Below is a recap of my time racing in each stage of the Tour of America’s Dairyland throughout southeast Milwaukee. I tried to include highlights, the lessons I learned as a developing Cat 3 rider, Garmin/Strave data, and photos from each race. This report is not only for you as a reader to live vicariously through my trip, but to help me reflect and ___ my experiences. I hope you enjoy. Last year I had intentions to race in the Tour of America’s Dairyland, but decided to call the trip off as my chronic tendonitis was flaring up. At the start of this 2011 season when putting my calendar together, it was one of the first events to go up. Despite numerous cases of tendonitis, illness, and work, I was determined to go to Wisconsin this year. ToAD is 11 stages long but the 2-3s don’t race in the first stage making ours only 10. Each stage is one day after the other with no rest days in between. Prior to racing Toad, the largest number of consecutive days I had raced has only been three at the 2010 Madera and Top Sport Stage Races. My fitness was nowhere near where I wanted it to be going into ToAD, but I figured Racing as a Cat 3 in a major Cat 2-3 stage race would still be an excellent experience and what better way to get back into shape.
I flew into Milwakee the night before the first stage and arrived at the airport around 2am. After an hour of late flights and locked luggage containers, I was informed that they had lost my carbon Reynolds tubulars and that they had no idea where they were. No problem, I brought my Mavic clinchers so would be still be able to race the next day. The wheels arrived just before the second stage.
Pre-Lesson of the Stage:Pack your race wheels with your bike and plan for the worst.
June 17th: Thiensville, WIThiensville Extreme Ski & Bike Cycling Classic The first stage of the tour went off in Theisville which was only a mile from Ben’s family’s house in Meqon where I was staying. The race started out fast with riders from all over ready to show their strength. After the race I found out that for many of the riders in the area, this was the start of their season. This was more than obvious during the race as we had about 8 crashes due to pedal strikes, blown tires, diving corners, or good old fashioned overlapping wheels. Crashfest, warzone, minefield, death march, call it what you want, this was by the far the most dangerous crit I had ever done. ¾ of the way through the race several riders in front of me went down and bikes went flying through the air. I carefully feathered my brakes, ducked a rear wheel flying over my head, dodged a rider sliding across the pavement, and came to a stop. I turned around, entered the pit, and got back into the race. It is important to note that I feathered my brakes and did not grab handfuls which can not only cause you to blow a tire or skid and crash yourself, but can cause riders behind you not expecting this sudden declaration to crash into you. With about 5 laps to go, there was a prime announced for a $350 and a solo rider dangling off the front of the pack for the past couple laps. I launched my sprint coming into the final turn thinking the solo leader would die out but he had paced himself and I was unable to close the gap getting second. I settled back into the field and positioned for the sprint. I had decent positioning coming into the finishing stretch but my side cramped up and I faded to 22nd. Lesson of the Stage: Always take your free lap, even if you don’t actually crash. It might look like the field is right there, but they aren’t (this lesson will appear again in Stage 5 at Schlitz Park). Oh and make sure to ease into those brakes.
June 18th: Grafton, WIGiro d' Grafton - USA Crits I forgot to press start on my Garmin before the race but it was a 20 or so mile crit for around 50 minutes: http://www.tourofamericasdairyland.com/images/maps/grafton_crit.jpg Ben had arrived in Wisconsin and was going to race the next four days with me. I was stoked to have a teammate and especially someone like Ben to escort me through the field and around the course. We decided to commute the 45 minutes down to the race which made for a great warmup (remember that part for later on in the series).
Same as yesterday, it was a pretty fast race but riders rode much safer than the day before. I was able to sit on Ben’s wheel as he navigated me through the pack keeping me covered and rested for the sprint. My legs felt awesome and I was sitting top 5 with only 6 laps to go. On the following lap I took a bad line on the outside of a turn and got guttered picking up something in my front tire and getting a flat going into lap 5. I safely exited the peloton and uncertain what lap it was, I grabbed my bike and started sprinting for the wheel pit asking spectators what lap it was. As I approached the pit someone yelled “ I don’t know why you are running, there is only 5 laps left!” Great. Legs screaming for a sprint, I sat on the curb ineligible to reenter the race. DNF.
