Rider compete in the LoToJa bike race as it goes through Logan in 2019.

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When the second Saturday in September rolls around, it has become routine for Cache Valley to welcome the LoToJa Classic.

And this year will be no different. The 39th installment of the road cycling race is set for Saturday. It begins in Logan and finishes in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

LoToJa is recognized as the longest, one-day USA Cycling sanctioned road race in America. After nearly 40 years of existence, it is one of the nation’s most popular cycling events. Several thousand riders from across the U.S. and foreign countries register every April, but less than 2,000 are accepted for safety reasons and to keep the cycling experience quality high, according to Dave Bern, the communications director for the event. LoToJa’s challenging distance, scenery and finish in Jackson are all part of its allure, he said.

There will be more than 1,500 cyclists that leave Logan Saturday morning between 5:30 and 7:30 a.m. There are 31 various categories and groups leave the starting line located in front of Sunrise Cyclery in Logan every four minutes.

USA Cycling licensed racers will ride 203 miles to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, while cyclosportive cyclists and relay teams will ride 198 miles to Jackson Hole High School. The course takes cyclists through northeastern Utah, southeastern Idaho and western Wyoming

“We’re looking forward to a remarkable day of bicycle racing through some of the American West’s most breathtaking landscape,” said Brent Chambers, who has been LoToJa’s race director since 1998, in a press release. “To all cyclists, support crews, event staff and volunteers, I say let’s celebrate the day, while also remembering and honoring those who lost their lives on 9/11 20 years ago.”

The finish line closes at 8:30 p.m. or dark, whichever comes first. Many of the cyclosportive participants need the entire day to finish.

However, the fastest riders will arrive at the ski resort by mid-afternoon. The current men’s record is 8 hours, 18 minutes, 29 seconds. The women’s record is 9:35:00.

The course includes three mountain passes that total 35 miles and nearly 10,000 feet of vertical climbing. After starting in Logan, riders head north to Preston, then northeast to Montpelier, Idaho, over the first climb of the day. The next two climbs take cyclists into the Cowboy State, and they ride through Star Valley, then up the Snake River gorge toward Jackson Hole.

“We wouldn’t be able to safely hold LoToJa without the support of every community along the course,” Chambers said.

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. This year’s race will have 600 course volunteers, which includes 150 Ham radio operators from the Bridgerland Amateur Radio Club. They provide uninterrupted communication throughout LoToJa’s mountainous and remote terrain.

The race director also emphasized LoToJa’s top goal is to have a safe race. All cyclists, support crews, volunteers and event staff will be required to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines that were implemented for last year’s race in response to the pandemic.

“We have again worked tirelessly to include several COVID-19 safety adaptations to mitigate the health risks to all participants and the communities that LoToJa passes through,” Chambers said. “The two separate finish lines in Jackson are key parts to those health risk mitigation efforts. The two finish lines were used in last year’s race.”

Groups will be smaller and larger time gaps will occur, Chambers said. This is also to help distance cyclists.

Motorists traveling on LoToJa’s course on Saturday are asked to use caution when approaching cyclists. Groups consisting of several riders may be present.

To further increase safety on race day, the Idaho Transportation Department will restrict eastbound traffic on state Route 36 north of Preston between Riverdale and Ovid from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. Eastbound traffic on US-89 between Montpelier and the Wyoming state line will also be restricted from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The temporary travel restrictions are used to add an extra layer of safety for cyclists, Chambers said. Motorists are asked to use caution while traveling on these two roadways during LoToJa. Cautious passing is advised to ensure safety for everyone.

Chambers defined “cautious passing” as slowing down, giving at least three feet of space between the vehicle and cyclist(s), and patiently waiting for oncoming vehicle traffic to clear before pulling around a cyclist or group of cyclists.

“After nearly four decades of existence, LoToJa continues to be an epic bicycle race that challenges every cyclist’s endurance and spirit,” he said. “Those who commit to ride the distance and cross the finish line experience a euphoria that changes them forever — a life change for the better. It’s always an honor and a privilege for me to help create an event that gives so much in return.”

LoToJa has evolved into a major fundraiser for the Huntsman Cancer Foundation and other health-related organizations. More than $2.2 million has been contributed to Huntsman alone by cyclists and sponsors. LoToJa also sponsors local fund-raising groups that assist the event.

Shawn Harrison is the sports editor at The Herald Journal. He can be reached at sharrison@hjnews.com or 435-792-7233.

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