JACKSON, Wyo. — On a day that saw cyclists endure smoke-filled air and challenging road construction, the 40th iteration of the LoToJa Classic, once again delivered a memorable day for all those involved. Especially for the overall winners.

John Borstelmann crossed the finish line in first place, with the fastest overall time of 8:41:47 just edging out last year’s winner Nathan Spratt with a sprint finish. 

The winner in the women’s competition was Aileen Pannecoucke of Pocatello with a time of 9:58:00. Pannecoucke finished in second place in last year’s race.

But for the small group of cyclists that had the good fortune of winning their division, far more riders were making the ride from Logan to Jackson to attain a personal goal. Like Matt Jepsen of Salt Lake City, a four-time LoToJa finisher who was riding in a relay.

“For me the atmosphere of the race couldn’t have been better,” Jepsen said during his stop in Preston. “Today I get to ride with my family and friends and have a great memory to share with them that will last long after this race is over. For me, being with my son and son-in-law was a highlight of the day.”

To better understand the spirit and feeling of what Jepsen experienced, it’s important to understand the origins of LoToJa and its first-ever race winner, Bob VanSlyke.

Race co-founder Dave Bern remembers how it all started and when he first met VanSlyke.

“I used to spend a lot of time skiing at Beaver Mountain while I was going to Utah State. So after a long day on the mountain, I would drive home and I would see this guy riding his bike down Logan Canyon, in the middle of winter. I thought, that is one tough guy,” Bern recalls.

Bern later met VanSlyke, who worked as a lift operator at the resort.

“Bob is really the one who is responsible for LoToJa,” Bern said. “When I first met Bob he was working as a liftie on Harry’s Dream chair. I mentioned to him that a group of us were going to put together a race from Logan to Jackson Hole, and I asked if he wanted to ride it with us? Bob looked at me and said, “Yeah, sounds good.”

“Bob’s toughness and determination is what inspired me to train harder for that first race.” Bern said.

VanSlyke, who now lives in Colorado, remembers when he was first approached with the idea of riding from Logan to Jackson. “It was a very unique kind of race idea with that distance. At that time, I thought it would be a good way to stay in shape.”

VanSlyke grew up in Lake Placid, New York, and came to Logan to go to Utah State. He loved to ski, and admitted he used cycling as a good way to stay in shape for skiing.

“I worked the lifts for some extra money and I would ride my bike to stay in shape during the winter months,” he recalls. “I was just looking for a way to get in my miles, and LoToJa was the answer.”  

Bern, who just completed his 36th LoToJa, remembers the first race in vivid detail.

“On race day, I saw Bob sitting on the curb before the start of the ride. He was in front of Sunrise Cycling, eating some sort of pastry and drinking orange juice. I noticed his bike was a beautiful Orange and Red color mix,” Bern said.

VanSlyke’s account of race day is still a fond memory. “I was riding a Trek 960 road bike at the time. It was a great bike and fast. It allowed me to train for these longer rides because that’s what I did in the winter.”

The original LoToJa race had just seven riders brave enough to take on the challenge.

“At the first LoToJa there was a tandem bike at the start and I thought, this is great, I’ll just draft behind the tandem riders all the way to Jackson,” VanSlyke remembers. “Then on our first climb, I realized that wasn’t going to happen and that blew my plan away.”  

As it turned out, VanSlyke had such a commanding lead in the first race due to his exceptional winter training and a strong tailwind through Star Valley, that his support crew couldn’t catch up to him. This left VanSlyke with nothing to eat or drink for many miles. So he had to come up with a new plan. 

“My secret weapon for winning the first LoToJa was when I got to Soda Springs I was looking for something to eat, so I stopped at the Arctic Circle and had the best bag of french fries in my life. That gave me the fuel I needed all the way to Jackson. No bonk, it was the best fuel for me,” VanSlyke said.

VanSlyke finished the first race in just under nine hours, something Bern will never forget.

“I remember riding up Snake River Canyon, knowing that I still had 40 miles to go until I reached Jackson Hole, and I noticed a car coming the other direction headed toward Logan and I looked over and it was Bob with his bike on the back. I then realized that Bob had already finished the race and was headed back to Logan,” Bern said.

“I feel very lucky to have won the first LoToJa. I had a 1-in-7 chance in winning that year. Today you have to beat out a much larger group of competitive riders, many of those have been training all year for this event, which makes it very difficult to win,” VanSlyke said. “I just wanted to get to Jackson Hole just like everyone else.”

Great advice from the first winner to all LoToJa riders. Just make it to Jackson Hole is the goal.

For race results, go here.

Glenn Seninger lives in Salt Lake City and is a fourteen -time LoToJa finisher.