Crusher in the Tushar – Mindy Caruso Race Report

Crushin'

Crushin’

I registered for the Crusher in early January, knowing the event would close within a few hours to days. I started training and researching immediately. Research, homework, practice, equipment, fitness, luck…so many variables and only 6 months to prepare. 70 miles, 10,400 feet climbing, 60% dirt.

Bruce Bilodeau said last year, “Welcome to the Crusher! The only race in the world that lets you choose your weapon with only one guarantee: at some point you’ll be very, very wrong!”

At the start, looking at the nearly 600 participants and surveying everyone’s choice of steed, tires, etc. (My guess is about 60% ‘cross bikes, 39% mtb and 1% road…and 1 tandom), I felt confident in my decisions so far to race my ‘cross bike. I knew this was going to be a tough day when 1/3 my field had a call up.

The pro men took off with our field following 1 minute later. The pace was brisk, nearly catching the pro men before the start of the first climb and dirt section at mile 9. I was able to position myself 4th wheel at the base of the climb before fireworks went off. That’s where I stayed for the next 50 miles, just couldn’t quite hang with the 3 strong girls on mountain bikes. The dirt climb had steeps, very much reminiscent of the Sapillo. These next 18 miles of dirt were sweet… fast hard pack with sections of fun wet, but not muddy ruts. The air was brisk, the trees alive, a few views of mountain lakes and cliff sides up high….so far this was the best event ever. A few miles up the climb, I had front row seating to watch Daniel, my teammate and friend, driving a train of racers, observing the demised faces of those trying to stay with the Swedish Tractor. Once the climb crested, the roads started to dry, becoming loose gravel. These sections were fun and fast, but hard to draft unless you’re okay with chipped teeth. Sometimes, I could only tell the direction of the course by the trail of dust in front of me. Then, the infamous decent of the Col d’ Crush with sharp hungry teeth opened wide to take its prey. The sandy gravel was deep with ruts, huge washboards and lots of riders choosing bad lines through the switchbacks. The roads were like a yard sale of bike parts, skin and teeth fillings. My teeth chattered, my arms shook, my hands went numb with pain, and at any moment I thought my bike would just implode. I actually descended (my greatest challenge) quite confidently, in control and not having one ‘cross bike pass me….thinking the whole time that I have to get my ass back up this later. The mountain bikes sailed this section. At mile 32, I was back on pavement. I quickly assessed my bike, fluids, and just started TTing through the valley. It had become dry, hot and desolate. I connected with a beard of epic quality fellow, later to be known as “Grizzly Adams”, http://grizzlyadam.net/. We paced each other through this long, hot valley as though we had trained for years together. Then at mile 44 and a return of the dirt, we hit the portion appropriately nicknamed the “Sarlacc Pit”. This was the one section that I was not prepared. Despite taking in fluid/electrolytes at nearly every aid station, no amount of fluid prepared me for the oppressive heat….heat like I’ve never felt, riding a sandy ATV trail, the don’t stop pedaling or you won’t get started again sand, slightly uphill washboard roads. Actually, at times, the washboard sections had more traction and were the preferred line. Taking in 2 more bottles before starting the Col d’ Crush, I was quickly in my 34X32, staying there for what seemed hours. I think the only way I can describe this climb, other than the hardest climb I’ve ever endured with grown men crying on the side of the road. If you took tons and tons of sand and gravel dumped it down Heartbreak, make large washboards, now extend Heartbreak to 4.5 miles and mix in 3 switchback sections of Deer Trail Run…..now ride up…oh and try to have fun. The KOM/QOM was so near, mileage wise, but so far. I quickly stopped at an aid station where I was sprayed down with cold water, then downed a Coke, topped off my bottles and was pushed started back up the steep. At the next switchback, a volunteer yelled you’re 4th and 3rd is just a little ways up there. This news had renewed some energy to get up this dreadful climb. At mile 58, I passed 3rd place…got a large gap on a short downhill section, still dirt. I felt such fatigue, discomfort and thoughts of “I’m never doing this again”….stimulating  the readings from the Crushers Creed, http://grizzlyadam.net/2012/07/the-crushers-credo.html, a week prior the event, providing some inspiration, some rationale for my chosen vacation this summer. The final miles rolled by slowly. The air started to cool as we approached the finish at Eagle Point Resort kissing 10,400 ft. The last 4 miles had finally returned to pavement. I took these miles to think of all my friends, teammates and family who believed in me…I would finish, I would carry across each one of them in spirit and share the podium celebrations. The final climb, 1 mile to the finish….I just had to keep my legs moving….finally I finished, not knowing if I’d just finally died or actually finished. I was again energized with hearing that I rounded off the women’s podium and that Daniel had WON….so awesome.

