By David Bern — Even a global pandemic can’t keep the race faithful away from legendary road race
When it comes to the LoToJa Classic’s pantheon of multiple winners, Cameron Hoffman and Lindsey Stevenson have VIP status.
Both Utah cyclists showed that not even a coronavirus pandemic, or a hiatus from bike racing, could stop them from returning to the top of the podium in the renowned 203-mile/327-kilometer road race from Logan, Utah, to Wyoming’s Jackson Hole Mountain Resort on September 12.
Hoffman, (Team Endurance360), a 42-year-old Cat. 1 rider from Clearfield, Utah, won the Men’s Pro 123 race in 9:02:48 after a 200-meter sprint to the line against 2018 winner Spencer Johnson (Team Johnson Elite Orthodontics) of Riverton, Utah, and three other cyclists who were part of the day’s break.
It was Hoffman’s fifth LoToJa win since taking his first Men’s Pro 123 title in 2007. Three more followed in 2008, 2009 and 2014. In 2014 he set a new course record of 8:45:38 that held until 2017 when Kai Applequist of Boise, Idaho, set a new record of 8:42:31. That mark fell dramatically in 2018 when Johnson reset the record by 24 minutes (8:18:29) after a day of strong tailwinds.
“Everything came together for me in small ways at the right time,” Hoffman said about his fifth LoToJa win.
Stevenson, 31, (Team Spry/Zone 5), a Cat. 2 rider from Cottonwood Heights, Utah, won her third LoToJa Women’s Pro 123 title with a time of 10:07:48. She soloed across the finish despite flatting before Afton and waiting nearly 5 minutes for a wheel change. She and Amy Heaton (Team Johnson Elite Orthodontics), a Cat. 4 rider from Salt Lake City, were off the front when Stevenson had the mechanical.
Heaton continued alone, winning the Women’s Cat. 4/5 title with a time of 10:02:17, and was the first licensed woman to cross the finish. Regardless of category and age, all licensed women cyclists at LoToJa start together because of lower field numbers. They are also allowed to ride together, but respective category wins are maintained despite mixed-category finishes.
“It was a good day,” Stevenson said about winning her third LoToJa. She won in 2017 and 2018. “It was still a really good result for me. … In a personal way, it was a victory.”
Hoffman said he knew it was going to be a “tough day” when he saw how many Pro 123 riders pedaled away from the 4:50 a.m. start at Sunrise Cyclery in Logan. He said 37 had registered, but only 19 showed up. With so few racers, those who were there to win would have to work harder. Hoffman said five of the 19 cyclists were from Team Johnson Elite Orthodontics (JEO) — and he was there without any teammates. The Men’s Pro 123 riders usually start a few minutes after 6 a.m., but started at 4:50 a.m. because of the pandemic and LoToJa’s COVID-19 adaptations to further disperse riders on the parcours, at feed zones, and at the finish.
“They’re all fast, potential winners,” Hoffman said of JEO’s riders, whom along with Spencer Johnson, included 2019 LoToJa winner Roger Arnell of Farmington, Utah; Nathan Manwaring of Morgan, Utah; Chad Chenoweth of Salt Lake City, Utah; and Justin Wagner of Midvale, Utah.
But according to Hoffman, his biggest threat on the road was Nathan Spratt (Team Ascent Cycling p/b RB Health) of Salt Lake City.
“He is really, really strong,” Hoffman said.
Spratt soon put that strength on display. After the 14-man peloton rode through Cache Valley to Preston, Idaho, (29mi/47km) in the dark and morning chill of 35 degrees, Spratt attacked during the 22-mile climb to Strawberry Canyon’s 7,424-foot-high summit (57mi/92km). He eventually created a gap that reached several minutes.
With Spratt’s solo break, Team JEO riders went to the front, which Hoffman said was good for him. Hoffman said he and about 12 cyclists rode high tempo over Strawberry Canyon’s summit, through Bear Lake Valley to Montpelier (76mi/122km) and over 6,923-foot-high Geneva Summit (84mi/135km).
