Saturday, September 24, 2011

29th annual LOTOJA classic

Race Day

Deebs in White
Zilla's contributions in Green

West Jordan to Logan:

The day started far too early (3 am to be exact) but I did manage to get five full hours of sleep which probably would not have been the case had we taken the Red-Zillas up on their offer to stay with them in Tremonton. I made a pot of oatmeal, ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some fruit. Veteran LOTAJAns swear by the baked potato (sans anything) as a source of carbs. They eat two for breakfast and several throughout the race. I honestly don't know how they stomach it. The race hadn't even started yet and a cold, plain baked potato sounded really, really unappealing. I suppose if I were convinced it would have some magical effect on my performance I would consider it but at the moment I was still in the doubters camp.

Support vehicle and support crew geared up and ready to roll

As mentioned The Red-Zillas opted for a $60 "no tell motel" option in Tremonton.It wasn't necessarily that I was opposed to the idea of driving up early, it was more an effort of trying to make my pre-race as smooth as possible without complication. On the way up we stopped at Olive Garden for a nice carbo load, Rodzilla's favorite dish is the tour de France...uh okay tour de Italy. And of course Red's favorite Steak Gorgonzola.

Incidentally all lodging was completely booked in Logan, next time I will reserve a room in Logan much sooner. (that's right I said next time, so what?) While preparing our support vehicle we shared a conversation with a gentleman from Minnesota by the name of Chris Langford. (As I was writing this I looked him up to find that he was a DNF, looks like he stop after the King of the Mountain. Minnesota doesn't have any Mountain passes, let a lone 3 how would you train for something like this? ) One of my favorite features of the big races is meeting people and sharing stories. (Feels like Logan would have produced many more of these types of opportunities)

Red Rider: Another example of her spot on "Perfect Support" performance

We stayed at the Western, it was only $60 dollars and I heard as I was checking in they were completely booked solid. Ambiance is what you pay for and is certainly what you get all the way down to the wood paneling walls. I am in no way a snob when it comes to hotels, food or really anything except maybe for some carbon fiber bikes.

The night was uneventful, I made a couple tweaks to the SS (which turn out to bite me later: Foreshadowing) watched a few episodes of "Auction Hunters" with Red and I was out for the count

We make it to Logan at about 6 am for a 7:13 race start. We find the Red-Zillas and snap a few pre-dawn photos and do some last minute prep.

This was very reassuring somehow, as it were directions to Logan from Tremonton took us up north and down some highways that didn't have many other cars, again my perception would have convinced me of seeing lines of cars with bike racks, where were they all? It is dark, am I off course, am I going to miss the race? It was nice to land in Logan, and meet up with team Deebs, surprisingly I was pretty low on race day jitters, and really enjoyed our pre-race discussions.

By all accounts Rodzilla's knee is back and near 100%,though he may still be suffering the after effects of his high altitude, low oxygen hike 5 days earlier. He's still not right in the head, but he'll come around, right? Right? (Actually the circa 2006 post apocalyptic ACL, MCL and partial tear to the PCL surgery a.k.a the left knee, felt fine, however in retrospect I think the legs were only at 80% No Hike next time for sure.)

For my part I've ridden very little in the days leading up to the race. When I have climbed any sort of hill the summit is always punctuated with a good 30 seconds of coughing. I've been using what I like to call the ostrich technique. I see my patients do it all the time.

If you ignore a problem long enough it's bound to go away ... or kill you. Either way the problem will resolve itself at some point. Unfortunately for me that point was not before the 10th of September.