In the hours, days to follow, my body screamed of soreness. My feet, yes my feet, were visibly bruised on the bottom, my arms would barely move, my triceps yelled and my back had no strength to sit/stand. On the other hand, my legs felt okay. Off to another adventure, not sure if my path will ever come back to Beaver, but glad I went.

Special Thanks to:  Caruso Cycle Works, Michael Thomas Coffee, Scalo Northern Italian Grill, The Pedaler’s Café, Cthree Wheels and JBV Coaching

 

La Luz Final Repeat – last in our series – week 5

This is the final entry in our series, posted in honour of the awesome climb that is La Luz. Entries for this last post are from Chris ‘better-late-than-never’ Abbott and three guest bloggers, all attesting to their experience of this climb. We have Sean, an Elite rider from ABQ now living in Easthampton, MA. We have Jacob, an ABQ/Kansas native now living and working in Chengdu, China. And we have Will, an ABQ/Florida native, newbie to the sport of road cycling. 

This is our last column – read back to past weeks on the blog if you’ve only just joined us. 

13: CHRIS

Nathan dropped me tonight. In fact, he dropped the entire team. We used to drop Nathan going up La Luz without much effort. After a year’s worth of Wednesdays, he was hanging with us all the way to the top. Today, he dropped us. Not on the steep ramps near the top where Ryan and Tom put the screws to whoever is still left. Nope. He dropped us on the gentle, smooth, serpentine lower slopes at the bottom. My power meter confirmed that I did not have any excuses on this particular ride: my numbers were good. Nathan’s were better. Nathan is just the latest friend and teammate to reap the reward of our weekly climb up La Luz. The list of teammates making this progress and putting in a next-level performance on La Luz is long and includes the vast majority of our team. We often recognize who “won” a particular ride, but I would not call this ride a race, just an honest effort. The friendship and camaraderie that we forged on this climb will remain long after these “results” slowly fade into obscurity over time. The opportunity to witness the progress of my friends and teammates on the stage of La Luz will also survive the test of time. Chapeau.

GUEST ENTRIES…………………………………………………………………………………….

14: WILL COURTNEY

Will is an up-and-coming rider, relatively new to the sport of road cycling. Will has already stamped his name on NM Cycling by winning the Cat 5 Adoption Exchange Omnium. He’s got a powermeter, a sweet Eddy Merckx frame, and watts for days. As we like to say on Scalo: will has ‘the bug’. 

I haven’t been cycling for very long but I quickly learned that the La Luz climb is an excellent synopsis of my overall interaction with the sport. Without requiring the commitment of an epic ride with heroically strong riders, that 2.5-mile stretch of road can quickly leave me humble and alone and driven to improve myself. Despite being a regular fixture in my training rides knowing each turn well, I still find myself intimidated by this hill. And I now think that’s the point.

Thanks to a cassette from Tom, I recently acquired some lower gearing on my bike and made fancy plans of floating up La Luz, fresh from time off after breaking myself and my bike a week earlier at the Adoption Exchange. After a quick warm-up, I made what appeared by my metrics to be some relatively moderate efforts up the Bosque and Tramway, but by the time I reached the base of La Luz I was so gassed that I couldn’t bring myself to start the climb for fear of quitting. While still riding home and feeling somewhat inadequate, Nick wrote and asked me to write a piece about climbing La Luz, adding a little salt for my fresh wound.