But on the four-mile climb to 7,630-foot-high Salt River Pass (106mi/171km), the chase group whittled down to Hoffman, Johnson, Arnell, Nathan Spratt’s brother, Marc Spratt (Team Groove Subaru), and Bonn Turkington (Team Hangar 15). LoToJa’s highest summit features a 9-percent pitch during the last mile. Johnson was the first to reach the summit, but the riders regrouped and descended into Star Valley. The headwind they had been fighting since Cache Valley intensified on the way to Alpine Junction (156mi/251km). Along the way Turkington dropped off, leaving Hoffman, Johnson, Arnell and Marc Spratt as the remaining chase group. Nathan Spratt was still several minutes out on a flyer.
“For me, Star Valley is just to get through it,” Hoffman said. “It is the most stressful part of the entire race.” He noted rumble strips in the shoulder and sometimes heavy traffic contribute to that stress.
Hoffman said attacks began in earnest before and through Hoback Junction (178mi/286km). He and the chase group caught Nathan Spratt just before Hoback, who had been off the front for 120-plus miles. Hoffman said Spratt was hunched over and ill with apparent stomach problems.
“Poor Nate,” Hoffman said. “He didn’t look good.”
But then Hoffman realized that Nathan Spratt wasn’t the only cyclist riding for the win who was in trouble. With Spratt’s brother, Marc, in the group, along with JEO riders Johnson and Arnell, Hoffman concluded, “I’m the odd man out here. Nobody is going to help me.”
But with four LoToJa titles to his name, he’d been in this spot before. He knew what had to be done to be the victor at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
“When your back is to the wall, you have to fight, you have to focus hard,” he said. “And that’s hard to do during a 7- to 8-hour endurance event.”
Hoffman said the attacks from Johnson and Arnell before and after Hoback Junction were “frequent and severe.” He said he chased everyone down alone. He said the Spratt brothers were both “completely fried” and didn’t give chase.
The attacks from Johnson and Arnell continued on South Loop Road, Hoffman said, and further increased during the seven-mile run on Village Road to the finish.
“It was game on,” Hoffman said about the duel between him, Johnson and Arnell on Village Road. “Spencer and Roger continued to trade off attacks. … But I just wouldn’t let them open up a gap. Not an inch or they’d take a mile.”
Hoffman said at less than a mile to go, he was at the front of the 5-man group. He slowed down to around 15 mph, but no one would come around. At that moment, Hoffman knew he would have to sprint like on a velodrome, which he knew how to do. In 2016 he won a USA Cycling Masters Track National Championship in the points race at Major Taylor Velodrome in Indianapolis.
“At the cones about 450 meters out, I was still at the front going about 15 miles per hour,” he said. “At about 225 meters to go, I went for it. I gave it everything I had. … It felt like a match sprint.”
With a bike throw at the line he held off Johnson by half a wheel, followed immediately by Nathan Spratt, Arnell and Marc Spratt. Coming in at sixth place was Manwaring at 9:19:39, followed by Mike Price (Team Alcatrazz) of Salt Lake City at 9:19:39 for 7th; Paul Thomas (Team Squad Cycles) of Tucson, Arizona, at 9:26:09 for 8th; Matt Moncur (Team Ascent Cycling p/b RB Health) of Boise, Idaho, at 9:27:19 for 9th, and Thomas Moncur (Team Ascent Cycling P/B RB Health) of Farmington, Utah, at 9:28:58 for 10th.
Hoffman indicated the win was extraordinary because he returned to bike racing in 2020 after a 3-year break. He hung up his wheels in 2017 until this year to spend more time with family. But when the pandemic hit earlier this year, his three children’s after school sports activities stopped — which gave him time to get back on the bike.
“I didn’t race or do any organized training during that time,” he said about his time off the bike. “When I started riding this year, I had to lose 12 pounds. … I had a battle getting back into shape, into winning form.”
But the battle soon paid off. In May he won the Goshen Circuit Race, took fifth in the West Mountain Road Race in June, and first at the John Lauck Memorial (Tax Day Circuit Race) in Marsh Valley, Idaho, in August.
“Goshen was my first race in three years — and I won,” he said. “That was cool.”
But not as cool as winning LoToJa for the fifth time, under challenging conditions, and during his first year back on the bike. He offered no definitive commitment, but said he thinks he’ll be back next September to defend his title.
