On Saturday, the world of groad racing re-centers itself again, this time focusing on the remote Tushar Mountains of western Utah.
Located about midway between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, the 9th-annual Crusher in the Tushar—you can read out race preview—provides a challenge the combines technical descending with climbing at elevation to create one of the toughest gravel races out there.
How tough? In our Gravel Superlatives Ask the Pros, the Crusher was selected by more than one rider as their choice for hardest race out there.
“Crusher in the Tushar,” Josh Berry said “It’s the shortest one too. But the climb just keeps coming and coming, It will rain, it will be hot, it will be windy, and that is just on the first climb. I did well once, that might be all I have.”
This year’s 69-mile race will feature the same course set in the clouds that packs in over 10,000 feet of climbing in the Tushar Mountains. It will not be any easier than any previous year.
Our latest gravel preview takes a look at some riders to watch this Saturday in the Tushars. Riders are in no particular order, but perhaps with a bias toward recent performances at big races and past Crusher results.
As always, this preview is likely incomplete, and any riders who feel omitted are more than welcome to use it as locker room bulletin board material.
The 2019 Crusher will be the 9th edition of what has become an annual race. As we wrote in our preview, that first edition had 130 riders and since then, space in the field has been at a premium, as it has sold out for 8-straight years.
The defending champions are Lauren De Crescenzo for the Women and Zach Calton for the Men. Unfotunately, De Crescenzo will be unable to defend her title after suffering a broken collarbone at the Dirty Kanza 200. Calton will return looking for win number two.
Crusher in the Tushar Winners: 2011 to 2018
|2018||Lauren De Crescenzo||Zach Calton|
|2017||Janel Holcombe||Rob Squire|
|2016||Mindy McCutcheon||Rob Squire|
|2015||Robin Farina||Rob Squire|
|2014||Joey Lythgoe||Levi Leipheimer|
|2013||Gretchen Reeves||Levi Leipheimer|
|2012||Gretchen Reeves||Tyler Wren|
|2011||Clara Hughes||Tyler Wren|
A quick look at the event’s past winners shows that everyone at the race will be chasing three-time champion Rob Squire. Squire won 3-straight from 2015 to 2017 and sits in front of Gretchen Reeves, Levi Leipheimer and Tyler Wren, all of whom have won the race twice.
Interestingly, according to my (perhaps flawed) notes there will be no defending female champions in this year’s field.
Special Eternal Second, Crusher-Edition mention goes to Jamey Driscoll, who finished 2nd in 2018, 2015 and 2014 and took 4th twice.
With the defending champion out due to injury and no past Open Women winner on the start list, a new Crusher Queen will be crowned at the Eagle Point Resort on Sunday.
One interesting aspect of the Crusher for the Open Women is they get a dedicated start time. Most gravel events are mass start, with women and men starting together. As opposed to a race like the Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder where Rebecca Fahringer was able to run away with the win by sticking with the men up the climbs, the women will be racing each other when they hit the first climb about 10 miles into the race.
Heading up the 2019 start list is the reigning Queen of Kanza Amity Rockwell (Easton Overland Gravel Team). Rockwell put a tough 2018 DK200 behind her and bounced back to win the 2019 edition with a steady, consistent ride. Hailing from the Bay Area, Rockwell is most at home when there is climbing and descending to be done, and she seems well-situated to improve on her 4th-place finish at the 2018 Crusher.
One of this year’s breakout groad stars has been Oregon’s Sarah Max (Argonaut – ENVE) Max first put her name on the map with a silver at May’s Belgian Waffle Ride, and then she followed it up with a third at the DK200 and a third at the Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder. Max has shown she can be successful at gravel events of all shapes and sizes, so she seems poised to handle the unique challenges of the Crusher.
Back when we previewed the Land Run 100, we identified Lauren Stephens (Team TIBCO / Silicon Valley Bank) as a rider to watch. Stephens then got called up by her Team TIBCO / Silicon Valley Bank team to race in Europe, so the call-out was for naught.