Two days later, I gathered myself and made another go at La Luz with the intent of conquering: I would run laps until I felt vindicated. I casually rode out on the diversion channel and climbed Tramway and then did the same up La Luz. And then I did it again, just puttering along. I was bored. As I descended La Luz the second time, I grew impatient and just wanted my ride to be over. At Tramway I turned around once more, the embodiment of ennui. But as I climbed this time, I was reluctant to prevent the pace from quickening. I let myself teeter on blowing up and I felt good as the canyons began to blur from exertion. As I made the final turn through the pillars and onto the infamous final pitch, I let go of myself and sacrificed every watt that was willing to jump from me into the ether. At the far end of the parking lot, stifling my nausea, I recognized that this was what I needed from this climb: it requires the acute risk of failure or it’s not worth doing at all.

15: SEAN MCCARTHY

Sean races for the JAM Fund Cycling Team, based out of Easthampton, MA. Sean is coached by Alec Donahue of Cycle-Smart (The ‘A’ in JAM). His plans for the year are to race local New England races, but focus primarily on getting to NRC, NCC, and USA Crits races. Sean is racing at an elite level in the hopes of getting a professional cycling contract. JAM Fund Cycling Team has provided him with great resources aiming to help him reach his goals. Sean says that he could not do what he is doing without their help and dedication to the sport. Sean is excited and motivated to see what the year brings! Website: http://www.jamcycling.org

La Luz is one of the most beautiful and painful roads in New Mexico. I have ridden the climb countless times with family, friends, and teammates. The climb to the top is relatively short, but what it lacks in distance it more than makes up for in severity. The climb never lets up, not until you make the final left turn into the parking lot. My typical approach to La Luz is to start a lap at Rainbow Road, near Sandia Casino, and stop the lap right as you turn into the parking lot at the top. After you have caught your breath and are able to see straight, you can take in the view you have just earned. The view from the parking lot makes all the suffering worthwhile. Every direction is breathtaking. You are tucked right up on the mountainside overlooking the entire city of Albuquerque. The elevation combined with the crystal clear mountain air lets you see for miles and miles on end.

After you have taken in the views, the real fun can start. The descent back to Tramway Rd is incredibly fun. The road is smooth and the corners are wide open. The top section of the decent is twisty and steep requiring some hard breaking and cornering. Once past the twisty section it’s a full gas decent. The corners are fast and open letting you race through them all the way to the bottom. The rush of ripping the descent never gets old and always puts a smile on my face. One reason I take a few moments at the top is because I have never been able to enjoy the views on the way down. All I see on the descent is the next corner. It always amazes me how little time the descent takes. These are some of the reasons why La Luz is one of my favorite rides in New Mexico. Every time I visit home I have to ride it at least once.

16: JACOB KLINK

Jacob is an avid cyclist and master bike polo player who owns and runs a bike shop called Natooke in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China. Yes, CHINA. Jacob was Nick’s first riding buddy in Albuquerque and despite riding fixies primarily, still carries a mean watts per/kg punch in the high mountains, given his Chris Froome-like frame. He’s also a skilled builder of Bamboo bikes. Check them out here: https://www.facebook.com/NatookeChengdu

I feel like in my life I’ve often made inane choices.  Myself as a cyclist is a reflection of this.  My inability to make a smart decision has found riding as an extension.  A way to soak in the triumphs and failures that plod along with the day to day act of simply being.

Those that have ridden with me know this.  I’m perpetually underfed or underdressed.  Extra sandwiches are snuck into my jersey pocket before setting out.  An old pair of gloves is kept around in the event I’ve decided I can do without.  It’s a burden that most people humorously carry.  They must enjoy my tantrums.  Explosions of frustration that come at the exact moment I realize I’ve made yet another mistake.  I’m a vocal proponent where failure is concerned, and for those that ride regularly and know when they’re chewing grit it’s nice to know you’re not alone.  Other people suffer too.  I’m the cowbell of misery.

