By David Bern
Whenever the LoToJa Classic’s men’s or women’s course record gets broken, it’s usually by only a few minutes or less. But Spencer Johnson blew that trend away during this year’s race on Sept. 8.
The Cat. 2 cyclist won the Men Pro Cat 123 race and set a new men’s record of 8:18:29 on the 202-mile parcours, crushing last year’s record of 8:42:31 set by Kai Applequist of Boise, Idaho. Johnson, 39, who rides for Endurance 360 and hails from Riverton, Utah, lopped off 24 minutes and two seconds from Applequist’s time.
The previous men’s LoToJa course record was set in 2014 by four-time Men Pro Cat 123 winner Cameron Hoffman of Layton, Utah. His winning time that year was 8:45:38.
“It was really special for me to win such an iconic race,” Johnson said. “Even people who don’t know much about cycling have heard about LoToJa.”
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. Licensed cyclists ride 202 miles (325km) and cyclosportive riders 205 miles (330km) while passing through northern Utah, southeastern Idaho and western Wyoming.
The race begins at Sunrise Cyclery in Logan, Utah, and finishes at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Jackson, Wyoming. The race was first held in 1983 with only seven cyclists; nearly 2,000 rode it this year, which was LoToJa’s 36th anniversary.
Johnson’s victory and record-breaking ride began only a few miles after the start line when he put himself in a six-man break with his teammate Nathan Manwaring, Morgan, Utah; John Jantz (Team Community Bike), Arlington, Massachusetts; 2013 LoToJa winner Clinton Mortley (Team Livewell), Ogden, Utah; Kent Carlsen (Logan Race Club), Providence, Utah; and Brent Cannon (Team Elevate), Francis, Utah.
Both Carlsen and Cannon are Men Master 45 plus riders. The Men Master 45s started with the Men Pro Cat 123s.
The break stayed together through Preston (31mi/50km) and across the Bear River. But Mortley, Carlsen and Cannon lost contact during the 22-mile climb to Strawberry/Emigration Canyon’s 7,424 foot-high summit (57mi/92km).
Johnson, Jantz and Manwaring went over the summit together and began the descent to Ovid.
“We were in no man’s land — do we go or do we wait to get caught,” Johnson said. “We decided to go.”
The trio stayed together through the first support crew feed zone at Montpelier (76mi/122km), on the nine-mile climb to 6,923 foot-high Geneva Summit (84mi/135km), and down the backside of Geneva to the Idaho/Wyoming state line.
“It was just constant rotation. Everyone was smooth,” Johnson said. “No one over worked it.”
The cooperation even continued up to LoToJa’s highest summit: 7,630 foot-high Salt River Pass (106mi/171km), which features a 9-percent pitch during the last mile. Jantz did gap Johnson and Manwaring by 30 seconds at the summit to win the King of the Mountain prize.
But after setting a time of 14:02, Jantz waited for Johnson and Manwaring and the trio resumed their paceline through Star Valley, pushed by a strong southerly wind.
While at the feed zone in Afton, Johnson did the math and figured the three-man break could set a new record. With other teams and riders more than 20 minutes back, the trio could focus on the task and not get slowed by team tactics.
Johnson, Jantz and Manwaring kept the pace line working through Alpine Junction (156mi/251km), Hoback Junction (178mi/286km) and onto South Loop Road in south Jackson. But on Village Road with only seven miles to go, the cooperation vanished.
“We were friendly, but with five miles to go it got serious,” Johnson said. “Nate [Manwaring] attacked first and John [Jantz] pulled him back. With one K to go, Nate attacked again, John went after him and I sprinted around [for the win].”
Jantz took second place and Manwaring third. All three finished with the same time of 8:18:29. The next rider in for fourth place — nearly 30 minutes later — was Greg Krause (Team Groove Subaru Excel Sports) of Littleton, Colorado, with a time of 8:45:50, followed by Ben Stevenson (Team Endurance 360) of Salt Lake City, Utah, in fifth at 8:50:11.
The men’s Pro Cat 123 race had a 19-man field.
Johnson attributed his record-breaking ride to the break’s early success outside of Logan and working cooperatively throughout the day. But there was something more.
“It came down to three good endurance riders and good weather conditions,” he said.
Johnson said he plans to ride LoToJa next year, but he may choose to ride the relay instead. He rode the relay category a few years ago and his team won. He said that experience was a lot of fun.
Women's Pro/1/2/3 Race
In the Women’s Pro Cat 123 race, Lindsey Stevenson (Team Zone 5) made good on a promise from a year ago. After winning last year’s race, she said she’d return in 2018 and would push for the win.
Stevenson, 29, of Salt Lake City, pushed and won for the second year in a row with a time of 9:47:58.
“It felt good to win again,” Stevenson said. “I was super nervous and felt more pressure to win than last year. People were coming up to me asking if I was going for the win this year. I felt relieved to win.”
