The Journey to a Podium at the LoToJa Classic, By Rick Thomas, Team PPBI

It was back in early 1999 when I first heard about an event that traveled over 200 miles from Logan, Utah to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The news came in the form of an email from my club’s president (yes they did have email back then). Knowing first hand of both my compulsion for epic rides and passion for racing, he knew it was a safe bet his email wasn’t destined for my junk folder. But the idea of riding, no, racing over 200 miles was a pretty hard concept to grasp. Who does that? The zombies who ride double centuries right? Not sure that’s for me I thought. And just like that the ridiculous notion was dismissed from my mind. Mostly. Somehow however, the email remained in my inbox.

If you’re at all like me, the stuff you leave in your inbox quickly turns into a “todo” list. The problem is most of it remains because you aren’t sure what to do with it. The easy stuff gets done, deleted or filed, and you move on. But the others, the ones you probably wish you never received, linger on. The seemingly valid offer for the free cruise (tax only!) or the chain emails requiring you to complete some bizarre ritual and forward to 13 of your closest friends. You certainly wouldn’t want to end up like the President of Argentina and find your son dead eight days later. So there they sit and unnerve you. Like the thorn protruding from your tire when you’re 20 miles from home and fresh out of tubes. Your move. It was a month before I acted, but I guess I knew all along that this was a challenge I wanted to check off the list.

Since my first attempt back in 1999 I’ve been on the LoToJa start line 8 times, but that first year was probably the most epic edition in which I’ve participated. About 140 miles into the event there were several long sections of road along the Snake River that had been completely stripped of asphalt leaving only loose gravel and rocks. Big rocks. By the time we emerged from the rubble there were no more than a dozen riders remaining in our group to fight out the finish. With 10k to go, just as we turned onto the final stretch alongside the majestic Grand Teton mountain range, I was running on fumes. I crawled in behind the 9 riders who still remained in front of me and finished my first LoToJa 10th in the 1/2 category. But I finished, 206 miles, and I felt as if I’d won. For the next 3 years I returned each year, striving to improve my placing or find a spot on the podium, but mostly I embraced the challenge that awaited me each September.

In the winter of 2002 life took over and suddenly it was 2010 and I’d been off the bike for nearly 8 years. Of course the first thing on my cycling re-birth todo list was a return to LoToJa, but my second go-round would take some time to get jump started. Failing to finish in both 2010 and 2012 (I skipped 2011), I finally found the finish again in 2013 finishing 14th in the Masters 35+ 1/2/3.

On Saturday September 6th, 2014, fifteen years after my first attempt back in 1999, I finally found my way onto the podium, finishing 3rd in the 45+ 1/2/3 race behind two previous winners of the event.

As you can see I’ve bypassed the standard approach of detailed the play by play as to what went down on the road during what was in fact my proudest moment at this tremendous event. Don’t get me wrong, it was a story worth telling. Still what struck me most while reflecting on this year’s race was the fact that there is just as much drama and excitement happening mid-pack and beyond as there is at the front, sometimes even more, and that’s the beauty of bike racing. As competitors we all want to win, perhaps it’s not everyone’s main objective, but as we diligently set our alarms for a rude 4:00am awakening and head out in frigid temperatures to prepare our bodies for battle the thought eventually, inevitably crosses our minds. Maybe I could win?

We know the numbers aren’t in our favor. Just one spot on the top of the podium. And this reminds me of a noteworthy quote highlighted by an astute student speaking at her high school graduation ceremony; “Life is the journey, not the destination.” Hopefully as we, the cycling community, inch our way out of the win-at-all-costs era so solidly defined by our fallen heroes, we will learn to embrace the beauty and amazing satisfaction of the challenge. And if we do? Everybody wins.

Report by Rick Thomas, Pacific Premier Bank Cycling Team 

Photo by Alex Chiu, Alex Chiu Photography

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