While we're waiting, Rodzilla insists on getting a photo of the 'guns'*. These and the vaunted Cannondale SS (with uber-deep dish carbon fiber wheels) are the weapons he's brought with him to do battle with LOTOJA's 3 mountain passes and 206 miles of pavement. It remains to be seen if it will be enough to win the day. (3 Mountain passes Suck, the guns do not)

*Unfortunately free of the iconic LOTOJA stamp. They moved that to the wrist this year and more is the pity. The stamp made even 'little guns' like mine look like they meant business and could do some damage

Time for one a few more photos, then sayonara, see you 80 miles from now in Idaho on the other side of the Cache National Forest. If we're lucky (no catastrophic mechanical failures or bizarre weather anomalies) that will be in just a little over 4 hours. It's only on LOTOJA race day that 80 miles of riding with 3000 feet of climb over a mountain and through a forest constitutes a partial ride. Honestly it's a day's work and one to be proud of. Too bad it won't end there, in fact it will just be getting started.

We get underway without incident. That's owes as much to luck as to any skill or patience on the part of the riders. Nerves are a part of racing and they add an unnecessary level of difficulty as you try to clip in, avoid other similarly occupied riders and negotiate the starting gate.

Side note: I am wearing a nifty invention for those with little to no hair. It is called the Halo, the picture below both shows it and describes it. (Mental note: Next time ensure the HALO isn't causing the ears to flap out like Dumbo as featured in the picture above)

Logan to Preston: 34 Miles

As we roll out of Logan with the police escort (blowing through red lights as traffic is held up for you is something that never, ever gets old btw), Rodzilla and I push forward to the front of the pack. It's not any decision we've discussed but an unspoken agreement. Let's stay forward as long as we can and if the group (we're about 50 cyclists in our race, Men's Citizen class 35+) gets split at some point before Preston we'll hang with the leaders at least until things start to get steep. We hit open farmland and the boys unleash the hounds: (This was super fun, me and the Deebs were proving our worth and flying away from Logan at break neck speeds)

That's not a video of us, but it could be. At least it gives you an idea of the terrain and maybe a taste for what it's like to cover ground at speed with a peleton of experienced cyclists. It's a rush and something that you need to experience firsthand to appreciate. Fortunately this LOTOJA started at a balmy (for Logan) 50 degrees f , unlike last year's 39 degrees that made your hands and your forehead ache after about 10 minutes in the saddle. (I was super comfortable with arm warmers, everything else was perfect) We join up with the front dozen or so riders and start a pace line, each taking a turn at the point. We're heading mostly North East with wind out of the Northwest that you couldn't feel in town but that started pushing us around almost immediately once we were in the countryside. The peleton instinctively began to fan out at an angle to protect itself form the oblique crosswind but unlike the professional tour riders, we are limited to our lane, cross center line and it's an auto 'DQ' (I can't help but think of Dairy Queen that would have tasted good) so it's a muted fantail. I note that the lead riders are maintaining about a 26-28 mph pace and generally holding the point for about 2 minutes. As I get to the front I do likewise and note that to maintain that pace, pushing not just solo into the wind but also carrying a train of cyclists behind you is a borderline red zone level effort. I keep my heart rate in the 160's (a rate I generally only see when I'm pushing myself hard up a 10% grade) and give it a solid two minute pull, accept the standard comments of appreciation from the trailing riders and settle in behind Rodzilla, about 12 riders back. We're still in basically one solid group but if we split it seems a safe bet that these dozen riders will be in the breakaway. (The peleton actually had more like 25 riders, but as we took our pulls we eased into the middle instead of the back, like deeb mentions: If there was a break away we would be with the right group)

We continue that way and the miles disappear under our wheels at an astonishing rate. In new rider orientation they warn you to avoid getting 'race legs'* and blowing too much of the energy that you are bound to need later in the day in the first 30 miles. I'm not sure if that's what's going on with us, probably it is, but whatever it is, it's exciting and fun. I do notice when I'm on the point that one of my contact lenses is fogging over. We're still in the first post dawn minutes and the sun hasn't peaked over the mountains yet (and let's face it, my vision is marginal even under the most ideal of circumstances, which these aren't) making tracking the route a bit dicey. Generally when the course turns there is a road side sign, a LOTOJA icon painted on the pavement and a volunteer flag-person directing you (that and the roads that shoot off the one we are on are mainly gravel and obviously not in the cards for us). That said, the one exception to the above rules (no sign, no flag man, only the painted icon) occurs when I'm on point, about 30 seconds into my pull. I very nearly take us down the wrong road but cyclists number two shouts out a correction to me and I re-join the race. Rodzilla tells me if I didn't want to take my turn I should just say so and not try to sabotage everybody else in the process.(As you can see, I am full of clever witticisms, legs, body and mind all feel spry all of these good memories are pre-3-Mountain Climbs)

*tendency to let adrenaline push you past the prudent point of energy expenditure, given the nature and number of miles remaining.

