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Local man overcomes several obstacles en route to finish well in popular bike race


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Brandon Nelson crossing the finish line at LoToJa 2020. | Courtesy Snake River Photo

IDAHO FALLS — The annual 200-mile plus bike ride from Logan, Utah, to Jackson, Wyoming — known colloquially as the LoToJa — isn’t for the faint of heart.

It’s a grueling route that winds through dozens of hills and valleys throughout Utah, Idaho and Wyoming, and it’s very difficult for the best riders to stay near the front.

That was the case for Idaho Falls local Brandon Nelson, 32, who took first place in his category this year (USA Cycling Race Category 4 and 5) and set a new personal record for himself. It was his third LoToJa, and as with each race, he faced some obstacles.

Nelson told that when he hit mile 50, all of the sudden, his electronic shifting on his bike stopped working. It was something that had never happened before.

“It was at the worst possible time, right before I was about to climb the hill when I need to be shifting a lot,” he recalls. “I had no choice but to pull over.”

After messing around with it, Nelson somehow got it to reset and the bike started shifting again. The only problem now was he was trailing behind the group of about 30 bikers.

He was able to catch up, and after reaching the top of the first climb, he realized most of the group was now behind him. Nine riders, including Nelson, made it together to Montpelier before several of them started to slow down. By the time Nelson got to the top of the final climb of the race, he and three others were leading the way.

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The four of them rode together until mile 195 when Nelson’s leg unexpectedly cramped up with eight miles left to go.

“There’s a steep little climb, and we hit it pretty hard. I was pedaling as hard as I could to get up over the top of this climb and make sure that I stayed with the other three guys,” he said. “Right when I got to the top of it, my left leg completely locked up. I couldn’t even move it.”

By this point, Nelson had been biking with the three other participants for eight hours. As much as he didn’t want to have to pull off to the side again, he told them they’d have to go on without him.

Nelson stood there, rubbing his leg, waiting for it to loosen up as he watched them take off.

“By that point, I had given up on winning. I thought that I would get fourth place, which I was okay with,” Nelson added. “But then I had this thought in my head that said, ‘Why not give it your all. You’ve been training all year for this.'”

Eventually, his leg loosened up, and he decided he would ride the remaining miles as hard as he possibly could. To his surprise, it paid off.

“I don’t know if my adrenaline carried over from me trying to catch up to them or what, but I took off on a sprint to try to catch them, and I was able to pass them,” he said.

Nelson finished the race in nine hours and 19 minutes, beating his previous personal record by about 20 minutes. Overall, Nelson placed 13 out of about 700 riders in the race.

While the race didn’t go how he planned, he believes it was a learning opportunity that will help him not only in future races but also in life. He said it’s important to be ready for anything to happen and to stay mentally tough.

“You can be strong enough, but half the time when you go to do it, you’re going to get halfway up that (climb) and you’re going go, ‘Why am I doing this?’ Nelson explained. “As soon as you get to the top of it, there’s no better feeling in the world.”

Courtesy Romel Guzman

Brandon Nelson standing on the podium after winning first place in his category at LoToJa. | Courtesy Katelyn Nelson