Stephens finished 2nd overall in the Dirty Kanza 100, bested only by a gone-from-the-gun Ashton Lambie. I still have faith in Stephens’ gravel potential, so she gets a shout-out. Hopefully I will not be jilted once again.
While Kae Takeshita (Panaracer / Factor p/b Bicycle X-Change) has done literally every big gravel race out there, one she has not competed in yet is the Crusher. That changes on Saturday. After her 4th-place finish in the Dirty Kanza 200, Takeshita headed to Michigan and finished 2nd while riding across the mitten. Although neither of those races a Crusher make, Takeshita brings extensive experience with her to take on the challenges of the Crusher in the Tushar.
One of the top returning Crusher vets is Karen Jarchow (Topeak – Ergon) of Colorado. Jarchow took second behind De Crescenzo at last year’s Crusher and finished second at the 2018 Rebecca’s Private Idaho. If one wants to argue that the unique nature of the Crusher makes it difficult to find a comp, then Jarchow could be considered the top favorite heading into this year’s race.
Gravel cyling has been known to deal riders a heap of crap to deal with, and someone who has definitely dealt with a lot recently is Amy Charity (DNA Pro Cycling). After a strong start to the groad season where she finished third at the Land Run 100, Charity suffered a torn ACL about a month before the Dirty Kanza 200. A consummate competitor, Charity did the DK200 but suffered upwards of 8 flats that derailed her strong start to the race.
Charity is back hoping to turn things around in the Tushars and take some good vibes with her into August and her own Steamboat Gravel race she is helping promote about a month from now.
Another rider with extensive Crusher experience is Mindy Caruso (Nero Veloce). Caruso finished on 3-straight podiums from 2014 to 2016, coming in as high as 2nd in 2015. She raced in 2017 before taking 2018 off, so she is likely to return to Beaver experienced but hungry to take a shot at that top podium step.
Injuries have forced the DNA Pro Cycling team to find a new gravel 🐎 for its gravel roster after injuries to team riders. When Charity hurt her knee, Hanna Muegge (DNA Pro Cycling) stepped in to race the Belgian Waffle Ride for her and responded with a fourth-place finish. This weekend, Muegge is filling in for the injured De Crescenzo. Her teammate won last year in her first-ever gravel race, so do not be surprised if lightning strikes twice for the DNA Cycling team again this year.
Last year, it was a mountain biker in Men’s winner Zach Calton who helped steal the show at the Crusher. This year, Evelyn Dong (Spry Cycles / Stan’s NoTubes) is one of the riders looking to step into that role. Dong won the 2018 Missoula UCI XC race and has finished on the podium at U.S. XC Nationals.
Scotti Lechuga (Fearless Femme Racing) is a former road pro with the Hagens Berman Supermint team who is currently putting in her time on the Fearless Femme crit team. A mother of twins when she is not racing, Lechuga is a rider to watch in one of her first tries at the groad discipline.
Rounding out our women’s watch list is Turner Ramsay (Alpha Bicycle / Groove Subaru). Usually the busiest during cyclocross season, Ramsay has been racing some gravel this summer and will be making the trip over from Colorado for the Crusher.
Any discussion of the Open Men’s race at the Crusher starts with three-time winner Rob Squire (Hangar 15 Bicycles). Squire won the race from 2015 to 2017 before having an off year in 2018 where he finished 10th. The Crusher is an annual tradition for the Utah native, and there is no question he will be looking to bounce back and get his fourth title at the race.
The returning champion is fellow Utahan Zach Calton. We learned last year that Calton is a product of the NICA program for Junior mountain bikers, and this year he has been racing the UCI XCO scene. He also finished fifth at Elite Marathon Mountain Bike Nationals earlier this year. He has a few more Crusher titles to go to reach Squire’s level, but number 2 in 2018 would not hurt his effort in getting there.
Joining the Utahhan parade is the abovementioned Jamey Driscoll (DNA Cycling / Mavic). Driscoll has had a lot of success at the Crusher, finished second three times and fourth twice. Last month, he finished eighth against the tough Lost and Found Gravel Grinder field, which might be somewhat of an appropriate comp for the Crusher. As a totally biased cyclocross person, I would be totally okay doing a winner’s interview with Driscoll. I think he deserves it.