About 11 miles into our race we catch the first group of lady cyclists that started 3 minutes ahead of us. Rodzilla points out that unlike our group which limits communication to mumbled 'good pull'(s), and shouts of "Hey you're going the wrong way!", the ladies group are chatting away like a movable quilting bee on wheels. If there were thoughts of slowing our pace and drafting off of them for a mile or two, they disappear almost immediately. The lead riders get by just on their left but eventually we're spread over both lanes and charging forward as fast as possible to avoid oncoming traffic and, or being seen by any race marshals that might note our bib numbers. I'm unable to tell after the encounter with the ladies if we're all together as a group or if we've been thinned or diluted. I only know that Rodzilla and I are riding with the leaders and making incredible time while doing it. We stay low and aero in the saddle, try to minimize resistance (and effort) (Side Note and Shared Learning: I learned in Desperado that a big guy behind a small guy doesn't get much benefit from the peleton, as such I rotated my handlebars so I could get very low in the drops. This helped a lot and helped the big guy get small) until it's our turn out front then push with everything we've got for a minute or two. We call out turns, when they're gradual we maintain speed and pedal through them, when the angle becomes acute we brake, coast, fan out in the turn then jump out of the saddle and push ourselves to get back to our average speed (which is hovering around 26-27 mph).(As we look at the results, our group was every bit as fast as the winning times. Great pack of riders to be with.)

At mile 16 we catch our second group of Lady cyclist racers. They are both faster and more serious than group one. Not as much chatter here and when we pass them a fair number, probably as many as half, break ranks with their fellow lady cyclists and jump in with us. (This caused havoc for me: some joined and couldn't hold on and suddenly I am trying to weave in and out of them without going over the double yellow) I notice that among the two dozen or so Lady cyclists that stay in our group there are at least half a dozen members of team Spingeeks. You'll remember them from the Desperado Dual. They are the riders who apparently had a groupon for the same St George plastic surgeon. Get them all together in matching jersey kits and the only way to tell them apart is by the spinning decal on their rear hub. Because that's what you have your eyes on ... right Rodzilla? Right? Of course that's right, except for one kinda' pervy older cyclist in our group. Late 50's, grey beard and wearing a Grateful Dead jersey kit. He's ignoring the 'eyes front' rule and pulling alongside the Spingeeks crew and giving them a thorough once over. I would call it a leer, but can you really leer on a bike at 30 mph? I suppose you can, but whatever he's doing, leering, intimidating, misogynistically disapproving, he's slowing the pace (and subsequently cutting those behind him off from the leaders). ( Huge issue with this guy, he was passing on the right, to get in front and then slowing down to get an eyeful. This guy had no rider etiquette. At this point I was buried deep and lost site of the deebs. I could see the helmets of his group pulling away from me but I was boxed in. I dug down deep and passed into on coming traffic to bring back his group. I have watched it happen on TV all the time, but that simple 100 yard gap was very hard to close as a solo rider, it took me a solid 5 minutes of red zone effort to get back) Rodzilla and I, again without verbalizing it, decide the drop back from the point will be to the last cyclist before we hit the leering Jerry Garcia fan and we'll stay with the front runners for as long as we can. So far, so good. (Not sure deebs ever realized I just had the fight of my life, and now was getting a little anxious about over doing it on the first 30 miles)

