JACKSON, Wyo. It almost doesn't seem fitting.
Then again, perhaps it was the perfect ending to an almost-perfect day at LOTOJA a 206-mile endurance fest taking 1,000 cyclists from Logan to Jackson.
After racing more than 200 miles on their bicycles up and down three rugged mountain passes and across two state lines, Mark Zimbelman and Mark Schaefer were separated by less than the length of a wheel.
"After I saw how fast he was going, I had a feeling we'd set a course record or something," Zimbelman said after he and Schaefer finished the longest USCF-sanctioned single-day race in the country in an all-out sprint. "He's an animal."
Sure enough, the frequent racing foes set a new course record, shaving nearly nine minutes off the old record. Zimbelman, an accounting professor at BYU, crossed the line at 9 hours, 6 minutes and 44 seconds. Schaefer, a Washington Terrace resident and riding for PaulTracy.com, also crossed the line at 9:06:44.
According to race officials, the difference between the two cyclists was only 39 one-thousandths of a second.
"I know that's what he was going to do," Schaefer, who crossed the LOTOJA finish line for the 18th time. "He's too good in a sprint, and he just pulled it out."
Making the race even more remarkable are the ages of the winners. Zimbelman is 48, and Schaefer's gray beard tips of his 47 years. While the two might be older than most of the cyclists they destroyed on the race course, their bodies are anything but ready to hang up the cleats and settle into rocking chairs.
"I don't want to say anything that might give the younger guys something to use against me," Zimbelman, racing for Bountiful Mazda, said. "I still have to race against them in the next race."
Because they raced in the Masters 45 division, the winning duo started the race eight minutes later than the Category 1 and 2 field. Those minutes were eaten up in a hurry, however. Though a few of the first cyclists across the starting line were able to hold the lead through the first 80 miles, the old guys caught most of the earlier racers by the time they reached the first summit just 60 miles into the race.
The two were on their own shortly after the feed zone in Montpelier. Zimbelman said Schaefer pushed the pace and he had little choice but to chase him down the road. Schaefer took the king of the mountain award as the first, not to mention the fastest, racer to the top of the Salt River Pass at 7,630 feet in Wyoming.
From there, the two took turns pulling until Zimbelman said he asked his riding partner if he wanted to let up until the sign indicating 200 meters to go and then start a sprint. Schaefer, Zimbelman said, declined the offer but still showed he had plenty of gamesmanship in him as he tried to take him at the end and almost did.
Cameron Hoffman, Ogden One Cycling Club, was the winner of the Cat 1/2 field, earning a first-place trophy in his first attempt at LOTOJA.
"I don't know if I'll ever do that again," said Hoffman, who said he was happy to cross LOTOJA off his cycling must-do list. "Those last 100 miles or so were killer."
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