Climbs bring it out best though.  I can think of any number of occasions where my hatred for cycling turned my anger inward and I found myself critically dissecting any decision I’d ever made that put me there.  The backside of Valles Caldera after a long day caught in and out of thunder showers with a severe lack of donuts.  The eastern fringe of the Himalayans after spending two straight days in a steady downpour, descending off a failed attempt at a pass, penniless and without my passport with less of a clue what to do at the bottom.  The time I got caught at Sandia Peak, too stubborn to throw in the towel, bonked, no money, nor phone in a sudden storm.

But none of them strike me like the La Luz and the one time that I was caught out to cook.  A morning ride had been postponed by a coffee, then two, then idle chatter of the tour, then the obligatory wait for a bowel movement.  Don’t mind the heat we thought, it can’t get that hot.  But as we climbed from the valley up along the solar plain that is Tramway did the heat set in.  Fortunately for Albuquerque, it’s a breezy place.

La Luz ate the wind up that day.  I’d crawled up its winding turns any number of times but this time didn’t find it in me.  I couldn’t see.  My skin felt like little more than the scalding air.  I watched as our buddy Nick took a bend and was out of sight.  I lost all hope in the chase.  I was melting and figured my last few minutes best be spent standing in the shade of a pine.  Only several minutes later did Nick come winding his way down the road.  He stopped for a pull of water, face red.  Handing me the bottle he said, “This is stupid.  It’s way too hot.”  A fact verified later by a record high. In the euphoria of my sun stroke I could only think to myself: at least its par for my course.

 

La Luz Repeats – a series – week 4

This series is in honour of our weekly team ride (The Scalo World Championships) and is posted in reverence to the awesome climb that is La Luz. Entries for this series are from various team members of Scalo Veloce, attesting to their experience of this climb.

This is our penultimate column and our last entry, next week, will be made up of guest bloggers.

Thanks for reading,

   Scalo Veloce Team 

WEEK 4: Matt Caruso x2

11:  Repeats

The first three times I tried to ride La Luz, I failed.  First time, I got to the second cattle guard and flipped it.  Second time, I made it to the turn off at the neighborhood and flipped it.  Third time, I rode a little past the neighborhood and again flipped it.  After the third attempt, I decided that it was just way too difficult and the pavement was too rough to enjoy the descent.

A couple of years ago, the state decided to repave the road all the way to the parking lot.  So, I dragged my body all the way to the top, just to experience the descent on the newly paved road.  Now, my motivation to actually climb La Luz is simply for the soul searching descent.  I especially enjoy going during the week when the traffic is low, save the BMW test rides.  It takes me about 13-15 minutes to ascend and about 2 minutes to descend. This steep, nasty grind of a climb is worth the 2 minutes of pure bliss.

12:  “Eki”

In 2008, the Astana Pro cycling team was in town for a winter training camp.  A week before the team arrived, recently retired pro tour rider, Viatcheslav”Eki” Ekimov was doing some reconnaissance rides.  He needed to borrow a power meter to get some base numbers for the rest of the team.  Mindy, my wife was using a wheel based power meter at the time.  I went and met up with Eki and put Mindy’s wheel on his bike, readjusted the shifting and off he went.  On this particular day, the high was only 17 degrees (not Celsius either) and windy, way too cold for me to ride.  But for Eki, these conditions were no problem.  One of the climbs he did that day was La Luz.  I followed him in a heated car that day, so I was pretty comfortable with the ascent.  He rode up La Luz like I climb into bed each night…cozy, comfortable and completely effortless.  I certainly have never climbed this mammoth on even my best day looking as comfortable as he did that frigid winter day.  He averaged 325 watts with an average heart rate of only 135 bpm.  Just as he completed the climb, his reported heart rate was 140 bpm.  He felt that the climb was doable for testing, just hard enough.  The part of this experience that I remember the most, he was simply “cruising” up La Luz….as soon as the rest of the team arrived, he would be the first to get dropped.