Lesson of the Stage:Having an experienced teammate protect and escort you through a race is invaluable. Staying sheltered on a wheel through the wind and accelerations will keep you fresh.
June 19th: Waukesha, WI Carl Zach Cycling Classic In short, the weather was super humid, the race was fast, and my legs were junk. My lack of fitness was starting to show, especially on this course with a wide open straight away into a decent kicker. The race featured an awesome off camber sweeper but besides that, I was chasing and sucking wind the entire time. I avoided a few crashes but similar to the first race on the final lap I got a mass cramp in my side and finished somewhere with the field…………. Lesson of the Stage: Some days you just don’t have it. Accept it, help it develop you as a rider, and start thinking about the next race. June 20th: Greenbush, WI Greenbush Road Race After three days of crit racing, I was ready to show my true strength in a road race several mini climbs. Ben and I joked and caught up with fellow NCNCA cyclists while other riders warmed up on their trainers. Sitting at the start finish, Ben and I made friends with a team of guys from Iowa City racing for World of Bikes/Bikes to You. Their team had a friendly dynamic similar to TMB and Ben made the observation that I already had the haircut to join their squad. We started out the road race with a pace a little higher than I would have preferred but after a while, the field settled down and we were able to enjoy a bit of the beautiful Greenbush countryside. On every kicker, I found myself inadvertently making my way to the front of the field passing riders with ease. With several laps still to go, I caged the elephant and took cover in the field to plot my attack. With a lap and a half to go, I went to the front of the field and stood on the pedals, pushing the field to an uncomfortable pace and pulling stronger riders from the woodwork. Before I had the chance, a rider from ___ launched his attack and I covered his wheel. As he faded I put in another dig and found two BTY I had met earlier on my wheel. I looked back to see the elastic breaking and daylight forming between the field and our group so I put my head down and went all in to TT mode. For the next few miles I dug as hard as I could taking turns with the two other riders and risks on the descent. Unfortunately the RR was worth double points in the GC so there would be leash given from larger teams LS and IS Corp. I looked back to see the entire field stretched back single file chasing us. It was a pretty cool site to see but extremely disappointing as there was only one lap left and my matchbook was feeling light. I faded to the back of the pack, caught up with Ben and made my way back into the field for the finish. I was catching a ride back up to the front via a Ritte rider but he unfortunately broke a spoke sending me into the bottom third of the pack. The race only had the right side of the road until the finishing sprint so I had to fight my way through the field and unfortunately ran out of road stricken with terrible positioning for the sprint. As we came into the final turn, several riders jumped out of the field crossing the double yellow line. The moto official laid on the horn but the riders ignored it flying up the outside to the front of the field. Riders began to respond verbally and physically attempting to follow their wheels. I sat back and watched the mayhem starting my sprint on the legal side of the road and picking off multiple gassed riders on the minor pitch to the finish. I rolled past the finish to chat and cooldown with the BTY team. As we came back to the finish I spotted several groups of riders standing with their bikes making hand questers. They were protesting the finish and if the official was able to catch any rider’s numbers, there would probably be some center line violations and riders would be relegated. Sure enough as I looked over the results, several riders that had finished in the top 15 had dropped to the bottom of the list. Lesson(s) of the Stage: Listen to the officials and follow the rules, don’t get relegated. Also, try to get into a break with representation from larger teams. Your motor against six dedicated pawns doesn’t give you the best chances. June 21st: Milwaukee, WI Schlitz Park Criterium Ben and I showed up to the race with about 15 minutes before the race start. I quickly got my number, pinned it at the portos, did one lap and few openers at the start finish, and sat at the back of the group for the start. This was a super, super technical course with a couple block kicker right at the start, to a few blocks of flat wide open, to a super technical descent: sharp right-left turn chicane(with a manhole in the apex), to a right turn sweeper to another left right chicane to the open finishing stretch. It had been raining all morning the course was damp to make things even sketchier. Add zero warmup and starting dead last to the mix, top it off with a crash mid-pack, and serve the rider with burnt legs, heart pounding, and ticket punched. After the crash happened