It was a day to remember for Cache Valley cyclists.
The 38th installment of the LoToJa Classic was a huge success as riders enjoyed good weather and favorable winds on their trek from Logan to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The longest one-day sanctioned cycling event by USA Cycling took place last Saturday.
With the first riders taking off well before the sun came up, the day proved to be a memorable one for cyclists from the valley. The riders were split into 32 groups, departing every five minutes. The first group left Logan at 4:50 a.m.
“It was cold and felt like it was in the low to mid 30’s over Strawberry Summit,” said Joseph Camire, who completed his sixth LoToJa. “With the earlier start, the temperatures were down. I was fully decked out from head to toe and relatively snug to stay warm. … It was a beautiful day.”
He heated up as did the racing among the licensed riders, who traversed 203 miles with the finish at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
In fact, Camire was able to defend his title in the 45A category. The Paradise resident and Logan Race Club member finished sixth overall with a time of 9 hours, 13 minutes and 52 seconds.
“It was a fun day,” Camire said. “You never want to go out with too high of expectations that it spoils the enjoyment of it. I wanted to be competitive and was able to do that. It was a fun day and good sportsmanship by all those involved.”
He was not the only local rider to finish on top of the podium. In the 35A category, Andrew Moss rode to victory (9:19:15.6) and was 17th overall. Mike Twohig was third in the category and 19th overall (9:19:15.9).
“I’m a pretty good sprinter, so I was pretty confident that I could win as long as I stayed in the front group,” Moss said. “The climbs are my bigger weakness, so I was focused on conserving as much energy as I could through the first half, where there are all the climbs. I was able to stay with the front group until we hit the flatter parts.”
With 100 meters to go, Moss made his move. It came after Twohig had attacked a bit earlier.
“Sprinting is not my strength,” said Twohig, a 42-year-old from Logan. “Andrew is an incredible sprinter and an incredible cyclist. I knew that, and we are on the same team. We talked about me going first, then Andrew could follow and go if I didn’t get away. … To go one-three is perfect. I couldn’t be happier.”
In the 45B group, it was a clean sweep for local riders. Greg Nichols, Chad Harris and Kent Millecam rode across together in that order.
“More importantly, we got 1-2-3 in 45B,” Nichols said after his fifth time completing LoToJa.
Former overall winner Cameron Hoffman had the fastest time of the day. The Cat 1-2-3 rider from Clearfield clocked in at 9:02:48.2 in a sprint finish. Spencer Johnson of Riverton was second at 9:02:48.3. The top five were less than a second apart.
Like the top finishers, it came down to a sprint for Camire. He edged Mark Otterson from Kaysville by less than a second.
The flight Camire started with was 35A and 45A combined, and about 50 riders. By the third and final big climb of the day — Salt River Pass — it was down to 12, with eight of them being 35A riders and four 45A.
“That adds to the chess match,” Camire said. “If the 35As go off and drag a 45A, then I’m obligated to go after that group. Andrew Moss was very intelligent with how he rode.”
Moss was in the same breakaway group with Camire. When Camire and another 45A rider broke away with 24 miles to go, Moss got on front of the remaining group and let his teammate get away.
“It was nice to have Camire and Twohig in the group with me,” Moss said. “We all worked well together and cooperated until the Snake River Gorge. I let Joe (Camire) and the other guy go.”
Moss said a headwind helped slow some of the climbers down over the first big climb, which was a benefit for the 36-year-old from Smithfield. After the steepest climb, which is the third and final one, the group of 12 had gotten away from the rest of the field.
“We went really hard for a couple of hours after that, which was exhausting,” said Twohig, who has done the race five times, winning his category once. “Our break was pretty established after that.
“… In general, the people from Cache Valley did amazing. … Camire is just a monster. I couldn’t believe how powerful he was. There are such good riders. Three winners from the valley is incredible.”
Like the other groups that did well from the valley, the 45B group also made a move after summating Salt River. The local trio and two others, including a past winner, made up the group with approximately 100 miles to go.
“Some of us are on different teams, but we wanted to ride together as a cohesive group to represent the valley even though there is a team and a club,” said Nichols said, who lives in Logan.
With a little more than 60 miles to go, Nichols, Harris and Millecam got away from the other two. They ended up beating the next person in their category by five minutes.
In the 35B group, there were six cyclist from the valley among the top 10. Nate Stowers from Providence led the way in third (9:22:42).