Joining the parade of Utahans is Alex Grant. Grant took third in last year’s Crusher. He is also the defending Utah State Cyclocross Champion, which has to count for something extra, right?
The last two times we saw Alex Howes (EF Education First), he was finishing on the podium at the Dirty Kanza 200 and then winning his first-career U.S. Road National Championship in dramatic fashion in Knoxville. Howes has shown he has adapted quite well to the “alternative racing” thing—groad, if you will—so he heads to Beaver as a definite podium hopeful.
The big question is if he will be able to wear his new hard-earned Stars-and-Stripes jersey. Do you get to wear the road jersey at a groad race?
Speaking of National Champs, 2019 Crit National Champion Travis McCabe (Floyd’s Pro Cycling) will be trying his hand at the Crusher. McCabe has a long history of success, including wins at the Tour of California and Tour of Utah, and he is definitely a guy you do not want to be with after the climb up the Col d’ Crush.
Still speaking of National Champs, 2019 U23 Road National Champion Lance Haidet (Aevolo Cycling) returns to the groad after his top 20 at the Dirty Kanza 200. Haidet had a June to Remember, and the Crusher provides him a chance to continue his summer of success into July.
One of the new names on the groad scene for the men is that of Eddie Anderson (Hagens Berman Axeon). Anderson was the animator at the front of the Belgian Waffle Ride, putting Peter Stetina and Ted King in a bad way before ultimately finishing second. Anderson heads to Utha looking to show that BWR ride was no fluke.
McCabe’s teammate Noah Granigan (Floyd’s Pro Cycling) is another rider who had a strong ride at the granddaddy of all gravel races. Granigan finished 9th in the DK200, and he is a defending National Champion as well after winning the Individual Pursuit at the 2018 Collegiate Track Nats.
The Panaracer / Factor p/b Bicycle X-Change team is known for putting the grinder in gravel grinder and using their aero bars to power over gravel roads. It’s no aero bars allowed at the Crusher, but the team will be out in full force on Saturday. John Borstelman (11th at DK200), Michael Sencenbaugh (12th at DK200), Mat Stephens (15th at DK200), Rob Bell and Scott Moninger will be representing the gravel-dedicated team.
Colorado cyclocross will also be well-repped in the Men’s field. Gage Hecht (Aevolo Cycling), Brannan Fix (Alpha Bicycle – Groove Subaru) and Ross Ellwood (Alpha Bicycle – Groove Subaru) are all hoping to experience ’crossover success. Hecht mixed it up with the Elites at Pro Road Nationals, but he has some unfinished business on the groad scene after not finishing the Dirty Kanza 200 at the beginning of June.
TJ Eisenhart (Arapahoe – Hincapie Racing) is another Utahan hoping to make a Crusher splash in his home state. Eisenhart brings impressive road palmares to the race, including a GC win at the 2017 Redlands Classic and top 10 GC finishes at Tour of Utah, the Colorado Classic and Tour of the Gila.
Neil Shirley (ENVE Composites) is another home-state hero who also has years of gravel experience. Shirley has won the Belgian Waffle Ride, Gravel Worlds and Rock Cobbler, and he has finished as high as second as second at the Crusher.
Eric Marcotte is a former road pro who won 2014 Pro Road Nationals and 2015 Crit Nationals. Marcotte was in small group chasing Colin Strickland at Mile 120 of the Dirty Kanza 200 before dropping out. Sounds like another rider headed to the Crusher with something to prove on the groad.
Rounding out our watch list are two cyclocrossers in Allen Krughoff (Chocolove) and Tyler Cloutier (TCCX).
The 2019 Crusher in the Tushar takes place on Saturday. Start lists for the Open fields are below. Check back this weekend for results.
Featured image: Cathy Fegan-Kim
Open Women Start List: 2019 Crusher in the Tushar
Open Men Start List: 2019 Crusher in the Tushar