The first thing you do when you are an aspiring professional cyclist is learn to conserve resources.
Bob Lofgran and wife/manager/masseuse Taunya stay behind after races and drive back over the course to pick up water bottles that other cyclists have discarded. While his rivals toss bottles off their bikes constantly to rid themselves of extra weight, Lofgran has been known to lug several bottles to the top of a hill so he can toss them to Taunya.
Lance Armstrong was right; it's not about the bike. It's about pinching pennies. It's about moving into your parents' basement so you can save money and train. It's about packing up the car each weekend with all the biking gear and driving for hours to the next race. It's about sharing hotel rooms with other racers. It's about working part-time jobs and a spouse supporting you with a full-time job. It's about enduring the deep, burning pain of fatigue and pushing harder.
This is Lofgran's life. At the age of 23, he is one of a handful of cyclists in Utah who are trying to make the big leagues, either in America or, ultimately, Europe, which is to professional cycling what the NBA is to basketball. Welcome to the Armstrong Generation."Bob will either make it, or we'll go broke trying," Taunya said.
With only modest success to encourage them and scant experience, the Lofgrans have thrown themselves headlong into making him a professional cyclist. A little more than a year ago, Lofgran, then a 21-year-old returned church missionary, showed up at the door of J.R. Smith, a profes-
sional cycling coach who once coached at the Olympic training center and now lives in Salt Lake City. He announced to Smith that he wanted to be a professional cyclist, despite having raced only a few times in his life.
"I was surprised," Smith said. "I don't have many 21-year-olds come and say they want to be a bike racer. All these guys (elite cyclists) started when they're 14, 15 years old. That makes it difficult for him. Especially being married and making the commitment to get there. I thought his goals were lofty, but I didn't want to hold him back."
Some of Lofgran's family members can't understand it. He should be in school full time or starting a career instead of riding a bike. He is mostly a setup man in Utah races like one of Armstrong's teammates in the Tour de France, he sacrifices his own race to help teammates, pushing the pace in the middle of the race to wear out rivals and draft for others, when otherwise he would exercise more patience and attack judiciously. But local races are for training, and he gets more training effect by working as a setup man, which, ironically, demands more effort than riding to win.
"I could win every race in Utah and turn in my resume to a pro team, and it wouldn't cut it," he said. "I need results from top national races."
He wouldn't be the first cyclist to reach the big time from Utah. Former Utahns David Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer are among the top cyclists in the world, and Jeff Louder and Burke Swindlehurst have risen to prominence on the U.S. scene.
Lofgran has had modest success in a variety of races around the West 15th in the Usery Pass time trial in Arizona, 18th in the Valley of the Sun Stage Race, 20th in the Tour of the Gila (N.M.) time trial, 25th overall in the Cascade Classic stage race in Oregon, 10th in the Sundance hill climb. In his first year of racing, he accumulated enough points to improve from a Category 5 rating to a Cat 2 (1 is best) in amateur cycling.
"That's fairly good for someone new to the sport," Smith said.
Bikers are tested for the wattage they produce while pedaling a bike to measure the power they are producing. "His first test wasn't anything exceptional, but the improvement he's made since then a 22 percent power increase that's astronomical," Smith said. But, as Smith will tell you, it takes years for a cyclist to reach peak form.
Just getting to the races has been formidable for Lofgran. Not only does he make little money from cycling, but he has to pay for the privilege of doing it.
"Bob and I might never make it to Europe, but we know that we are blessed to have the opportunity to try," Taunya said.
Team Lofgran spends about $1,000 a month on race entry fees, supplements, vitamins, gas, hotels and coaching fees. His bike cost $3,000 "and it's probably the cheapest one in the race," he said. He owns the bike but not the wheels, which cost $1,200 and are on loan. Tires are $25 each and sometimes last only one race. The Lofgrans end up with a stack of used tires at the end of the summer, which they use on a stationary training bike.
To save money, the Lofgrans moved into her parents' basement this year. It has two rooms, one of which is filled with bikes and cycling gear. Their groceries are free, courtesy of Mom and Dad.
Taunya attends school to study fashion design and works as a secretary in the State Office of Education. Bob takes college courses on the Internet and holds part-time jobs at a bike shop, a hamburger joint and a health club spinning class. He also does an internship one night a week for Mass Mutual."I've been worrying a lot," he said. "I'm running myself ragged to pay bills, get my schooling, race and train."
