I have several things cycling through my mind this month. So rather than pick one and devote a full article to it, I have decided to give a little time to all of them. Here goes.
This September 9th will be the 35th staging of the LOTOJA. The first edition of this epic event took place in 1983. It was the brainchild of David Bern and Jeff Keller who wanted to stage a truly European style one-day classic. So they came up with the idea of racing from Logan, Utah, where David was attending Utah Sate University, to Jackson, Wyoming.
7 people participated in that inaugural event, which expanded to 25 the next year, 52 the third year and 75 the fourth year, 1986, the first year I entered. It continued to grow, but the organization kept changing hands till Brent Chambers took it over in 1998,. Under Brent’s expert direction, it has become the classic it now is.
My wife, Karma, likely rues the day I first signed up to race the LOTOJA. That was 31 years ago, and I have entered it every year since, with only two exceptions. That means every summer has been focused around training for the LOTOJA. Consider the impact on family time and care, yardwork, honey-dos, etc., and you can understand why Karma very likely wishes the LOTOJA and I had never hooked up.
But here is a shout out to Karma, who has supported me, literally and figuratively, at the LOTOJA all but two of those years. No one is more professional at doing LOTOJA support. And I admit it: Her role is the more difficult of the two. I only have to ride and eat. She has to drive all day, timely reach the feed zones, and make certain she gets me the right food. It is more difficult than one would think, and she has it down to a science.
So, this will be my 31st year of participation in the LOTOJA. Two of the previous 30 years I rode as part of a relay team. I have thus ridden it solo 28 times, and only failed to finish 3 times. I don’t say this to brag (well, maybe a little), but simply because, with this year’s edition looming, the LOTOJA has been on my mind. It has been a large part of my cycling experience. And yes, I do take pride in the fact I have had the stamina to participate in and finish the LOTOJA so many times.
With the LOTOJA coming up, I have once again found myself trashing my body as I try to whip it into shape to ride 206 miles in one day. To help with our preparation, a group of us formed a team a couple of years ago, Studs and Former Studs, to ride and train together. My brother and I are the former studs (or at least like to think we used to be studs), while the rest of our team, especially 75-year old Paul Spilker, are the real studs.
This year, we planned out a few rides to check and challenge our progress. We started with the Cache Gran Fondo on July 8th, and will finish up with the Tour of Two States, the name of a former event which used the same course we will follow, on August 12th.
Our midpoint preparation check is what we affectionately call the Potato Run. We begin in Ogden and ride 135 miles north till we reach Pocatello, Idaho. Hence the name, like we are making a run to Pocatello for some spuds. You get the idea. We did this last year, and had a moderate tailwind all the way. While the distance was taxing, and even though it has a deceptively high total elevation gain of over 4000 feet, it was not an overly grueling ride.
So we were looking forward to it again this year. I assured everyone that in the summer the wind is always out of the south in northern Utah and southern Idaho. We would again have the wind at our backs, and our midpoint preparation check would be a success.
I failed miserably. The ride from Ogden to Tremonton went well enough. But as we headed west across the valley at that point to join up with Highway 89, I was dismayed to feel a crosswind blowing from the north. When we made the turn to head north on Highway 89, a mean old north wind blew into our faces.
In truth, it turned out to not be all that bad, but there was a moderate wind nearly all the way. Or so I was told. My body was not cooperating that day, and I had neither the stamina nor the legs for this ride. At about 60 miles, I could tell my legs were going south on me (even though I was headed north), and by the time we hit Malad, I was starting to feel cooked. We made a food stop there, and I hoped to regenerate. But it was wishful thinking
I slowly (very slowly) ground my way to the top of the Malad Pass (mile 85), took advantage of a fairly lengthy downhill to get to 94 miles where I sent everyone else on ahead, and then just gutted out another 6 miles to finish off an even 100. Fully skewered and baked, I was glad to pack it in.
The rest of our team did very well, though the moderate headwind as opposed to the moderate tailwind of a year ago meant much more time in the saddle. Their LOTOJA prep is going well. I am hoping this proves to have just been an off day for me, and that I will bounce back in the next week. Guess I’ll find out at our ride of the Tour of Two States.
But seriously, this is really a great ride for those looking for a long distance challenge. Particularly if you have roots in the northern Utah or southern Idaho soil, as I do being a native of Pocatello, you will thoroughly enjoy the challenge and scenery of this ride.
And finally, Le Tour. I wrote last month about my excitement for the upcoming Tour de France. Now, after spending countless hours as a couch potato enjoying the action of the Tour and the commentary of those famous English bavardeurs, Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, I am glad it is over. I have so many other things to catch up which have had to wait while I was glued to my TV.
But what a Tour it was. As usual, it did not go as predicted. While we all acknowledge the myriad things that can happen to upend the race we are expecting, we nevertheless have our expectations. Me included.
I expected the Sky juggernaut to roll over the competition and that Chris Froome would have a stranglehold on the yellow jersey midway through the race. Well, the Sky juggernaut did roll, and thankfully so for Froome. Otherwise, instead of unexpectedly losing the yellow jersey for only a couple of days, he may have eventually lost it for good. Despite his team’s effort, Froome came to the time trial of the penultimate stage with only 29 seconds separating him, Romain Bardet and Rigoberto Uran.
Well, Froome did indeed win the Tour, but neither he nor anyone else felt confident of that till he finally reached the top of the Col d’Izoard just two days ahead of the finish on the Champs Elysées. This was the closest Tour ever coming down to the wire, and something we did not expect.
As for the green sprinters jersey, I and everyone else had already awarded it to Peter Sagan. Not so fast, said the ever vigilant and farcical French UCI commissaires. In what was at best a bit of usual sprint bumping between Sagan and Mark Cavendish, which unfortunately sent Cavendish into the barriers, then onto the tarmac, and finally out of the Tour with a broken shoulder blade, those commissaires found reason, much to everyone else’s surprise and chagrin, to toss Sagan out altogether. So suddenly, two of the Tour’s biggest sprinters were gone, and just as suddenly, Marcel Kittel looked to be the likely winner of the green jersey.
Again, not so fast said Michael Matthews. Though trailing Kittel by over 100 points with only a week to go, Matthews and his Sunweb team put on a real show of force and team work resulting in two sprint wins for Matthews and a boatload of sprint points. Suddenly, Matthews was on the verge of closing his deficit to just 9 points. Unfortunately, at this time Kittel was also suddenly out of the Tour due to stomach issues and a bad crash, and what was shaping up to be a battle royale for the green jersey turned out to be a stroll to Paris in that jersey for Matthews.
Nevertheless, what a Tour for Kittel. Five wins in the first eleven stages. That was incredible.
And finally, lets talk polka dots. I had pegged Rafal Majka to win the climbers jersey. But what a show was put on by Frenchman Warren Barguil. After first taking over this jersey, he went on the attack early on every mountain stage to hunt down points. Not only that, but he stayed with the top guns on those stages, winning two of them, despite those early attacks.
None was more impressive than his victory atop the Col d’Izoard, the last mountain stage of the Tour. It was a brutal climb, and he showed real panache in attacking and, one kilometer before the finish, catching and then dropping the last man of the breakaway that it appeared would not be caught. For the first time in years, the polka dot jersey was won by the best climber of the Tour.
So, far from the predictable Tour we were all expecting, it was a Tour replete with action and drama. It was also a Tour where you could see a new generation of cycling heroes coming forth. It was also a Tour which showed us that Sky and Froome may be very vulnerable next year. Finally, it was a tour well worth the countless hours I spent staring at our TV.