Just before we hit Preston the road pitches up for about a mile at 3-4% grade. (Again not sure if the deebs noticed, but I was dropped like 2nd period French. It was painful to see my group pulling away, and there wasn't anything I could do.This was the first taste of bitterness, and to top that off I fell back to Grateful Dead rider. My nemesis) It becomes increasingly difficult to stay above 20 mph and eventually the once cohesive unit breaks apart with stronger riders maintaining (or nearly maintaining) their speed while the rest of us assume a more plebeian pace. As we roll into town we are greeted by cowbells (not attached to livestock but in the hands of the local denizens) and cheers. We reform as a loose group and pedal through downtown (such as it is) at 20+ mph. Apparently there is no center line rule and we are allowed to occupy the entire main drag. I notice (too late) that the line I am on is directly over the town's water pipeline. I know this because I begin hitting manhole covers, some flush with the pavement, others not so much so. I figure I need to change the line I'm on, but there currently aren't a lot of options. I feel like a kid on a water slide. There's no backing up and there's only one way out. Just as I'm realizing I have few if any options, I hit a sewer cover that's sunken about 2" from the rode surface. The impact is jarring, but I stay upright and it's nowhere near as bad as the pothole that taco-ed my last wheel set. The wheels are still rolling steadily and there's no discernible hop (these are La Canadienne's wheels, so there better not be). Before I'm done congratulating myself on my good fortune however, I feel the water bottle (the full one of course, the other is empty, we've been riding just over an hour and true to my promise to La Canadienne, I've been drinking at least a bottle an hour) break loose from the slick carbon fiber bottle cage (also borrowed from La Canadienne's ride) and drop under my rear wheel. Again, I somehow manage to stay upright and I hope the same is true for the riders behind me that get surprised by my free-range water bottle. Without realizing it, I lament its loss out loud and the cyclist next to me says "Better than your wheel." He has no idea. Or maybe he does. Maybe he also is on his third wheel set of the season. Certainly he, and every cyclist in the race, are with me in wishing that road builders did their job with biking in mind. No losers, only winners in that cycling Shangri-la.(No stop here, I must have caught and then passed the deebs, and couldn't help but notice I broke my agreement with red, as I wasn't drinking any water at this point, both cages full, and the third bottle in the back full of ice, time to start drinking or pay for it later)

If I was on the fence about a Preston feed zone stop, the dropped bottle made my mind up for me. I rolled into neutral support, asked for a replacement bottle, of which they had many albeit belonging to other cyclist who tossed them in the drop zone or lost them like I did. I told them that's fine, just bring me one from somebody who didn't look sick (like I'm in any position to split hairs on that subject today). The volunteer gives me an odd look, but quickly fills an empty bottle with water, passes me a banana and I'm off, but not before everyone from my group (including Rodzilla) who didn't make a pit stop in Preston has rolled out of town and toward Strawberry summit. I've got some ground to make up.(Deebs told me last year there is a little climb just outside of Preston, he mistakenly thought it was the top of Starwberry in 2010 because it is a a decent sized hill. I couldn't shake this thought, I am afraid of hills and didn't want extra. He was right and I started sliding down the pack of 2100 starters. I see the Deebs pass and that is the last I will see of him, until he "Ninja Cheers me in pitch dark: more foreshadowing.

The next few entries are bleak for the Rodzilla

Next up: Montpelier (and beyond)


  1. That's right, I forgot about the Minnesooootan. I met him maybe 10 minutes before the start of our race. I wondered the same thing about hill training in Minnesota, but also, remembering how our winter spilled over into spring and training season didn't staart for us until late April early May, how does that compare to Minnesota/Wisconsin? When do they get start training outdoors? Mid-June? Yeah, that guy's goose was pretty well cooked before the starting gun (and he looked like he was in shape too).

  2. One other thing, the Minnesotan's entry in this race is indicative of the size/scope of LOTOJA. It draws cyclist from all over the country. It's the longest sanctioned single day bike race in the US, possibly the world. Like Rodzilla ,it's big (real big).