Keegan Swenson and Haley Smith were in a league of their own as they survived the altitude and relentless climbing to win the third round of the Life Time Grand Prix at Crusher in the Tushar.
Now in its tenth year, the Crusher in the Tushar is a 69-mile mixed-terrain race in one of Utah's tallest mountain ranges. Despite its relatively short distance, Crusher is among the toughest bike races in North America. It features a 60-to-40 gravel to pavement split, some 10,100 feet (3078 meters) of climbing and the now-infamous Col d' Crush finish with a final 12 percent grade pitch at 10,344' (3153 meters) above sea level. Swenson summed up the race as an absolute 'beast' of a race.
A combined field of approximately 800 riders traveled from 37 states and eight countries to tackle the event, spending anywhere between four hours and eight-and-a-half hours on the course to reach the finish.
How the race was won
Like many endurance off-road events, all race categories ride together and leave the start line as one. Once across the line, they're scored into their respective gender and age categories.
In the pro women’s race, all eyes were on Sofia Gomez Villafañe, fresh off her wins at Unbound and the five-day Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder. And sure enough, it was Villafañe who took an early lead but was joined by Canadian mountain bike Olympian Haley Smith. The course proved too difficult for a long solo and the lead changed various time with retired WorldTour road racer Ruth Winder and cyclocrosser Sarah Sturm taking turns in the lead. But Smith was the first woman to reach the top of the Col d’Crush and powered to victory, a roomy eight minutes ahead of second place finisher Emma Grant.
“I didn’t know what I was going to be capable of, but I felt confident I could give it a good run,” said Smith.
Unlike Unbound, where the 200-mile race ended in a five-rider sprint finish, the pro men's race at Crusher splintered into solo riders or duos early on.
Keegan Swenson — already the Life Time Grand Prix series leader — escaped off the front along with American Olympic mountain biker Howard Grotts. Cole Paton lead the chase from behind. Swenson had freed himself of Grotts by the time he reached the village of Circleville and spent the majority of his race by himself. He went on to claim the KOM on his way to finishing with a new course record. Swenson finished with a time of 4:02:24, a comfortable 11 minutes ahead of his competitors.
A race for second ensued on Col d’Crush. Paton, Griffin Easter and Peter Stetina climbed up to the finish together before sprinting to the line to determine the top 4 order.
“It was nice, I don’t mind racing alone, you get to ride at your own pace,” Swenson said post-race. "This one felt good, in my home state and I think the course suits me well. As I’m getting excited for Leadville, this is definitely a good training race and pretty comparable to the climbing.”
The Life Time Grand Prix series continues in Colorado on August 13 for the famous Leadville 100 mountain bike race.
Another grueling race at high altitude, the Leadville 100 is one of the most iconic races in North America for mountain bikers and ultra runners alike. The 100-mile XC race takes place almost entirely above 10,000 feet (3048m) above sea level, and goes up as high as 12,516 feet (3815m). The course also boasts a whopping 13,129’ (4001m) of climbing.
Live video coverage of the race will be available on FloBikes.
1.) Haley Smith
2.) Emma Grant
3.) Sarah Sturm
1.) Keegan Swenson
2.) Cole Paton
3.) Griffin Eater
Non-binary’s division: Rach McBride
1.) Sofia Gomez Villafane
2.) Haley Smith
3.) Sarah Sturm
1.) Keegan Swenson
2.) Russell Finsterwald
3.) Alexey Vermeulen
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