The main criterion for this year's Lo-to-Ja was that it not rain, since that sucked so much last year. Possibly I wouldn't have started if it had been raining. But we'll never know, for the weather was quite nice.
Ken, the swimmer from my triathlon team, agreed to be my crew for this outing. We drove to Logan Friday evening, noting a CV joint beginning to complain on the GTI (joy!), and had dinner with a high school buddy of mine, Stew-going-to-USU.
In the morning it was quite warm, about as warm as I can remember on such a September day, and yes, not raining. I decided on two jerseys, arm and leg warmers, and my light PI gloves. Also present at the start were Jim, determined to finish this year, supported by his son and Peter, and Jay Yost, also determined to finish and supported by his father and son. Plus a few Poky people, Brian, Manx, Devin, Drew, Craig (stoking on a tandem with his Dad). Quite the family atmosphere.
The start was back at the main street bike shop, and checkin was a zoo because of the new promoter and computer-crashing power failures on Friday night. 1-2s, 3s, and masters went off before the combined 4-5s, followed by the various citizens groups. Though a step backward from last year's separate 4s race, at least we would be prized separately from the 5s. Or so it was advertised.
Instead of heading up the main drag out of town with all its traffic lights, we went west a mile or so to the business loop, rejoining the highway a few miles north of Logan. Not as much temptation to run lights, I guess, and less disruption of traffic, not that there is a lot of traffic at 7am Saturday. Our lead vehicle was supposed to pull over and become a follow vehicle to indicate the end of a neutral start, but it seemed to stay in front for about 25 miles. Hmm. Well, there weren't any serious attacks, unsurprising at the beginning of a 200-mile race, but we did pick the pace up a bit. I tried to stay in the front half without doing too much work. Pretty successful at that.
We arrived at the first climb, and I stayed around the pack. A good sign, considering I hadn't been able to get in the around-the-block ride due to general flakiness. Perhaps many 25-mile noon rides would substitute? Jay unfortunately stopped to take off his leg warmers and when he looked up, everybody was gone. Whoops. Drew seemed to have been dropped on the next little climb, but Devin was still around to talk to.
First feed zone, and a well-executed exchange with my totally untrained crew-Ken. Get rid of gloves, eat a banana, back to riding. A crosswind turned into a tailwind as we turned onto the highway leading into Soda Springs, so I decided to have a little fun and put the hammer down, make those skinny climbers work a little before we hit the hills. Some fun was had by all. A guy on another Eddy Merckx (green/red) recognized me from last year, and another guy I rode with at the Herriman race was there too, so I had them to talk to when Devin got dropped after Soda. Second feed zone, another flawless exchange.
And then da da daaa it was time for Tin Cup, after the third feed zone. I was still with the lead group, lagging a bit in the feed zone after a skinny climber kid crashed right in front of me. But they were still in sight going up the hill, so I went after them. In my big chainring, must have been a tailwind or something because I was *gaining* on them, caught them at the top of the hill. How could this be? They must not have been attacking one another, though three got away from them. With my massive help we soon rolled down and caught the three escapees, and came toodling into Freedom. The pace was lagging a little, and two climbers were able to catch back on (having been dropped before the climb).
Turning onto the road to Alpine, the wind slowed our pace some more, but nobody else caught back up. I was starting to get a little tired (longest ride of the year having been the 80-mile High Uintas RR stage), and figured I would probably get dropped in the canyon, and have to be satisfied with my much improved assault on Tin Cup.
Because of the construction in the Snake River Canyon from Alpine to Hoback, we were warned by our follow vehicle that the Wyoming State Police were ticketing racers riding more than two abreast. Great. We also picked up a motor ref along about here to help remind us. The construction did slow us a bit, but it was hardpacked dirt and not as bad as I had been led to believe. Good thing it wasn't wet, that would have been a real mess. Two guys rode away from the group in the construction zone, so after it ended I went to the front because nobody else seemed to want to work to bring them back. They were all quite content to sit on my wheel, though.
I got a little frustrated, and after the last feed zone where I found myself dangling off the front with another guy, suggested we make a break for it. He agreed, though it soon became apparent that I had worn myself out by chasing previously, so he did most of the work. But we stayed away through Hoback, and came upon one of the other breakaway artists - who was really blown by then and couldn't hold on to us or even the main group behind us. Then my companion dropped me on the last roller climbs heading into Jackson proper. I was kind of beat, but if I could stay out front for another fifteen miles I had third locked up. Well, not to be. The group made short work of the hill behind me and I grabbed on as they went by. Now working on a field sprint.
Riding out from Jackson to the Teton Village turn, and nobody is making any big moves so I can recover and take stock of my situation. One other big tall guy, though he's skinner than me, and he's the only one with a teammate in the group. Several skinny climber types, and my two buds that I have ridden with previously because we share similar climbing styles. Still, I think I can take any one of them in a sprint. All of them, now that is the trick. The guy on the Merckx announces that he is a 5, and so is the guy that remains out front beyond my former breakmate (who is a 4, also still off the front), therefore he will sit out the sprint and we are racing for second place in the 4s field.
After the turn, the last few miles tick down. Coming into sight of the turnoff to the ski resort, it becomes apparent that the normal finish, just past that road continuing along the highway, isn't there. We are waved into the resort entrance, and there is the new finish, right before the first parking-loop intersections. Some sort of white flag marker flutters by - it sure wasn't a kilo, maybe 300 meters or 1/4 mile. Well, since I can outsprint anyone there, I stand up and start stomping the pedals, as the others call out in chagrin. A reasonable jump for the end of a 200-mile ride, and I do gap them pretty good initially. I take a few peeks back as I start to fade, hey I just rode 200 miles, and there's nobody right on my wheel. But one guy gets a tow close enough to jump on his own up the right side, just barely catching me at the line. Doh! So close. Way early, and it almost worked. Still my best result in Lo-to-Ja ever, and maybe my highest road finish of the year. Closing out the road season on a good note, at least. Riding time looks like right around nine hours, close to my personal record time of two years ago but without the killer tailwind that enabled it.
I go around telling everyone I got third, as other riders straggle in. I'm pretty happy about it. Most people wander off toward local lodging, and I hit the Mangy Moose for dinner again with Ken, Jim, Shawn, and Peter. A certain amount of friendly harassment of the attractive hostess takes place, but she non-fortuitously has a fiance. We do get pictures, and Peter attempts to arrange a dog-play-date for wintertime skiing purposes.
Then it is to the hot tub and bed for a well-deserved rest.
Some confusion ensues in the morning when preliminary results are posted with a combined 4/5s field listing me at 7th. Hmm. Apparently nothing can be done about the field combination, but sufficient witnesses are present that I am restored to my rightful (combined) fourth place. Oh well. I get a check for $40 (same as third), recovering my entry fee (but not if I had bought a t-shirt or hat at $15 extra per each) and some doodads like keychains, socks, and water bottles, with the chief prize being a Pearl Izumi long-sleeve shirt that is some kind of moisture-sucking second-layer component in a very confusing new garment system. Unfortunately I have no other garments of this system, so I'm not sure I will be able to successfully wear this shirt. But I'll try anyway.
Ken reappears from his little hike up the ski hill, and we are off. After he gets some coffee. The GTI's CV joint noise hasn't gotten a lot worse, but it certainly is practicing. But amazingly enough, we arrive safely home again. Motivated to do nothing more than take a nap, however, but there's nothing wrong with that.