Hoffman, Leydsman take home big LoToJa victories

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By David Bern

Hoffman now has four LoToJa wins — and another course record; Leydsman powers away from break in final kilometers and solos to the line.

It could be said that Cameron Hoffman tossed out the training book on tapering before this year’s 32 annual LoToJa.

It could be said that Cameron Hoffman did a slightly unorthodox taper before this year’s 32 annual LoToJa Classic.

The Team Endurance rider added a fourth LoToJa victory to his palmares by winning the Men Pro 1-2-3 race on Sept. 6 in a dramatic field sprint and setting a new course record of 8:45:38.

He did it, despite not having any teammates, being a targeted rider, and nearly winning the 35-39 Master’s National Road Race in Ogden — the day before.

“I wasn’t sure that I was going to ride LoToJa due to the national championships,” he said. “But then I started to think, ‘maybe I can pull this off.’”

The Women 1-2-3 race was also won in an exciting finish by Shirley Leydsman (Team Red Rock HSB) who got a coach to help improve her sprint. But instead of sprinting against breakaway companion Marci Kimball (Harristone/Sun Valley Mortgage), Leydsman jumped with 2 kilometers to go and finished with a time of 9:40:52.

“I attacked because I wasn’t confident I could beat Marci in the sprint,” she said. “I really wanted to win so bad!”

For Hoffman, it was pure joy to again win the popular and coveted 206-mile (330 kilometer) race and cyclosportive from Logan, Utah to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. The Cat. 1 rider from Layton, Utah won it three consecutive years from 2007-2009. But after those wins came a disappointing DNF in 2010 due to illness, a no ride in 2011, and third-place finishes in 2012 and 2013.

Adding to that joy for him was nearly winning the 60-mile national road race held 24 hours before LoToJa. Starting at Snowbasin Ski Resort, the course included three laps around Pineview Reservoir before returning to the ski resort via old Snowbasin Road. Even though Hoffman knew he was going to race 206 miles the next day, he held nothing back and took third place.

“I was there to win it Friday,” he said. “I don’t enter any race without trying to win it.”

That’s how he thought and felt when he embarked at 6:09 a.m. with 33 other riders the next morning from Sunrise Cyclery, even though he didn’t get to Logan until six hours before the start. The awards ceremony for his third-place finish at nationals wasn’t held until 8 p.m. on Friday. Wisely, Hoffman did all of his race preparation days before for a smooth transition from nationals to LoToJa.

Hoffman said the Men Pro 1-2-3 peloton got straight to work when it began to head north to Preston under clear skies with temperatures in the mid-50s. Before the day’s first of three ascents — the 22-mile climb to Strawberry/Emigration Canyon’s 7,424 foot-high summit — 2013 winner Clint Mortley (Salt Lake City) tried to escape. It came as no surprise to Hoffman.

“Everyone goes to LoToJa ready to go, to race well,” he said. “They come out swinging. You can’t underestimate anyone until they’re dropped.”

Hoffman said his strategy on LoToJa’s three major climbs is always to “thin things out,” and tried that tactic on Strawberry/Emigration. But his attack only dropped a few riders. Somewhat thinned out, the peloton stayed together on the descent into Bear Lake Valley and continued through the feed at Montpelier.

Hoffman said the pace stayed high during the nine-mile climb to 6,923 foot-high Geneva Summit. The effort resulted in more riders getting dropped, leaving about a dozen left for the descent to the Idaho/Wyoming state line. Soon after crossing into the cowboy state, Hoffman and his fellow escapees got an unexpected welcome.

“We had been pace-lining and about 5 K before Salt River Pass, we got pulled over by a Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper,” he said. “He told us we had to ride single file. He took our numbers down and then let us go. The whole thing took just a few minutes.”

At the base of Salt River Pass, which is LoToJa’s highest summit at 7,630 feet high and features a 9-percent pitch during the last two miles, 2012 winner Chris Carr (Denver Fit Loft) moved to the front. His tough pace shattered the group, but it wasn’t enough to earn him the King of the Mountain prize. That went to Lang Reynolds (unattached), followed by Carr, Hoffman and Ricky Bangerter (Intermountain LiveWell/Bountiful Bicycle

“That was one of the fastest KOMs I’ve ever done,” Hoffman said. “We kept the pace high all the way up.” He estimated the group’s speed exceeded 12 mph up the steep climb.