There were 631 riders in the competitive categories that finished and 451 in the cyclosportive, which some call the “for fun riders.” There were more than 1,250 total athletes that had signed up.
A MARKED MAN
The 52-year-old Nichols felt like a marked man at LoToJa this year.
That’s because he came into the race as the masters 45+ state road champion.
“I was a marked man and too many expectations,” Nichols said. “I was ‘wait a minute, let’s not put the pressure on me.’ A 55-mile race versus a 200-mile race is way different.”
But he dealt with the pressure just fine.
“This year I had teammates and we strategized a couple of days before,” Nichols said. “We went through all the what ifs, so we didn’t have to make a decision on the road. We had the what ifs decided. Last year I got dropped on Salt River and chased for 100 miles, And only finished two minutes behind them, so I knew that Salt River was going to be my nemesis. I rode conservative before that. We got to the top with the three of us and we went to plan C, which we had made. We drill it and see what happens.”
BROKEN COLLARBONE, NO PROBLEM
Joel Draxler rode the 203 miles with a broken collarbone on Saturday.
The 42-year-old Richmond resident had an accident on Sept. 1, during a training ride. He didn’t fare well against an automobile. But after consulting with a doctor and his wife, decided to still give it a try.
“I basically broke the last centimeter of my collarbone off, right at the end in the shoulder,” Draxler said. “The orthopedic surgeon said all the muscles and tendons were holding everything in place where it should be. I was told if I could deal with the pain, I could ride LoToJa. He didn’t recommend that I did, but knew that you work all year to prepare for it.”
He used his trainer a few times in his garage and then went out for a couple of short rides. Draxler decided to give it a try.
“It felt a lot better than I expected it would on the ride,” Draxler said. “… In the past years I have been racing to try and win. My goal was to try and stay with the leaders as long as I could.”
He won the 35B title and was 41st overall last year with a time of 9:06:56. However, after the first of three big climbs, Draxler knew he could not stay with the front runners. He wished his teammates well and backed off on his pace.
Still, he was the 314th person to cross the finish line. While it took him longer than usual — 10:51:46 to exact — Draxler was happy with his day.
“It ended up being a really fun ride because I got to see so many of my friends as they passed me,” Draxler said. “I was able to cheer them on, and they cheered me on. It was really fun just being a rolling cheerleader for everyone. I was able to work with people all the way through in a whole different way, rather than head down and working so hard. It was nice to stop at every feed zone and eat and not care about the time.
“The highlight of my ride was Chad Harris, Greg Nichols and Kent Millecam. They passed me with five miles to go, and I thought it would be exciting to watch these guys fight it out in the end because they all had worked so hard and wanted to win. I sat and watched those three, and they all worked together and made sure they crossed together. It blew me away, because I thought they were going to battle it out, but it was nothing but teamwork and camaraderie to make sure they crossed together.”
RIDING FOR A CAUSE
Many members of the Logan Race Club also ride for a team called Malouf PB Fat Boy Ice Cream. Draxler and Brian Child, who works at Malouf, got the team going to help bring awareness to child trafficking.
The non-profit is called OnWatch. It has sex trafficking trainings.
“The Malouf Foundation is based around helping people in situations like abuse, sex trafficking or kidnapping,” Child said. “It is specific for children. We partner with companies for trainings to help watch for these behaviors. People see things, but don’t know how to report it.
“Caspers (Fat Boy Ice Cream) has been a big supporter of our foundation for a long time. They have their whole company certified on the OnWatch program.”
With Child and Draxler being cyclists, they partnered for a race team. Child, who lives in River Heights, completed LoToJa Saturday, finishing in 9:29:17.
“It was a great day, a great ride,” Child said. “I had a great time.”
To hold the race this year, there were many precautions taken by the race director and his staff. The riders interviewed for this story had glowing remarks about how it went on Saturday.
Twohig has kept to himself through most of his training.
“I’m someone who is very concerned about COVID and takes it very seriously,” Twohig said. “I’ve hardly ridden with anyone all summer. I’ve been trying to be really careful. LoToJa is such a big part of our lives that I really didn’t want to skip it. They did a phenomenal job. We didn’t touch anything the entire race. It was set up so we didn’t have to tough anything. I was very impressed.”
So was Camire, who said: “The organizers did a superb job. From the racers to the support crews, it was great.”