La Luz Repeats – a series – week 3

In honour of our weekly team ride (aka The Scalo World Championships) and in reverence to the awesome climb that is La Luz, Scalo Veloce will be running several installments of “La Luz – Repeats”. Entries for this series are from various team members of Scalo Veloce,  attesting to their experience of this climb. This column will run the next several weeks. If anyone who is not part of Scalo would like to submit an entry, please email ntlemke@gmail.com. We’ll run non-team member entries in one of the final weeks of the column. 

Thanks for reading,

   Scalo Veloce Team 

WEEK3:   Nathan, Michael, Nick, JBV

7:NATHAN

La Luz is a climb that will never get easy for me. Almost every time I go up it I think about that first time. After recently moving to Albuquerque I had dusted off my old road bike with a massive chainring and a corncob cassette.  I was out riding and ran into a cyclist on a Cervelo that weighed less than my wheelset. He soon talked me into checking out a local climb instead of sticking to the bike path.

By the time we reached the base of La Luz I was cooked.  We rode the whole thing together. The entire time, the rider crawled along with me, giving a few encouraging words. As I remember it, my cadence never got above 50. La Luz reaches a point where after a brief flat, the road swings right and the grade kicks up.  You can’t see where it finishes, just winding pavement ascending into nowhere. I was done.  Ready to quit. “Don’t look up, just pedal.” Those were the words the rider said that got me up La Luz that day, and the reason I still keep climbing.

Inevitably, when I go up that climb there comes a point when my entire world is compressed into a single thought, “just pedal.”  Everything else disappears except that one all consuming thought. There is no room for life’s bullshit.  I’m not thinking about that car that almost hit me yesterday or next weekend’s race. I’m not thinking about my fitness, my teammates fitness, TSS, CTL, work, family, friends, failure, pride. It all goes away. For that moment you’re free and see the shadows on the wall for what they are, just shadows.

 

8:MICHAEL

Pronounced “La Poozed”

The other day I was invited to go on a training ride with my teammate Nathan Rediske. The workout was 8 x 45seconds all out followed by a lap of Tramway Road plus La Luz. Reluctantly I accepted, as I hate hard workouts. The 8 x 45s went better than expected except that during my recovery intervals I had to stop and shake my front tire to get a flat to seal. I did this multiple times and decided I would finish my set and ride to the gas station at the bottom to deal with it afterwards. Once we finished part one, we turned back downhill and I thought, “I’m going to use the bathroom down there.” But then I forgot…

After I had changed my flat, Nathan and I started back up the hill. His goal was to ride threshold to the top, mine was to stay on his wheel. After a few minutes, I was really hurting, then I realized I had forgotten to use the bathroom at the gas station.

I decided to back off on the watts a little bit and go my own pace, but shortly thereafter, I realized just how serious my problem was. I thought I just had to pee, but it was much MUCH more than that. I started to fear I would not be able to make it to the top, possibly even the La Luz Road turn-off before something had to happen. I dropped it down to tempo and concentrated on the Metallica “Ride the Lightning” in my ears. I began looking for rocks/bushes to hide behind and paper products to wipe with. As I neared the La Luz turn-off, I knew I could make it to a good spot to unload.

I turned at the first picnic area off La Luz road and found a nice private rock and some napkins. Of course I was wearing a ton of layers and had to peel all of them off before I could get to work. Luckily, I made it in time and had a relaxing movement with a great sunset view.

Afterwards, I got dressed, saddled up, and started up La Luz. I saw Nathan on his way back down the climb. I told him my story and asked if he had time to finish the climb with me. Conveniently, he did.

 

9:NICK

Every Wednesday, for 7/12ths of the year, we train on this climb. No, not train, but race. We race each other. There’s nothing like racing teammates. Until a German from Alamogordo comes and crushes all of us. Anyhow, this climb is a bitch. I rode it the other day, after 4 weeks off, and remembered how brutally hard it was. I also remembered how, on that rare magical night, a few times per year, I can fly up it. When I don’t even touch the 39/28.

