(TheBlaze/AP) A bicyclist competing in a race from Logan, Utah, to Jackson Hole, Wyo., crashed on a bridge in Wyoming and fell about 35 feet to his death into the Snake River.
Robert Verhaaren, 42, of Mesa, Ariz., was participating in the annual LoToJa race when he swerved to avoid a pothole and crashed on Highway 89 about eight miles from the finish line Saturday afternoon, Teton County sheriff's deputies said.
The 206-mile race also was marred by serious accidents in Idaho and Wyoming that sent two bicyclists to the hospital and by flat tires experienced by roughly 200 cyclists early on, said race spokesman David Bern.
He said it's the first fatality in the 30-year history of the race, which is billed as the longest one-day bicycle race in the country sanctioned by USA Cycling. This year's event drew 1,500 competitors from across the nation.
"It was devastating for us to lose a member of our LoToJa family," Bern told The Associated Press. "Unfortunately, these things go along with bicycle racing. Cycling is not for the risk averse."
Sheriff's deputies said when Verhaaren, who was highly experienced as a cyclist and twice before competed in this event, swerved to miss the pothole, he crashed into a guardrail and was catapulted over it into the river. KSL news reports the sheriff's department saying the river is about a foot deep.
The Cache Valley Daily reports Verhaaren as leaving behind his wife Bridget and three children, Ansel, Helena and Karl. Verharren and his wife were both experienced as cyclists and Bridget is reported as being injured in a cycling accident earlier this year.
Verhaaren would have celebrated his birthday next week as will his two daughters.
“His whole family is awesome,” neighbor Jay Larson said to the Cache Valley Daily. “They would bend over backwards for anyone.”
Watch KSL's report:
Bern said this was the first major accident on the bridge in the race's history, and organizers would discuss it with Wyoming Department of Transportation officials.
"After every race, we discuss what worked and what didn't, what do we need to change and what do we need to improve," he said. "We had less crashes this year than usual, but the ones we had were more serious."
Another cyclist was seriously injured in a crash on the descent from Strawberry Summit in southeastern Idaho, while another was severely injured in a crash near Wyoming's Alpine Junction about 45 miles from the finish line.
Less than 20 miles into the race, cyclists began experiencing an unusually high number of flat tires. They were blamed on thorny weeds by some cyclists and on very small nails by others.
Riders also had to deal with horses on the road and smoke from a Wyoming wildfire during the race.
"It was strange stuff going on, stuff I don't normally see (at LoToJa)," Bern said."