Sunday, September 14, 2014

LOTOJA 2014 Part 2-- (by Rob Critchfield)

As with anything, it is the little things that can derail your ride.  In the last post, you read that with only 10 minutes before the start of my race, the zipper on my jersey broke so I had no way to zip up my jersey. 

Rex and I immediately began to brain storm.  We decided I need to buy a new jersey and fast.  There is a merchandise trailer that sells LOTOJA jerseys.  Rex bought one on Thursday when we picked up our packets for the ride.  We went to that trailer, but they had shipped all of the jersey’s to the finish line in Jackson and did not have any of them.  The trailer was right next to the late registration table.  I grabbed a bunch of safety pins at the registration table just in case I had to resort to pinning the jersey together. 

What I enjoy about LOTOJA is it is a first class event.  The communities rally around the race.  At almost all intersections in the race, there is police or volunteers that stop traffic for you as you pass through.  You literally can clip in and not clip out until the end of the race. 

The start of LOTOJA is no different.  The city of Logan closes a few streets to traffic and the start is in the middle of one of these streets.  It happens to be in front of a small bike shop that helped begin LOTOJA.  Rex suggested I buy a jersey from the shop, which was open.  I literally ran to the shop making my way through all of the cyclists. 

The selection for jersey was very small.  There were only two models of jersey and both had really small back pockets.  I did not know how I was going to fit the stuff I currently had in my back pockets into the pockets on those jerseys, but I didn’t have much choice. 

While I was grabbing a jersey.  Rex took my Cyclopath jersey and laid it out on the floor of the shop.  He took the broken zipper and was working at putting it back on the jersey.  Just as I was handing my credit card to the clerk to purchase a new jersey Rex yelled, I got it.  Sure enough, he somehow got the broken zipper back together.  I put the jersey on and we gingerly zipped it up.  For those of you who do not know it, Rex is a mechanical genius (primarily for cars and bikes but even with things like zippers). 

I started to leave the store when I realized I didn’t have my gloves.  I had set them down in my jersey chaos.  I did not have time to back track and remember where I had placed them.  I just grabbed a pair off the rack and paid for them.    I immediately ran and got my bike and then went to the starter’s gate.  Rex and I got to the starters gate with about a minute to spare.  We entered the starting chute and had to wait about two minutes before we started.  Finally, the clock clicked down to our start time and we rolled out to begin our 2014 LOTOJA.  I heard my timing chip beep as I passed over the starter which signaled my time had started.  I was just very grateful to be riding in the early morning air with a jersey zipped all the way up.

I found a video taken by a category 4 rider of LOTOJA.  It does a nice job to give you a flavor of the race in 12 minutes here
If you are interested, you can see what the start looks like for a group at about 1 minute and 24 seconds into this video. 

The first leg of LOTOJA is a ride from Logan, Utah to Preston, Idaho.  This ride is for the most part very flat with hardly any vertical.  It is a time to warm up the legs before the real ridding begins.  Unless you want to get on the front and work, you are at the mercy of those who do want to pull.

LOTOJA does a really nice job of supporting its riders.  We received a police escort out of Logan.  The police had each intersection stopped so we didn’t have to wait for any lights.  You follow a pace car for the first 4 or 5 miles.  The purpose of this is to make sure that the groups stay spaced three minutes apart.  All of the groups ride the same route out of Logan.  At the Logan airport, the road “T’s”.  The cyclosportive class turns to the left and rides one route and the racers turn to the right and ride another route to Preston.  At Preston, the two joint together and the route is the same for both groups from then on.  The cyclosportive class rides 33 miles and the racers ride 30 miles.

Last year, Rex and I really wanted to push the pace to Preston.  We got on the front, probably foolishly, and worked pretty hard.  Our group was one of the fastest to reach Preston.  As those of you who ride with me know, I like to ride on the front.  This year, however, Rex and I had decided that we would conserve our energy.  So we decided that we would draft as much as we could to Preston.  

We started out in a double pace line.  I was in one pace line and Rex was about 4 or 5 riders a head of me in the other pace line.  At the Logan airport T, the two pace lines merged into one.  I worked my way up behind Rex and we were about 13 people back from the lead rider.  Those up front working seemed just fine cutting back in the pace line after the 8th person.  Rex and I stuck to our plan, but we soon became painfully aware, we were moving much slower than last year. I recognized where last year we had a tail wind to Preston, this year it seemed like we had a fairly stiff head wind. 

I enjoy the ride to Preston, Idaho.  Many people find it boring.  It is probably the most boring section of the ride, but I enjoy it for other reasons.  The route goes through the farm country of Cache Valley.  Cache Valley is home to Utah State University and my brother tells me there are more cows in the valley than people, which is not hard to believe.