All who was left at the top was Hoffman, Carr, Bangerter and Reynolds. The four had a solid gap on the descent into Star Valley, but were caught before the feed at Afton by Ira Sorensen (Millcreek Bicycles), Will Hanson (Ski Utah/Plan 7), Branson Yates (Intermountain LiveWell/Bountiful Bicycle), Bryce Olsen (Intermountain LiveWell/Bountiful Bicycle), Eric Balog (Hoback Sports) and Nathan West (Denver Fit Loft).

The 10 racers wanted to push the pace and attack through Star Valley, but Hoffman said the road discouraged such tactics.

“The conditions weren’t that great,” he said. “There was a lot of traffic and construction. There was a lot of energy in the group at that point, but the general consensus was just to get through it.”

Which they did — until after the feed at Alpine Junction. With 46 miles to go, Hoffman said the attacks “started big time. Everyone started throwing a lot at each other.” Yet, no one was willing to let anyone “go up the road without a fight.” Even a hard attack by Carr on the climb before the left turn onto South Loop Road before Jackson was unsuccessful.

Noticing that most of the riders still had energy left, Hoffman realized the race would likely end in a field sprint. So he made a tactical decision after Hoback to save his legs for a sprint finish.

The attacks continued on South Loop Road, on the bike path, and on Highway 22 before the right turn onto Village Road, added Hoffman. And they continued for the final seven miles.

Despite having more than 200 miles in their legs, Hoffman said the group’s speed was in “the low to mid 30s.” With one kilometer to go, everyone began to eyeball each other — and Reynolds went to the front and pushed the pace even more.

Not having any teammates with him, Hoffman knew he had to pick the right wheel and unleash a sprint that would surprise everyone. “I felt that I could still win without any teammates,” he said. “I know how to work with what comes my way.”

The wheel he picked was Sorensen’s as the group entered the chute before the finish line. It was there that Hoffman jumped and gave it everything he had.

“I felt I had enough horsepower to sprint before everyone else,” he said. Hoffman triumphantly crossed the line four to five bike lengths ahead of Sorensen, who took second place at 8:45:39:541 and Chris Carr in third at 8:45:39:846.

“I had just an incredible weekend,” said Hoffman about his fourth LoToJa victory. “People told me I was nuts to double up (race nationals and LoToJa back-to-back).”

He said he raced 40 times from last February to September, and partially attributed that regimen to his success at nationals and at LoToJa. As for the new course record that smashed the old one by nearly 12 minutes, Hoffman said the day’s frequent attacks and tailwind largely contributed to that result.

For Shirley Leydsman, her victory came with far less races under her belt and she missed setting a new women’s course record by six minutes. But after taking third place in last year’s LoToJa after a hard sprint, this year’s victory was sweet success.

The 42-year-old mother of three from Ivins, Utah started running in 2000 and then triathlons in 2005. After competing in the Ironman in 2010, she felt “burned out.”

“I hate to swim,” she said.

But she apparently loves to ride a bike. In 2011 she entered her first LoToJa and won the 25-plus citizen women’s class. That taste of victory, and riding strongly in an endurance cycling event, encouraged her to continue racing. In 2012, she got a USA Cycling license and as a Cat. 4 took second in LoToJa with a time of 9:47:39.

Because she lost the top podium spot in 2012 and 2013 in sprints, she hired a coach last June to improve her sprint speed and tactics.

“I can hill climb but to sprint is the hardest thing for me,” she said.

Such was on her mind when she and 62 Cat. 1-2-3 and Cat. 4 women racers left Sunrise Cyclery at 7:09 a.m. and pointed their handlebars northward. The peloton stayed together through Cache Valley. Leydsman said no one was working at mile 45 (72 kilometers) while climbing to Strawberry/Emigration Canyon summit, so she and Marci Kimball went to the front and picked up the pace. They thought some other riders would hang on, but nobody else pulled through. Soon, Leydsman and Kimball were alone and continued over the summit, down into Bear Lake Valley and on to Montpelier.

“I kept thinking, ‘this is crazy,’” said Leydsman about their unintentional break. “But I’m not afraid to ride 100 miles by myself.”

