Photos by Teresa Chipman, Preston Citizen
By RODNEY D. BOAM, Citizen editor
About 1,000 cyclist from across the U.S. and other countries blew through Franklin County last Saturday for the Annual LoToJa Classic. Racers departed from Logan, Utah, on their way to Jackson, Wyo., and were hampered by thorns on the road causing about 100 cyclists to stop to repair flat tires.
One person was killed while crossing a bridge and dodging chuckholes, hitting a guardrail and throwing him 40 feet into the Snake River. Robert Verhaaren, 42, of Mesa, Ariz., was killed on Highway 89 about eight miles from the finish line Saturday afternoon, Teton County sheriff’s deputies said.
Accidents and debris on the road put a damper on the 206-mile one-day cycling road race. Although the LoToJa has faced inclement weather and other problems in the past, causing some to be taken to area hospitals, this was the first casualty in the race’s 30-year history. Two other racers were taken to the hospital due to serious accidents along the 206-mile race. While en route, cyclists will climb three mountain passes that total nearly 10,000 vertical feet. Many compete to win their respective class or category, while others just ride to cross the finish line.
This year’s race featured 33 different categorized races, and a non-competitive, fun ride or Gran Fondo class. Most finishers were on their bike 10 to 12 hours — more than twice as long as a typical amateur bike race in the U.S. The LoToJa is the longest one-day bicycle race in America that is sanctioned by USA Cycling, the sport’s governing body. The age of cyclists ranged from 15 to 73 (13 to 82 in the relay category), and the average rider burned up to 15,000 calories on race day — about a dozen large cheeseburgers with fries.
The LoToJa’s top goal is to provide a safe and competitive race for all participants, support crews and volunteers, said Race Director Brent Chambers of Epic Events, Layton, Utah. All motorists traveling LoToJa’s route on Sept. 8 were asked to use caution when approaching cyclists. Groups consisting of up to dozens of riders may have been encountered. Motorists along the way were are asked to pass carefully and to leave a safe distance between their vehicle, cyclists and other traffic.
The cyclists who compete in the event, plus their support crews, well-wishers, event staff and volunteers, result in an entourage of approximately 4,500 people.
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