Lofgran's introduction to cycling began when he started working in a bike shop at 14. Four years later, while a student at Taylorsville High, he bought his first road bike and hid it from his parents for a month.
"Other kids spent their money on dates and cars; I spent mine on bikes," he said.
When those other kids invited him to social events, he refused, saying he had to train even though no one could figure out what he was training for.
"I wasn't racing, but I had it in the back of my mind that I would do this," he said.
At 18, he entered a couple of races and beat the pros in an endurance mountain race and finished in the top 20 in the Logan-to-Jackson Hole road race. Then in August 2001 he took off for two years to serve a mission to Brasilia, Brazil. As fate would have it, he didn't even get to ride a bike on his mission. He walked.
Upon his return in the summer of 2003, he began pursuing his cycling dream. Following a training schedule that his coach sends to him monthly, he trains 15 hours a week in addition to the races. In the winter, when the racing season is finished, he rides up to 30 hours a week, much of it on rollers in the basement. He rents videos to keep his mind occupied while he pedals, but by the end of winter he's seen them all twice.
"There are just a few days during the whole year that he's not on the bike Christmas and my birthday," said Taunya. "When he misses a day on the bike, he gets fidgety."
In the middle of the week, he usually joins a hundred or so cyclists at the Rocky Mountain Raceway for a race around a track that is normally used for auto races. On Fridays, the Lofgrans hurriedly pack their van two bikes, a tool box, first aid kit, a plastic tub filled with food, a cooler, a bag of clothes and a bag of race clothes and drive anywhere from three to 14 hours to a race. On the road they share a hotel room, either with another couple or, more often, other male racers.
"Race day is gross," she said. "They all have to use the bathroom, and then I'm the last one to go in there."
Taunya, who knew nothing of the sport two years ago, can tell you the strategy of a race as it unfolds and name every racer as they whir by during a race.
"These guys know what it's like to be a woman," she said. "They shave their legs. They wear a heart monitor that's like a bra. They worry about their weight. And they wear padded shorts."
Taunya is a cyclist's dream wife. She and Bob met when they were in junior high and began dating when he returned from his mission. She rubs out his legs after workouts, attends all his races, learns the nuances and strategy of the sport, serves as his spokeswoman, holds water bottles at water stations, takes him to and from training rides and travels with him.
"A lot of guys are jealous that I have a wife who supports cycling so much," Lofgran said. "Other wives don't like it or don't show up at races."
Said Taunya, "People wonder why we would do this. I love it. I have so much fun out there. Especially now that I know what's going on.
"The deal we made is that I will support him as long as I see there is potential and growth. I really think he can do it. I told him at the start that he can't make a decision (about quitting) based on one bad race. He must wait till the end of the season."
Lofgran plans to travel to Belgium for six weeks next summer to take part in a rigorous training and racing camp designed for cyclists who are trying to break into the European racing circuit. A good performance can mean a pro contract. Cost of the camp: About $5,000."It's tough," Lofgran said. "Some guys go there and then come back and sell their bikes. They hardly finish a race. I'll get my butt kicked, but I'll come back stronger. I'll come back here and dominate and get picked up by a U.S. pro team."
Cycling is a grueling business. Lofgran, who is a spare 5-foot-11, 150 pounds, has been in the thick of the inevitable crashes, one of them at 45 miles per hour that left him with a cracked helmet and others with broken collarbones, broken arms and a broken neck. This is to say nothing of the simple pain of racing exertion.
"It's painful enough that almost every race I wonder why I'm doing this," he said. "I want to throw up."
Who knows where all this will lead. Coach Smith believes Lofgran can be a good stage racer despite the late start.Comment on this story
"He can realistically make pro level in the U.S. in a couple of years," said the coach. "Europe is more difficult. A lot depends on whether he has the opportunity and finances to get to the highest level. But he's the only guy I know who has the attitude and dedication and willingness to do anything he can do to be the best he can be. The only other one I know like that is Zabriskie."
Most U.S. pro teams want half of their riders to be 26 or under, which means additional pressure on Lofgran to improve quickly. As committed as he is to cycling, he thinks it's not enough.
"It's really scary to realize that by the end of the season, if I'm going to make it by 25 I'm going to have to lay it out even more take a year off from school, cut back work."No worries, said Taunya. "We're young. We have time to invest."