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Fifth annual Crusher in the Tushar draws strong field to Utah dirt

Held on rough, remote, dirt roads in Beaver Utah, the Crusher has attracted an avid field of competitors, some of them elite racers

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BEAVER, Utah — The Crusher in the Tushar celebrates its fifth anniversary on Saturday, July 11. The famously difficult course starts in downtown Beaver and runs over a mix of paved and dirt roads for 70 miles of adventurous racing. Utah’s Tushar Mountains and the Fishlake National Forest provide a stunning backdrop for the Crusher.

“To be honest, it feels a little surreal that this will be our fifth edition of the Crusher,” said race organizer Burke Swindlehurst. “It seems like yesterday that I was scheming the idea of the event and wondering if anyone would show up for it.”

In the five years since it began, riders have embraced the Crusher. When Swindlehurst opened registration for this year’s edition in January, it sold out within days. This year’s field includes 600 riders from 30 states and from Canada, Brazil, and Belgium. The Crusher welcomes riders of all levels, and in addition to the pro race for men and women, there are 10 age-graded categories. For the true masochists, there is also a single-speed division.

A challenging day of washboard descents, grinding climbs, and alpine views awaits the Crusher contenders. The course includes over 10,000 feet of elevation gain, mostly on dirt-road climbs, and the race finishes with a soul-crushing, undulating climb to the Eagle Point ski resort. The race is often won — or lost — on the slopes of this final climb. The finish line is perched at a dizzying altitude just shy of 11,000 feet.

“You know that scene in ‘Dumb and Dumber’ when Lloyd Christmas says, ‘Find a happy place!’ Well, that’s what the Tushars are for me. My happy place,” said Swindlehurst. “Whenever I need to recharge and reset, I just head down there with my bike, fly rod, and trail running shoes and get my fix. There really aren’t too many wild places left like it.”

As a three-time winner of the Tour of the Gila, Swindlehurst is happiest in the high mountains and during his pro racing career, he often disappeared into the wilderness around Beaver to train. He created the Crusher as an homage to the legendary Boulder to Breckenridge race in Colorado. “Boulder to Breck was one of my all-time favorite events when I was racing,” he said. “But I always thought it would be more interesting if the riders had to be completely self-supported like in mountain bike racing.”

The Crusher, presented by DNA Cycling, includes both dirt and paved roads, and choosing the right bike is a challenging task, especially because bike changes are not allowed. Unlike the Leadville 100, where riders compete on mountain bikes, the Crusher has been won on both mountain and cyclocross bikes. Riders spend months agonizing over the perfect bike set-up and gear choice is especially critical due to the steep dirt climbs on the course.

For 2015, the elite fields include multi-sport athletes, road racers, and endurance mountain bikers. “To see riders turn up every year from not only a broad spectrum of disciplines and abilities, but also from all over the country and even beyond, is a thrill that fuels me to keep working harder every year to live up to their expectations,” said Swindlehurst.

In the men’s race, Jamey Driscoll (Raleigh-Clement) starts as the favorite after finishing second last year. He’s ridden the Crusher on three previous occasions and will know exactly what to expect. He just won his second-consecutive Firecracker 50 mountain bike race in Colorado. Driscoll will face a solid challenge from cyclocross racers Tim Johnson (Cannondale) and Jonathan Page (Fuji). Road Bike Action’s Neil Shirley will be in the mix at the front, too, after he finished second to Tyler Wren (Jamis) in 2012. Rob Squire (Hincapie Sports) also brings his road fitness to the Crusher party.

The mountain bike community is also well-represented in this year’s edition of the Crusher. Dave Wiens (Topeak-Ergon), winner of six Leadville 100 titles, returns for his second attempt at the Crusher. Alex Grant (Cannondale-Gear Rush), who won the 2014 Breck Epic and has finished second overall in Costa Rica’s La Ruta de los Conquistadores on four occasions, is a Crusher regular and is back for more this year. Brian Jenson (Tradewind Energy), winner of the 2014 Dirty Kanza 200, meanwhile, lines up for his first Crusher.

This year’s Crusher hosts two unique guests. Reality television star Tyson Apostol, who won “Survivor,” season 27, “Blood v. Water,” will race this year. Cancer survivor Connor O’Leary (DNA Cycling), who won “The Amazing Race 24” partnered with his father Dave O’Leary, is also planning to ride the Crusher. Both Apostol and O’Leary are former pro road racers.

In the women’s race, Joey Lythgoe (Kühl) lines up as the favorite after winning the 2014 edition in commanding style. Lythgoe has already won seven races this season, so clearly she’s on a roll. Cyclocross racer and ex-downhill racer Nicole Duke (SRAM) will make her third appearance at the Crusher.

Three newcomers to the Crusher could shake things up in the women’s race. Enduro and cross-country racer Kelli Emmett (Julianna-SRAM) will line up for her first attempt at Swindlehurst’s diabolical invention. With 15 years of racing in her legs, Emmett has experience on her side. Road racing legend and two-time Olympian Lyne Bessette — Johnson’s wife — is never a rider to underestimate. Former U.S. national road racing champion Robin Farina rounds out a stacked women’s field.

Leadville veteran Gretchen Reeves holds the women’s course record, set in 2013, and a fast race among the top riders could see her time standard go down.

“I can’t thank the riders, volunteers, and community enough for their enthusiasm for the Crusher,” said Swindlehurst. “It’s truly been a gift in helping me transition out of racing professionally, yet still stay connected and involved with the sport that’s such a huge part of my life.”

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