Chasing a cycling dream

Utah biker pedaling hard to make the big leagues

Published: Monday, Oct. 17 2005 1:09 a.m. MDT

Bob Lofgran leads the pack during the annual Bicycle Hill Climb race, which was held in Salt Lake City in August.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News

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.

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