LoToJa comes and goes

Streams of riders pass by Franklin County landmarks as they head toward Jackson Hole in the LoToJa Bike Race.

America’s longest, one-day sanctioned bicycle race pedaled through Franklin County Saturday, Sept. 7, when 1,500 bicyclists from across the U.S. and two foreign countries pedal their way from Logan through Franklin County to Jackson Hole.

Of those 1,500, two were from Franklin, three from Preston, and four from Weston.

The 37th annual LoToJa Classic climbs three mountain passes and almost 10,000 vertical feet of riding uphill.

“It doesn’t matter if you’ve been racing for years, or are new to the sport, crossing LoToJa’s finish line is known to change lives,” said LoToJa Race Director Brent Chambers. “It is a challenging and beautiful event that presents a huge goal for every cyclist who enters. They must properly train and dig deep — and that includes those who just want to finish and cross LoToJa off their bucket list.”

Chambers, who has been race director and owner of LoToJa since 1998, said the race continues to be one of America’s most popular cycling events. Several thousand register every April, but less than 2,000 are accepted to keep LoToJa as a high quality cycling experience with a premium on safety.

LoToJa began in 1983 by two Logan cyclists who wanted to create an enduring one-day bicycle race. They modeled it after European professional cycling’s five grand monuments: Milan-San Remo, Ronde van Vlaanderen, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour of Lombardy.

In LoToJa’s first year, seven cyclists competed and crossed the finish line near downtown Jackson. The winner was Bob VanSlyke of Logan who finished the 186-mile course in nine hours. In 1986 the finish line was moved to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, which pushed the race’s distance to over 200 miles.

Since then LoToJa has become one of America’s premier amateur cycling races. It has also become a major fundraiser for the Huntsman Cancer Foundation and for other health-related organizations. More than $2 million has been contributed to Huntsman alone by cyclists and sponsors. LoToJa also sponsors local fund-raising groups that assist the event. For example, the young women of the Preston 3rd Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints helped with bicyclists taking on LoToJa in relays at the station set up at the Preston 3rd/10th Ward building. The girls earn funds to help pay for their activities.

This year’s race will have nearly 700 course volunteers, which includes 150 Ham radio operators from the Bridgerland Amateur Radio Club, he said. They provide uninterrupted communication throughout LoToJa’s mountainous and remote terrain. Their help was appreciated by at least two participants whose bid for Jackson ended in an accident in Franklin County.

Chambers stressed LoToJa wouldn’t be possible without its volunteers and the cooperation and assistance it receives from businesses, civic leaders, public safety officials and community volunteers.

LoToJa’s top goal is to have a safe race for all cyclists, support crews and volunteers.

To increase safety on race day, the Idaho Transportation Department restricted eastbound traffic on state Route 36 north of Preston between Riverdale and Ovid from 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Eastbound traffic on US-89 between Montpelier and the Wyoming state line was also restricted.

LoToJa cyclists, plus their support crews, well-wishers, event staff and volunteers, represent an entourage of approximately 4,000 people, Chambers said. Several of the communities through which LoToJa passes organize roadside fundraisers to capitalize on the influx of visitors. The host cities of Logan and Jackson also enjoy a welcomed economic boost from the race, specifically restaurants and hotels.

According to Chambers, LoToJa is the longest one-day bicycle race in America that is sanctioned by USA Cycling, the sport’s governing body. It is estimated more than 19,000 cyclists have pedaled more than 6 million miles during LoToJa since the race began in 1983.