Leaving Logan, the temperature will drop at least 5 degrees.  As you ride the rural roads, you hear and smell the farms that you pass by.  I grew up in a small Utah town like this and the sounds and smells brought back a lot of memories as I road along. The first 50 seconds of this video shows the ride from Logan to Preston and will give you a flavor of what it looks like

Riding the rural roads makes me feel nostalgic for my youth.  I have a little regret as I ride along thinking how much I have enjoyed taking up the sport of cycling the past 4 years and regretted I didn’t do it sooner.  I grew up near some incredible places to cycle and it would have been a blast to have gotten into the sport as a youth.  But, when I was young cycling was not cool.  I was a football and basketball player.

We are also starting so early in the morning that it is still dark.  I try really hard to concentrate on not hitting a pot hole or running into the guy in front of me.  I certainly don’t want to cross wheels and go down in this section.  There are sections where we come upon hay that has been spilled on the road or an occasional manure pile.  Even though this section is boring and quite uneventful, you still need to be alert to the road hazards.  Also, you are riding with people you have never ridden before and so you need to be alert to make sure nothing terrible happens.

Unlike last year when I felt really sick before the race, I was feeling pretty good this year.  I wasn’t quite sure what my legs were going to be like today.  They were feeling a little sluggish and I was still feeling the effects of Rex’s and my early Friday morning ride, which had me concerned.    

I also think about what a big contrast this was from last year.  We were one of the very first groups to start this year.  Last year, we were one of the very last.  There are different advantages and disadvantages in leaving in one of the first groups than leaving in the last group.  I was concerned that if Rex and I were stronger than the rest of our group, we would not have the big groups to ride in that are so important later in the race. 

The advantage is that we would be seeing and riding with more of the racers, who are typically very strong riders.  The cyclosportive riders are not supposed to ride with the race groups.  The race organizers are trying to maintain the integrity of each race.  Basically, most interpret this to mean that the lead group or groups in a particular race need to race it within their group.  If other riders get blown off the back, they are free to hook up with which ever other riders they can.  It is not uncommon to have groups of 15 to 20 riders riding together in Star Valley.  However, this inherent conflict between the racers and the cyclosportive class would come up time and again for me.

As we were about 10 miles from Preston, Rex slid back by me to point out that we going so slow.  We briefly discussed whether we should go to the front to pick the pace up a bit, but decided we would stay with our original plan and stay out of the wind.  It is hard for me to be patient, but I really felt this was not the place to make up any time.  At this point in the race, I am really uncomfortable.  I have over hydrated, which was my plan, but because of my jersey issues I didn’t get to use the restroom right before the start like I had planned.  Rex and I had planned on not stopping at Preston, but I talked to Rex about stopping so I could use the restroom.  Rex needed to use it also, so we decided we were going to stop. 

As you approach Preston, about a mile or two from the feed zone, the road goes from being flat to a slight rise.  I don’t think the grade gets higher than 4%, but it does tick up a little bit for about half a mile.  You can see this rise from a mile or so back as the road in this section is fairly straight.

As we hit this slight grade, the group on the front seems to just stop.  They all gear down and the slight upgrade seems to be challenging for them.  I have to move out to the side to keep from running into the back of Rex and others.  I kept a steady pace and the next thing I knew I was on the front as we reached the top of the short rise.  I realize at that moment that this group will likely struggle on the climbs.  

I put a little power down and quickly started distancing myself from the group.  My plan was to put a little distance so that I could stop and use the restroom and maybe lesson the distance from those who would not be stopping at Preston.  Rex followed my lead, and we opened up a gap from the group as we came into Preston. 

Like most of these rides, there is a photo business that takes pictures of all of the riders throughout the ride.  Then they try and sell you photographs of the ride.  You can see me coming into Preston at these two links.  Rex is a bit behind me and our group is behind him.  The riders I am passing are relay riders who started before we started.

Rex and I stopped at the restrooms in Preston, and then we took off again.  There was a group of about 10 to 15 riders who did not stop in Preston.  As you come out of Preston you ride towards Strawberry Canyon or Immigration Canyon.  There is a climb just outside of Preston that is about a 7% grade for half or three quarters of a mile.  At the top of this climb, there is a screaming downhill for about two miles before you make a right hand turn toward the canyon.  Typically, you have to work hard uphill before you get a good downhill like this.  What is unusual about this particular hill is the downhill side is clearly longer and more steep than the side we climb.
Rex and I catch all of the riders from our group who did not stop in Preston at this climb, we pass them and ride the screaming downhill.  As we make the right hand turn onto highway 36, for me this is where the riding begins.  We will essentially be climbing uphill for the next 22 miles.  There are two 3 mile sections of this climb near the top of the canyon that are 6% to 8% grade.  The summit is at approximately 7,600 feet above sea level.
Just as we make the right hand turn, we are surrounded by 60 riders.  The third race group to leave Logan, which is the category 3 group, has come up behind us.  I have to decide if we are going to try and keep their pace or let them go.  To be continued.

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