It takes Cameron Hoffman nine hours and two minutes to travel the four-hour route from Logan to Jackson.
Is he an incredibly slow back road driver? No. While he takes the back roads, Hoffman is actually an incredibly fast cyclist. For the past three years Hoffman has gotten faster and faster as he's remained atop the podium as the king of the LOTOJA race and this year, while the journey was different, the result was the same with a new course record to boot. Hoffman has been cycling since he was 11. He's 31 now. He's raced on the national cycling team and is a Category 1 cyclist with over 45 career wins. He said that when he moved to Utah in 2001 he'd tell people he was a cyclist and they'd ask him one thing: If he'd done the famous 206-mile one day race from Logan to Jackson -- LOTOJA.
"It's a question I'd always get, and then I'd lose credibility and be like man, that's not fair," said Hoffman, who despite his cycling achievements had not raced LOTOJA.
In 2007, he'd had enough of the questions. He decided to do the race and do it right. "You have to register about seven to eight months in advance," said Hoffman. "You really have to commit yourself that far in advance and get ready for it. Now, finishing 200 miles is the first battle; racing it is the second battle. You really have to work up to it."
Hoffman said his first win was exhausting.
"I'd never done a 200-mile bike ride, or a 200-mile race. It was whole new realm for me. When I first did it, I think I did the right thing. I went around and talked to riders who have done LOTOJA 10 times, 20 times. As a bike racer I'm much faster than them, but as a LOTOJA rider they had the experience, and I drew on that experience. Without their help I wouldn't have had a chance."
After his first race he wasn't sure he wanted to do it anymore, but the camaraderie and the thrill of chasing another win brought him back in 2008 and again this year.
"What's interesting about LOTOJA is that it involves the whole family, friends, teammates, and a lot of people," said Hoffman. "Somehow you get kind of hooked because you get everybody involved."
Top competitors in the race ride with teammates who help draft for them, strategize and break up chase groups. Family members and friends often drive a support vehicle that sees to the rider's needs as well. With a cap of 1,000 riders, LOTOJA fills up fast and usually there's a large front peloton racing for the title.
Going into the race this year, Hoffman was wary of a few of the Category 1 competitors from out of state that the race had attracted. The unknowns could be a challenge. Hoffman was also a little pessimistic about his chances to repeat, coming to the race with fewer miles ridden than usual.
This year though, Hoffman and two other riders, David Francis and Robert Lofgran, hit the first climb and by the time they reached the downside of Strawberry (61 miles into the race), they had a 3:30 gap on the field.
Hoffman felt they were riding too fast, that maybe they needed to let up. But Francis and Lofgran kept pushing.
"I didn't feel good. My muscles were swollen. I felt a little bloated. The first 100 miles I did not feel good, and I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to finish," Hoffman said. "I had a whole round of emotions flying through my mind -- everything from, 'I can't finish,' to 'I won't be able to go much further,' to 'We're going too fast,' to 'Well, maybe I can do this, or at least make it to the end.'AC/AC/"
As they settled into a pace and continued to gain on the field, at one point gaining a 15-minute lead, the three worked together into the wind and Lofgran and Francis even waited for Hoffman, so they could share drafting responsibilities. The whole time Hoffman was in doubt of his ability to win.
"I didn't have any faith in myself until about five miles to go, where I thought, 'You know, I think I can win this.' I just plugged away. I did what you're supposed to do -- take care of yourself, continue to drink fluid, eat the food you planned on eating and stay focused and after awhile I started to feel better," said Hoffman.
Hoffman went for the win and set a new course record of 9:02:52 in the process.
"It was just the three of us with another 140 miles to the finish. We really never let up. We stayed focused and kept our heads down," said Hoffman. "The other two, David Francis, and Robert Lofgran, I know them, and they're friends and very very good racers. The record is shared with them. They were a big part of it."
Hoffman said he plans to use his experience to help coach others in LOTOJA and he plans to ride LOTOJA again.
"I think the record can be broken; it's not unbeatable," he said. "And I'd like to go back and try to make this record tougher to beat."