The two rode together over Geneva Summit and to the base of Salt River Pass, each taking pulls. Leydsman dropped Kimball on Salt River and won the Queen of the Mountain. After the summit, she waited for Kimball to catch up so the two could help each other to the finish.

They guessed the gap between them and the chase group was sizeable, because “In Star Valley, the race officials said they would no longer keep track of it,” said Leydsman.

With that information, she and Kimball decided to try to break the record of 9:35 set by Melinda MacFarlane last year. They shared the workload through Afton, Alpine and Hoback, on South Loop and Village roads. But with two kilometers to go, Leydsman made a choice.

Thinking that Kimball would beat her in the sprint, she checked for traffic, swung far to the left and attacked. She put everything into the pedals and crossed the line 19 seconds ahead of Kimball who finished at 9:41:11. Nearly 30 minutes passed before third-place finisher Mary Emerson (Sandy, Utah) crossed the line at 10:09:09.

“I was so happy and excited to win,” said Leydsman. “I had worked so hard. I was happy to see my hard work payoff. … It was the perfect day for me.”

She said Kimball is a friend and expressed gratitude that the two rode nearly the entire race together. “I couldn’t have done it by myself,” she said.

Both Leydsman and Hoffman plan on returning in 2015 to defend their LoToJa titles.

More than 1,800 total cyclists either raced or rode this year’s LoToJa. Thirty-three separate categories left Sunrise Cyclery in three-minute intervals.

LoToJa Race Director Brent Chambers said this year’s event was another success story with most riders finishing and fewer crashes than previous years. Due to course changes last year, and route changes for support crews this year, congestion was further reduced in critical areas — especially in Cache Valley.

“We’re always striving to make LoToJa better every year,” he said. “That effort will continue as LoToJa draws closer to its 35th anniversary and beyond. Thanks to all of the enthusiastic support we get from the riders, the sponsors, and the communities through which LoToJa passes, the event has truly become a success beyond my wildest hopes. It’s an honor for me to be part of it and to see how LoToJa represents a healthy lifestyle for so many people.”

Chambers added that work has already begun on next year’s LoToJa, which is scheduled for Saturday, September 12, 2015. The event is always held the first Saturday after Labor Day.

The race director stressed that LoToJa would not be possible without the event’s loyal corps of volunteers and sponsors, nor without the working partnerships and support from all of the communities the race passes through every year.

LoToJa facts and trivia

  • Three new LoToJa Course Records in 2014:
    • Men’s Individual: Cameron Hoffman, Layton, Utah — 8:45:38 (previous record was 8:57:14)
    • Tandem: Gary Gardiner and John Lauck, Centerville, Utah — 9:05:57 (previous record was 9:11:17)
    • Queen of Mountain: Shirley Leydsman, Ivins, Utah — 16:19.212 (previous record was 16:28.00. Four-mile climb up Salt River Pass at 8 to 9 percent grade)
  • LoToJa is the longest one-day USAC-sanctioned bicycle race in the United States.
  • It’s estimated more than 17,000 cyclists have pedaled over 4 million miles during LoToJa since the race began in 1983.
  • This year’s oldest male cyclist to finish LoToJa was 72 years old and the oldest female cyclist to finish was 63.
  • The youngest boy and girl finishers this year were 13 years old (the youngest ever for a female)
  • LoToJa’s average participant age is 42
  • Cyclists came from 40 U.S. States and four foreign countries (Sweden, China, Canada and the United Kingdom)
  • It’s estimated up to 15,000 calories are burned by each racing cyclist in LoToJa.
  • The 2014 LoToJa involved over 500 course volunteers — about one-third are HAM radio operators providing radio communications and neutral support.
  • LoToJa features almost 9,800 feet of climbing, most of which is in the first 110 miles
  • LoToJa has raised over $1 million for Huntsman Cancer Foundation (HCF)
  • In addition to helping HCF, LoToJa raised several thousand dollars for ASD Connections, National Ability Center, Common Ground Outdoor Adventures, Utah High School Cycling League as well as several community organizations and youth groups.
  • The first LoToJa Classic was held in September 1983. Seven cyclists left Sunrise Cyclery in Logan at dawn and raced to Jackson. The winner was Bob VanSlyke of Logan with a time just over nine hours.

 

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