Although Lindsey Stevenson wasn’t off the bike for three years, she faced her own battle to get race fit for this year’s LoToJa. In June 2019 she gave birth to her first child. Although Stevenson rode during the pregnancy, it was just to maintain some fitness. She said she was back to racing six weeks after the delivery while working through post-partum. She didn’t ride last year’s LoToJa.
Going into 2020 and with post-partum behind her, Stevenson increased her training and took 2nd place in the Goshen Circuit Race in May, 7th at the West Mountain Road Race in June, and 1st at the Suncrest Hill Climb in August.
Despite the limited racing this year caused by the pandemic, and only 15 months after having a baby, Stevenson felt confident of her abilities as the 44-women field of Pro 123s (4), Cat. 4/5s (12), Cat. 5s (9), Masters 35+Open (7) and Masters 45+Open (12), pulled away from Sunrise Cyclery at 6:30 a.m.
Stevenson said the peloton rolled well through Cache Valley, with everyone taking good turns off the front in the 38-degree chill. She, and her two Spry/Zone 5 teammates, Eleise Lowe of Pleasant Grove, Utah, and Liz Apking of South Jordan, Utah, stayed together and waited for the climb to Strawberry summit.
“Eleise was animating the race through the rollers on the way to Strawberry,” Stevenson said. “I attacked on Strawberry. I didn’t want to red line. I just wanted to drop most of the field. … It’s ideal to have just four to six women over the top.”
But instead of a small bunch nearing the summit, Stevenson and Lowe were alone. As they crested Strawberry, Heaton bridged up. The three riders began the fast descent into Bear Lake Valley.
“Everyone worked together,” Stevenson said. “Amy is super tiny, but she took her turns [at the front].”
The women stopped briefly at the feed zone in Montpelier (76mi/122km) to maintain their lead over the peloton. After climbing 6,923 foot-high Geneva Summit (84mi/135km), the three worked together to the base of Salt River Pass. There, they quickly stopped for a bathroom break, and then began the 4-mile climb to the summit.
“On the climb, Eleise started to cramp,” Stevenson said. “I told her to start eating and drinking.”
But it was too late. Lowe lost contact while Stevenson and Heaton raced to the top for the Queen of the Mountain prize, which Heaton won with a time of 17:04.4. Stevenson was just behind at 17.04.7.
The two descended Salt River Pass into Star Valley and Stevenson kept looking back for Lowe to bridge up. But Lowe never made it. It looked like the day’s final break would be Heaton and Stevenson. But just before Afton (122mi/193km), Stevenson flatted.
“It was a weird moment, because Amy and I are not in the same category,” Stevenson said. “She asked me what she should do, and I told her to do what she felt she needed to do.”
Heaton rode away and got nearly four minutes up the road before Stevenson got a new wheel. Stevenson initially gave chase into the headwind, but after only gaining back about a minute by Thayne (137mi/220km), she chose to ride steady into the finish.
“I thought I would get caught by Eleise, but she was 7 minutes back,” Stevenson said. “By Thayne and Alpine, I started to get discouraged. I was getting passed by pacelines of men, but I couldn’t join them [to avoid disqualification].”
Stevenson explained that she loves to win LoToJa, but what she enjoys most is racing with a small group of women after Strawberry summit to the finish — working and racing, sharing the camaraderie of the day on the road — instead of soloing for 100-plus miles to the line for the win.
Yet, she still savors her latest — and third — LoToJa victory.
“It feels really good to take another win in the P 123 field at LoToJa,” she said. “Anyone who has done LoToJa knows how much times goes into training all year, and it’s definitely a combined effort when you have kids. This was my first LoToJa as a mom, so it felt especially good to come back and win after having a baby last year.”
Lowe took 2nd place in the Women’s Pro 123’s with a time of 10:12:09. Anne Donley (Team Wingman Smart Energy) of Denver, Colorado, took 3rd at 10:17:12; and Apking of South Jordan, Utah, took 4th at 10:49:41.
Stevenson added that she felt her stamina wasn’t at the level it needed to be for this year’s LoToJa. “I was pretty wrecked at the end,” she said. “The legs felt sore.”
She also expressed disappointment in getting the flat, but stressed mechanicals during a race are “part of the game.” She said Heaton saw an opportunity and went for it, calling her solo effort “phenomenal.”
