JACKSON, Wyo. — Beautiful weather and clear skies were the order of the day for the 41st annual LoToJa classic Saturday as friends and family members waited at the finish line for the racing drama to unfold. And they were not disappointed.
Seth Steed had the strongest kick down the stretch to the finish line to claim first place by the narrowest of margins on the men’s side. Steed, from Layton, Utah, logged this year’s fastest overall time of 8:42:36 in a sprint finish, eclipsing five other racers by tenths of seconds. The Weber State grad was less than a minute off last year’s fastest time of 8:41:47 as he averaged 23.2 mph over the course.
Steed, who was riding in the men’s Cat 3/4 Division, had to fend off an aggressive sprint finish to edge out Brandon Nelson of Idaho Falls, Andrew Putt from Los Angeles, and Christian Dursteler of North Ogden. Steed’s final 1-kilometer sprint proved to be just enough in his win over the younger challengers.
The winner in the women’s division was Elizabeth Edwards of Hyde Park, Utah. Edwards found herself in a dogfight up to the last few meters but was able to finish with this year’s fastest overall women’s time of 9:56:59.
Edwards, riding in the women’s Cat 4/5 Division, used a strong push to the line to edge out Katie Bonebrake of Salt Lake City.
One of the notable storylines of the day focused on the number of younger riders taking on the LoToJa challenge.
Not to be overlooked was the strong third-place finish in the women’s Cat 4/5 by 16-year-old Natalie Rehklau from Billings, Montana.
Rehklau, a Team USA cycling champion, is coming off a top-place finish at the Big Sky State Games. She also hails from a cycling family, with her uncle and grandfather teaching her the discipline and training needed to finish an endurance race like LoToJa.
Racing as a Cat 4, Rehklau embodies a new wave of younger endurance cyclists who are showing great promise in the sport. Rehklau has competed in numerous races this year, including the Baker City Classic and the Mirror Lake Road Race.
On the relay side, 17-year-old Luke Oyler of Salt Lake City decided to ride a relay with his father Beau and three friends. Oyler, a senior at East High, is no stranger to LoToJa racing. As a 14-year-old, Oyler rode the entire race solo and was one of the top finishers for his age group. Oyler then took that training and raced for East High’s mountain bike team.
When asked why he decided to ride a relay this year, Oyler said, “I just love to race. When I talked to my dad about doing a relay at LoToJa he was very supportive and said, ‘Let’s do it.’ So, I told him OK, let’s go.”
Oyler rode the third leg of the relay team, which happens to have the most climbing in the KOM stage.
Those riders who might be contemplating riding the LoToJa race next year will need to prepare for the grueling 9,800 feet of climbing, most of which occurs in the first 110 miles and makes LoToJa a tough challenge for any age.
Rehklau and Oyler represent a growing trend in endurance racing, as race organizers are seeing more youth riders entering the sport. Whether it’s mountain, gravel or road racing, the youth cycling movement is seeing tremendous growth. In fact, Utah boasts one of the largest high school mountain biking programs in the country.
It’s a little-known fact that the youngest LoToJa finisher ever was just 13 years old. This year, Larry Peterson of Centerville, at age 79, took top honors as the oldest finisher, averaging 19.8 mph and a time of 10:13:20.
LoToJa co-founder David Bern is happy to see the youth movement take place.
“It’s great to see the reach and draw that LoToJa has to our new and veteran racers and the growth we’ve seen in road racing across the country,” Bern said. “We are excited for everyone who crosses the finish line after a challenging day. Congratulations to all!”
On this day, young and old riders proved why LoToJa racers keep coming back year after year, for the love of racing.
Glenn Seninger lives in Salt Lake City and is a 15-time LoToJa finisher.