As the Tour de France heats up in Europe, many local cyclists will be out creating memories of their own this Saturday riding in the 38th annual LoToJa Classic.
While the month-long race in France is a bit out of place in September — it normally is held in July — LoToJa is right where it has been for nearly four decades. This year has been different in many ways because of COVID-19, but the organizers of the annual race that starts in Logan and finishes in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, have been able to keep this tradition going.
“Although we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, we have worked tirelessly to plan for and implement several comprehensive safety adaptations to mitigate the health risks of riders, support crews and the communities that LoToJa passes through,” LoToJa Race Director Brent Chambers said in a press release. “We have applied CDC and local and state health department recommendations in our preparations. With them in place, we have done what health experts say are effective to mitigate COVID-19 transmission.”
There will be fewer cyclists this year as the cap was set at 1,250. Normally the cap is close to 2,000.
The riders will also be more spread out as the first group begins at 4:50 a.m. from Sunrise Cyclery (138 N. 100 East). Groups will also be smaller this year. There are 32 groups, departing every five minutes.
Cyclists and support crews will take two different routes to help reduce congestion between Logan and Preston. All USA Cycling categories (licensed racers) will take U.S. 91 and pedal through Smithfield, Richmond and Franklin. Meanwhile, all cyclosportive riders and relay categories will ride north on state Route 23 past Trenton, east through Cornish on state Route 61, then north on state Route 200 into Preston.
The licensed racers will ride to what has become the normal finish line at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, which is a 203-mile course. The cyclosportive riders will end at Jackson Hole High School, which is 198 miles from Logan.
“We shouldn’t stop living life,” Chambers said. “We can adapt with effective health safety measures, and keep the race moving forward.”
In addition to mandatory facial masks, hygiene and social distancing, there are more than 50 specific health safety actions and requirements that further minimize human contact during LoToJa. Key points include COVID-19 screening for all cyclists, no indoor gatherings, smaller groups leaving the start line, more and enlarged feed zones to increase social distancing and hand sanitizer will also be everywhere. Cyclists are allowed to remove masks while on the road.
“LoToJa is committed to do whatever it takes to keep everyone as safe as possible,” Chambers said. “Likewise, we expect all participants to follow all event guidelines.”
The Logan Race Club (LRC) usually has upwards of 60 members ride in LoToJa. However, this year is unique with the coronavirus. LRC president Drew Neilson, who has competed in 16 LoToJa Classics, will not be riding because of health concerns. Some other veterans are also taking a break this year.
“We haven’t had organized group rides, but they have still gone on in smaller numbers,” Neilson said. “I haven’t participated in those. It’s been a strange year. There have been no races. ... I think it might be a good year for me to take a break. It’s odd not doing it.”
Started in 1983, LoToJa winds across northeastern Utah, southeastern Idaho and western Wyoming. There are three mountain passes with almost 10,000 vertical feet of climbing that total 35 miles of climbing. Participants ride the entire course in one day. The current men’s course record is 8 hours, 18 minutes and 29 seconds, and the women’s is 9:35:00.
Most LoToJa finishers are on their bike 10 to 13 hours. LoToJa is the longest one-day bicycle race in America that is sanctioned by USA Cycling, the sport’s governing body.
During its nearly 40 years of existence, LoToJa has grown into one of the nation’s premier amateur cycling races, attracting riders from across the U.S. and foreign countries. It has also become a major fundraiser for the Huntsman Cancer Foundation and other health-related organizations. To date, LoToJa sponsors and participants have raised more than $2 million for these causes.
“After all these years, LoToJa is still a remarkable event that touches the soul of everyone who races or rides it,” Chambers said. “To cross the finish line is an achievement that not only enhances people’s lives — it changes them for the better. Who wouldn’t after riding 200-plus miles in a day across some of the most breathtaking landscape in the American West? LoToJa is about celebrating life and the power and resilience of the human spirit. In times like these, we need to be reminded of that.”