Stevenson also said she plans to return next year to defend her title.
In other Women Cat. 4/5 placings, Kelsi Crotts (Team Rigr Wheels) of American Fork, Utah, took 2nd place at 10:12:17; 3rd went to Erin Ray (Unattached) of Las Vegas, Nevada, at 10:17:58; 4th to Camille Stringham (Team Jeppson) of River Heights, Utah, at 10:37:18; 5th to Krista Smith (Team LHM Cycling) of Highland, Utah, at 10:45:29; and 6th to Laurie Evans (Unattached) of Riverton, Utah, at 10:49:46.
In all there were 1,225 USA Cycling licensed and unlicensed riders at the 2020 LoToJa start line, which featured 33 categories including licensed racers (623 individuals), relay teams (193 teams; 580 participants), and cyclosportive riders (409 individuals). Categories left Logan in 5-minute intervals instead of the usual 3-minute intervals to further disperse riders on the road and at feed zones as part of the race’s Covid-19 adaptations.
Also, as part of those adaptations, non-competitive cyclosportive “ride” relay teams and full-distance cyclists finished at Jackson Hole High School instead of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. For them the day’s total distance was 200 miles (322 kilometers).
Except for the cold start in the upper 30s, weather was favorable with mild fall temperatures and clear skies. But a stiff headwind buffeted cyclist for most of the day.
LoToJa is billed as the longest one-day USA Cycling-sanctioned bicycle race in the U.S., with three mountain passes, and nearly 10,000 vertical feet of climbing. The 203-mile/327-kilometer parcours passes through northern Utah, southeastern Idaho and western Wyoming.
The race was first held in 1983 with only seven cyclists. Now, nearly 2,000 ride LoToJa every year.
But that number was cut by approximately 20 percent this year as part of the event’s Covid-19 adaptations. Chambers had incorporated over 50 specific health safety actions and requirements to further mitigate viral transmission.
Both Hoffman and Stevenson said they felt entirely safe from Covid-19 before, during and after the event. They both expressed confidence in Chambers’ efforts to reduce infection risk to riders, support crews and staff.
“Brent did the best he could to prepare riders and just about everyone else,” Hoffman said. “A lot of people thought it [LoToJa] wasn’t going to happen, but we showed each of the cities we can do it. We can keep everyone safe. Nothing but high praise from me.”
Stevenson said for her and her husband, “It didn’t seem like a huge issue, we felt good about doing it. We decided let’s support the race and support Brent. He had the permits. … And they did a good job with getting ready for COVID-19.”
Chambers said despite the additional workload, logistics and costs caused by the pandemic, the 2020 race was a success and plans are well underway for the 39th annual LoToJa, which will be held on Sept. 11. LoToJa’s 2021 website will be launched March 1 with online registration opening in early April.
“Thanks to our team of volunteers, and with the help of communities along the course, we were able to safely run LoToJa despite Covid-19,” Chambers said. “I’m proud of that accomplishment, and grateful to everyone who participated and helped to make LoToJa happen this year.”
For complete finish line results for 2020’s race, go to lotoja.com and click on the “results/records” tab in the navigation bar.
LoToJa’s pantheon of multiple winners
Just who and how many cyclists hold a place in LoToJa’s pantheon of multiple winners? According to Chambers and the event’s prodigious data base, there are 41 who have won three or more LoToJa titles since Epic Events assumed organizing the race in 1998. The list consists of both licensed and unlicensed racers. It has been alphabetized by last name. Some of the winners have multiple categories in which they competed and won over the years. Results from 1983 through 1997 are not included.
