Beaver, Utah- The Crusher in the Tushar once again proved anything but predictable in both the weather and riders that would be standing on the podium. By Saturday afternoon, two first-time winners proved to be up to whatever challenge the Tushar Mountains could dish out, with Lauren De Crescenzo (DNA Cycling) having an incredible return to racing after a two and a half year absence caused by a severe accident. On the men’s side, it was another unexpected name at the top, with 21-year-old professional mountain biker Zach Calton (Spry-LPW) putting in an impressive performance.
As the 600 riders arrived in Beaver for check-in on Friday, the weather picked up right where it left off last year with rain greeting everyone and rekindling the memories from the finish line hail storm. But by race morning, the clouds had lifted enough to allow full view of the mighty Tushar Mountains that would dole out 10,000 feet of climbing over the 69-mile course that featured a 60/40 split between dirt and paved roads.
Tacky, dust-free dirt roads made for a fast start on to the day’s first climb, with 15 riders separating themselves in the men’s group. Further back, the majority of riders settled into a steady rhythm content to keep something in the tank for the second half. The final 20 miles can be unforgiving, beginning with the Col de Crush and providing little respite until crossing the finish line at Eagle Point Resort. Thankfully, cooler temperatures in the valley floor compared to last year’s triple digits took less of a toll on the riders and allowed finish times to be notably faster.
The five-mile, 2,300 foot Col de Crush KOM has always proven to be the decisive moment in sorting out the winners from the rest of the podium, and this year was no different as Calton made his move just a mile from the KOM line. “I looked back probably every two or three minutes from the top of the climb to the finish just because it feels like you’re going so slow; when that soft dirt starts to weigh you down, and you’re tired and your legs are starting to give out, and your back starts to hurt”, Calton said. “You just keep looking back wondering if they’re coming. But it worked out, and this is definitely my biggest win ever, for sure.”
Lauren De Crescenzo’s return to racing, and subsequent Crusher win, is something that few could have predicted after she suffered a traumatic brain injury in April of 2016 and spent two months in the hospital. De Crescenzo actually attributed part of her success to the injury. “I’m just saying that my pain receptors in my brain don’t work anymore, so now it’s just a matter of physical output, what I can actually put out.” She said at the awards ceremony, “The Crusher is definitely on the podium of races that I’ve done. It’s my style of racing. I just want to go really, really hard; and it’s not a matter of playing mind games, it’s just how hard can you go?”
Perennial favorites Ned Overend and Rebecca Rusch also had strong rides in their first appearance at the Crusher. Overend, who would go on to finish in 7th, is 41 years the elder to race winner Calton. Rusch, who recently won the 350-mile DKXL, and typically prefers distances much greater the Crusher’s 69 miles, went on to finish 7th in the pro women’s field.
Photos: Cathy Fegan - Kim