Like previous years, the Women’s Pro Cat 123s left Logan at the same time with the Women Cat 4/5, Women Cat 5, and Women Master 35 and 45 open categories. The peloton mostly stayed together for the first 35 miles through Cache Valley until the climb to Strawberry/Emigration Canyon summit began.
At the top, only five were left: Stevenson, her teammate Eleise Hinton, Pleasant Grove, Utah; 2016 LoToJa winner Marci Kimball (Team Zone 5), Salt Lake City, Utah; Cat. 4 rider Heidi Madsen (Team American First), Layton, Utah; and Master 45 open rider and 2014 LoToJa winner Shirley Leydsman (Team Red Rocks), St. George, Utah.
The five-woman break stayed and worked together throughout the day, Stevenson said — except for at Salt River Pass. There, Kimball went to the front and drilled it to the top, taking the Queen of the Mountain prize and smashing the old QOM record of 16:19 by two minutes with a new time of 14:20.
The break regrouped on the descent into Star Valley and stayed together through Afton, Alpine and Hoback, Stevenson said.
“For the most part, we had a pretty good [pace] line going,” she said. “There were a few missed turns at the front, but it worked out pretty well.”
But like most breaks, the cooperation began to dissolve during the final miles to the finish line.
“A little cat and mouse started to happen on Village Road,” Stevenson said. “Marci [Kimball] and I mostly worked the front. … But I was confident about the sprint.”
At about 1K to go, Hinton jumped and Stevenson followed. She came around Hinton and crossed the line two seconds ahead of her. Hinton finished with a time of 9:48:00, followed by Kimball at 9:48:02, Leydsman at 9:48:02 and Madsen at 9:48:06.
Leydsman took fourth place out of the break, but won the Women Master 45 open category and Madsen won the Women Cat 4 category.
Stevenson noted that conditions were ideal for the Men Pro Cat 123 riders to smash the old record. But the women started one hour after the men and ran into more variable conditions on course.
“I knew early on that we wouldn’t get the [women’s] record,” Stevenson said. “We did get hit with wind and rain.”
The current women’s record is 9:35:00, which was set by Melinda MacFarlane in 2013.
Stevenson said she looks forward to coming back to LoToJa and pushing for the win — but not next year. At three months pregnant, she and her husband will welcome their first child in June.
“I’ll be back, but probably not for a couple of years,” she said.
Race Director Brent Chambers said the 36th anniversary LoToJa was a spectacular race and event. He congratulated all riders and support crews who participated this year.
“I also want to congratulate and thank the event’s legion of volunteers, and the communities and residents along LoToJa’s expansive course,” Chambers said. “Without our volunteers, and without the cooperation and support from communities and residents, LoToJa wouldn’t be possible.”
He said plans are already underway for next year’s LoToJa, which will be held on Saturday, Sept. 7.
2018 LoToJa facts and trivia
• The first LoToJa was held in 1983 and was won by Bob VanSlyke of Logan, Utah, with a time of 9 hours. Six other cyclists started and finished that day.
• Men’s individual course record (new): Spencer Johnson, Riverton, Utah – 8:18:29
• Women’s individual course record: Melinda MacFarlane, Draper, Utah – 9:35:00 (2013)
• Tandem course record: Gary Gardiner & John Lauck, Centerville, Utah -9:05:57 (2014)
• Race relay course record (new): 2-man team – Bryce and Jeffrey Olsen, Ogden, Utah – 8:45:01.
• Race relay course record (new): 2-woman team – Mary Emerson and Nina Madsen, Millcreek, Utah – 9:28:52
• Race relay course record: Mixed team – Theron Jeppson and Camille Stringham, River Heights, Utah – 9:27:22 (2017)
• Race relay course record: 3-5 person team – Martin Acostra, James Crawford, Casey Nielsen, Trent Olsen and Nathan Starnes, Ogden, Utah – 8:54:30 (2013)
• King of the Mountain record: D. Justin Daniels, Cedar City, Utah – 12:21:814 (2017)
• Queen of the Mountain record: Marci Kimball, Salt Lake City, Utah – 14:19:37 (2018)
• Since 1983 an estimated 19,000 cyclists have pedaled more than 6 million combined miles to finish LoToJa.
• Oldest individual finishers: Male: Michael Washburn, 76 (2018); Female: Diane Tracy, 67 (2018)
• Oldest individual category winners: Male – Larry Peterson, 74, Centerville, Utah; Female – Celeste Lilenquist, 56, Bountiful, Utah
• Youngest individual finishers: Male 13 and Female 13
• LoToJa’s average participant age in 2018 was 45
• In a typical year, LoToJa cyclists travel to Logan from 40 U.S. states and five foreign countries
• LoToJa involves more than 600 course volunteers; 150 of those are Ham radio operators who provide communications and neutral support.
• LoToJa’s fundraising efforts for Huntsman Cancer Foundation exceeds $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.