The list: Dwaine Allgier, Salt Lake City, Utah – 6 wins; Roger Arnell, Farmington, Utah – 3 wins; Brent Cannon, Salt Lake City – 3 wins; William Doucette, Logan, Utah – 8 wins; Kirk Eck, Smithfield, Utah – 4 wins; Patrick English, Salt Lake City – 9 wins; Gary Gardiner, Centerville, Utah – 6 wins; Justin Gibson, Pleasant View, Utah – 3 wins; Kent Gunnell, Burley, Idaho – 4 wins; Jenn Halladay, Kuna, Idaho – 5 wins; Dana Harrison, Sandy, Utah – 4 wins; Cameron Hoffman, Clearfield, Utah – 5 wins; Adam Krommenhoek, Springville, Utah – 3 wins; John Lauck, Centerville – 4 wins; Shirley Leydsman, Ivins, Utah – 3 wins; Erika Lloyd, Salt Lake City – 5 wins; Tiffany Mainor, Las Vegas, Nevada – 4 wins; John McKone, Park City, Utah – 3 wins; Michael Olsen, Las Vegas – 3 wins; Nate Pack, Salt Lake City – 9 wins; Jeff Pease, Hamilton, Montana – 4 wins; Larry Peterson, Centerville – 3 wins; Tom and Jeanne Petzold, Birmingham, Michigan – 3 wins; Gary Powers, Salt Lake City – 3 wins; Elton Reid, Park City – 4 wins; Mark Schaefer, Ogden, Utah – 7 wins; Dave Sharp, Salt Lake City – 4 wins; Gary Simmons, Layton, Utah – 6 wins; Mark Smith, Thornton, Colorado – 3 wins; Jason Speirs, Idaho Falls, Idaho – 5 wins; Ira Sorensen, South Jordan, Utah – 4 wins; Randall Steinfeldt, Ogden – 3 wins; Lindsey Stevenson, Cottonwood Heights, Utah – 3 wins; Camille Stringham, River Heights, Utah – 3 wins; Alfred Thresher, Las Vegas – 3 wins; Zan Treasure and Kelly Crawford, Ogden – 5 wins; John Weyhrich, Missoula, Montana – 8 wins; and Steven Wilson, Salt Lake City – 3 wins.
2020 LoToJa Trivia and Factoids
- LoToJa is the longest one-day USAC-sanctioned bicycle race in the United States (2020 LoToJa Course: Race Full Route: 203.9 miles; Race Relay Route: 209.8 miles; Cyclosportive Ride and Relay Route: 199.3 miles)
- The course features almost 9,800 feet of climbing — most of it is in the first 110 miles
- The 2020 LoToJa featured 19 “race” and 14 “ride” start groups
- Youngest individual finisher’s: Male: 13 (several years); Female: 13 (2013)
- Oldest individual finisher’s: Male: Michael Washburn, 76 (2018); Female: Diane Tracy, 67 (2018)
- Oldest individual category winner: Male: Larry Peterson, Centerville, Utah, age 74 (2018); Female: Celeste Liljenquist, Bountiful, Utah, age 56 (2016)
LoToJa Course Records
- Men’s Individual: Spencer Johnson, Riverton, Utah — 8:18:29 (2018)
- Women’s Individual: Melinda MacFarlane, Draper, Utah — 9:35:00 (2013)
- Tandem: Gary Gardiner & John Lauck, Centerville, Utah — 9:05:57 (2014)
- 2-Person Race Relay: Men’s Team: Bryce and Jeffrey Olsen, Ogden, Utah — 8:45:01 (2018); Women’s Team: Mary Emerson and Nina Madsen, Millcreek, Utah — 9:28:52 (2018); Mixed Team: Theron Jeppson and Camille Stringham, River Heights, Utah — 9:27:22 (2017)
- 3 to 5 Person Race Relay: Men’s Team: M. Acostra, J. Crawford, C. Nielsen, T. Olsen, and N. Starnes, Ogden, Utah — 8:47:55 (2013)
- King of Mountain: D. Justin Daniels, Cedar City, Utah — 12:21.814 (2017)
- Queen of Mountain: Marci Kimball, Salt Lake City, Utah — 14:19.37 (2018)
LoToJa involves over 600 course volunteers; 150 are HAM radio operators providing radio communications and neutral support. LoToJa’s fundraising efforts for Huntsman Cancer Foundation (HCF) exceeds $2.2 million. The National Ability Center, Common Ground Outdoor Adventures, Utah High School Cycling League, Bike Utah, and several community organizations/youth groups also benefit from the event.
2021 Event Info:
September 11 — LOTOJA Classic Road Race, Logan, UT, 39th Annual, 1 day, 3 states, 200-plus mile road race from Logan, UT to Jackson Hole, WY, Brent Chambers, 801-546-0090, [email protected]lotoja.com, lotoja.com