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Lotoja cycling race 30 years strong

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LOGAN — It's 4:30 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9, the morning of the 30th annual Lotoja bike race. Darkness blankets the city of Logan, the streets are empty but a small group of cyclists are already gathering at the starting line. The lights are on at Sunrise Cyclery and the doors are open as store owner Jeff Keller prepares for yet another Lotoja bike race.

For Keller and Dave Bern, the founders of Lotoja, they have prepared the same way each year for this day, but this year's 30th anniversary of the race is something special.

"It's really cool that Lotoja has been going on for so long," Keller explains." From our humble beginnings of seven riders, it is amazing to think people still think it's a great ride and want to come and be a part of it after 30 years."

Chances are you've seen a window sticker with the words, "Lotoja" on the rear windshield. The annual bike race from Logan to Jackson Hole, Wyo., pronounced "Low-ta-juh" is the longest, single-day, USA Cycling sanctioned race, which covers 206 miles.

Bern is credited with coming up with the idea of the race while a student attending Utah State.

"I was an English/journalism major and looking for a goal. One day while riding my bike it came to me: We should ride to Jackson Hole," Bern remembers." I talked to Jeff about the idea and he didn't even hesitate. He was in. And the rest as they say, is history.

This year's race attracted more than 1,500 riders from 40 states, with 500 volunteers supporting the event. Cyclists from around the world participated.

What is it that attracts riders to this annual suffer-fest? What is the secret to Lotoja's longevity?

"For me, it's the chance to push myself to the limit and see if all of my hard training has paid off," says Layne Devereaux of Salt Lake City, who is riding in his fourth consecutive Lotoja.

"In my opinion, Lotoja is the ultimate test in cycling," Keller admits. "The heart and soul of Lotoja is the person who decided, like Dave Bern did 30 years ago, to set a goal. The end result is it's gotten a lot of people riding bikes for better health and a better life."

Looking back, Bern says, "The most impactful thing for me about Lotoja is how we have partnered with The Huntsman Cancer Institute to help raise funds for cancer research and change peoples lives. We have raised over 800K and they have designated a special room at the Huntsman Cancer Institute called 'The Lotoja' room, dedicated to health and wellness. If you would have asked me 30 years ago if that would have been possible, I wouldn't have believed it."

For others, just setting the goal to finish Lotoja isn't enough. Strict training regiments during the winter months and the building of base miles is crucial for winning at Lotoja.

Greg Smith, a Las Vegas attorney who completed his fourth Lotoja, put it into perspective.

"There are so many factors that go into winning this race or setting a personal record; training, nutrition, weather all have to come together for a rider to win their category."

Clark Livsey of Springville, who competed in his sixth Lotoja says: "I really look forward to Lotoja. The Red Burro racing team makes it a priority and we bring dozens of riders each year to compete. We won't miss it."

The race results were as follows: Leon Bergant of Simply Mac Racing set the all-time course record with a sprint to the finish and a time of 8:57:19 and was the men's overall winner, racing as a CAT 4. This year's race saw 11 riders shatter the previous unbreakable nine-hour barrier. A feat that many Lotoja veterans thought would never happen. On the women's side the overall winner was Jenn Halladay of Bob's Bicycles, who came in with an impressive 9:47:38.422. Complete race results can be found: www.milliseconds.com/races/detail/138979

Lotoja top 10

Men's top 10 Finishers

1 Leon Bergant 08:57:19

2 Scott Buccambuso 08:57:20

3 Kyle Nelson 08:57:21

4 Creighton Lowe 08:58:07

5 Lucas Parker 08:58:39

6 Chris Carr 08:59:14

6 Justin Wilson 08:59:14

6 Cameron Hoffman 08:59:14

6 Darren Goff 08:59:14

10 Jake Stocking 08:59:16

Woman's top 10 Finishers

1 Jenn Halladay 09:47:38

2 Brooke Parent 09:47:38

3 Anne Perry 09:47:38

4 Shirley Leydsman 09:47:39

5 Keri Gibson 09:52:00

6 Jami Smith 10:09:40

7 Kandice Lund 10:15:00

8 Melinda Macfarlane 10:16:00

9 Camille Stringam 10:21:58

10 Camille Brinton 10:23:04

Rider involved in fatal crash at Lotoja

Tragedy struck this year's Lotoja. The Teton County Sheriff's Office confirmed that 42-year-old Robert Verhaaren of Mesa, Ariz., swerved to avoid a pothole near the Hobart Junction bridge and crashed over the side of the bridge, falling 35 feet to his death.

"It's just really sad. This is a freak, freak accident," said Dave Bern, one of the race founders. "We've always known that something like this could happen when you have so many cars, so many cyclists over a 206-mile corridor."

Verhaaren leaves behind a wife and three children.

"People have been careful, motorists have been careful and this didn't even involve a car," Bern said

As word of the tragedy spread throughout the race and the cycling community, thoughts and prayers went out to the family of the fallen cyclist and brought sobering thoughts about the risks of road racing to those involved. This is the first-ever fatality in the race's 30-year history.

Glenn Seninger lives in Salt Lake City with his family and rode in this year's Lotoja and is a five -time Lotoja finisher.