Ranging from 4-14% or thereabouts, this climb doesn’t go to the top, but it goes far enough. Far enough to be perfect for midweek training rides, to top off a long day in the saddle (hard man style), or even, occasionally, for repeats. Yet, every time I think I know it, every time I think I have each gradient memorized, something changes: the wind direction, the temperature, my tire pressure, my fitness. It manages to be a unique beast every time. The racing, the challenge, the Wednesday night worlds; the view, the solitude, the pain, – that is why I love La Luz.

 

10:JBV

For the first 4 years I lived in New Mexico I was in Santa Fe. I would occasionally meet some of my Albuquerque friends and ride with them, but that was only on occasion – so I never really knew the lay of the land. When I finally moved to Albuquerque in 2008, I quickly found La Luz thanks to my friends Rob & Josh. When I first rode it I was alone, so I just guessed and took the turn near the top that leads to the steepest pitches. Despite being a terrible climber, La Luz quickly became a favorite route that I would ride at least weekly. It’s always a challenge to get up it. About 1/3 of the way up, where it just starts to get steep, I’ve rarely not had the thought of turning around. To date though, I have not.

Adopt Ryan Travelstead – Adoption Exchange Road Race Report

Adoption Exchange Road Race

The Adoption Exchange road race consisted of ~80 miles w/ two trips up heartbreak hill, several rollers of varying size and wind swept stretches of road in between for the cat 1/2/3 field.

In the first few miles of the race there were two or three attacks that went and were covered.  When the last one was brought back, I figured I would counter to see what would happen.  Turns out, no one wanted to ride with me, not even the USAC official on the motorcycle.  I’m not entirely sure what happened since he was behind me, but I guess the first time up heartbreak hill I was going so fast that I was putting the motorcycle into difficulty trying to keep my wheel.  Rather than back off and go up heartbreak at his own pace, the moto-official decided to drive off the road and crash.  Strange.  At the top of heartbreak hill my eyes came uncrossed just in time to recognize that I got the first KOM and saw where Randy Silva was standing to hand up a bottle for me the next trip up.  The next 45 miles were pretty uneventful.  Other than giving out some “keep kicking ass/passing on your left bell rings” to members of other races I passed, I tried to stay hydrated and fueled enough so that I could get up heartbreak hill the second time without walking.  A few miles before the right turn to the final ascent of heartbreak hill I got a time gap of 4:20 back to the group of chasers.  I had a fleeting thought of being able to win the race with that big of a time gap.  Then heartbreak hill happened…again.  I unleashed every sort of watt I had in my body to get up that damn hill.  Arm watts, day-glo watts, snot watts, sourdough watts, you name it.  As I crested the top and collected the second KOM I saw something shining thru my dark and blurred vision.  It was mighty glorious.  The only thing I could think of was “I want that!”.  As I rode toward the light my vision came back into focus and I saw Randy with a new water bottle for me in his left hand.  I quickly noticed the shining object  was a beer he was holding in his right hand.  Being no stranger to hand-ups during cross’ races and the fact that I was riding my cross’ bike, I made no mistake which vessel of greatness I was going to be rehydrating with.  I downed the liquid watts that are in a Java Stout and I felt like I had another gear as I began clipping off the miles to the finish line.  I made the right turn into the headwind and quickly realized that my “extra gear” was nothing more than descending in a tail wind…damn!  I was caught and passed by a group of three and the main group about a minute later.  My day was done.  As I struggled to turn over what gear I had left, I remembered that there was a Shell gas station that sold awesome burritos a block off course.  I went to the Shell, picked up a chile relleno burrito and as I was walking to the checkout I saw there was a special on 25oz cans of Budweiser 3 for $6.00.  What a deal, a whole ounce more than 24oz!  I scooped up the 3 tall cans of Bud Heavy and burrito and rode to the finish line where I found my teammates.  As the stories of the days racing began to unfold I couldn’t help but crack the tall cans and let them know “this Bud’s for you!”

-Ryan

RyanAdoption