34t little rings up front and 32t big cogs in the back. So I figured that was for the best as I'd need something a little taller than a 34x11 for the flats of Circleville. 38x11 worked out perfectly.

For tires I'd been hoping to ride some Panaracer Cross Blasters. They were very light (280g) and had a good, fast rolling profile. They had held up fine at low speeds on the dirt roads and gnarly single track I tested them out on around Utah County when I first got them. However, once I went down hill with any kind of speed and any amount of rock, they seemed to hold up as well as a rice paper windshield. After double flats on a Squaw Peak road attempt (hitchhiked home) and another set of double flats on Pole Line road (took 3 tubes with me this time), I decided to take the advice of a few other experienced Crushers and go with a pair of Stan's Ravens 35mm cx tires; and they worked beautifully. Rolled fast, gripped well, and didn't flat. Everything I could have hoped for in a tire.

As far as frames go, I was very very pleased with the RLT. The geometry was spot on. It felt stable on the flats, low in the corners (I loved how low the bottom bracket was), and could climb like any road bike I'd had. It even convinced me I wanted disc brakes on any future road bikes I build. However, when Niner released the news that they were going to start production on a sub 1000g carbon cx frame, I began getting greedy.

I figured I could lose over a pound and a half by switching to a carbon frame and a 1x10 setup.

I never guessed what would really happen by switching to a full carbon setup: total weight saved came out to be over 2.5 lbs. Not bad.

I ended up with a Felt F1X carbon cyclocross frame. It was a 1000g frame with a 480 g 3T fork. It didn't allow for as wide of tires as the RLT, wasn't as low as the RLT, and didn't have a metal frame like the RLT (I hit so much stuff on the dirt and fling so many rocks into my down tube, I've always been very hesitant to ride a carbon frame off road). But it WAS a butt-load lighter. And it WAS made of road-dampening carbon. And it handled like a dream. And it WAS a butt load lighter. Did I mention it was light?

The total build came out to be under 16lbs. My previous build was really close to 18.5lbs. 2.5 lbs may not make a huge difference over the short 69 miles of the Crusher, but the psychological aspect of having a bike that light can be pretty advantageous.

Here's what the final build looks like. Felt F1X disc frame with a Sram 1x10 setup. 
The bike turned out perfect for the Crusher. Everybody says that at some point during the race you'll wish you had a different bike. There wasn't a single mile I wish I'd had a different bike. True, during the descent down the Col d'Crush it was bumpy, and I got nervous about flatting, but it would have sucked on any bike, even my xc rig with a 'spension fork and 2" tires. So I just enjoyed being able to hold on tight to the bars down in the drops while braking with one finger on the levers.

All in all, everything worked out perfectly. I realize that no matter what kind of equipment you run, things like flats and mechanicals can always happen. However, as far as choice of equipment, I'm pretty sure I've got my bike for next year already figured out...