mid-pack, I made the stupid decision to keep riding with other riders even though we were already dangling, rather than taking my free lap (Stage Lesson 1). With the field just up the rode I buried myself thinking I could catch the field on the descent. In reality the gap was only expanding and I sat solo in the wind and got caught behind dropped riders on the descent without a confident wheel to follow. Frustrated and tired I pulled out of the race. BIG MISTAKE. Not only did I get dropped from my first crit, but I also wasn’t placed. Even though he had been dropped and was several riders behind me, Ben continued riding, was eventually pulled from the field and scored ___. Had I continued riding I would have been eventually pulled and scored_____________. However I did get a to partake in a beautiful 45 minute group ride with Ben and two other dropped riders of the Schlitz park waterfront. Now it is important to note that I am not advocating riding around in circles for 45 minutes solo dying a thousand deaths at a single day crit for outside of 20th place. Hell outside of 10th place or even 5th place hardly counts for much. Pull out, go on a group ride, and try again next weekend. If you wanna “get your money’s worth” or “gain the fitness” or make that personal victory at a crit, have fun. DNF. Lesson of the Stage: If you are caught behind a crash, always head to the pit and take your free lap unless an official directly tells you to chase. June 22nd: Ripon, WI Ripon Time Trial Disappointed from the disaster that was Schlitz Park, I didn’t come into the TT with very high hopes. Shawn had to take the TT as a rest day for me but I decided to do it anyway since Schlitz wasn’t much of a workout. I hitched a ride with the BTY team up north to Ripon so had a cool opportunity to exchange stories and knowledge from racing on different parts of the states. The night before I surveyed the course and uploaded the route to my Garmin 500 so I had some sort of rabbit to chase and indicator of my remaining time in the pain cave to gauge my efforts. The course wasn’t anything super technical with a few small climbs and several long straightaways. The description of the course indicated a technical sprint to the finish though as did the map. I put on my skinsuit and rode the first couple miles of the course to get a warmup and an idea of the wind direction. I rolled up to the line with only three riders ahead of me in the staging area. Right on time. I quickly caught my 2 or 3 minute man so knew I doing alright. I had a BTY rider in front of him so spent the entire race slowly trying to chip away at the gap to him knowing he was in good shape. 2/3 of the way through the TT I passed another rider and almost had the BTY rider in front of me before one of the climbs so was confident I had put in a good TT. In the finishing downhill technical stretch of the race I was tired but had paced myself well. I confidently railed the downhill sprinting out of the turns. Coming into one of the 90 degree turns a course marshall was yelling at me to slow down. Sorry buddy, door of the hurt locker is locked shut. (I later found out a rider had overcooked the turn before me and went down.) Back into town now and a few turns later I was emptying the last few drops in the tank and sprinting over the line. Content with my TT I went on a cooldown ride with the BTY team and watched a few of them jump in a pond. We rode back and sat down to knock down a couple chocolate milks when I heard what sounded like my name over the loud speaker. Was I that tired from the TT? Had I drank too many chocolate milks? They went on the loud speaker again calling me to the podium and I dropped my chocolate milk on the ground, hopped on my bike, and rode over to the podium. Turns out my effort landed me the 2nd place step on the podium in the TT. 1st place had crushed me by ___ seconds and I had beaten 3rd place by ____ seconds so didn’t go from content to stoked to what if I had drilled the downhill that much faster. The Time Trial was worth double points in the GC so previously without a point in the bank, I was now sitting 17th in the GC with a bag of coffee in one hand and check in the other. Those points I gave up at Schlitz park were beginning to look that much more valuable. Lesson of the Stage: Basically I paced myself well. I went hard on the climbs and on the straightaways always riding inside my threshold. I am by no means the calculator that is Steve O’Mara is and probably would have had the same result without a computer but when I asked Ben Stern about how to do well in the TT, and he told me to keep a consistent high cadence with a big gear. A year ago when I asked him how he won the Madera TT, he told me he was a human metronome. Makes sense now. June 23rd: Sheboygan, WI Sheboygan Harbor Centre Bike Race Feeling saucy and strong from the Time Trial the day before, I was ready to take another shot at this crit thing. I did my morning recovery ride, exchanged a couple supportive text messages from Ben, ate some food, dropped the tire pressure 10psi and headed over the 3 blocks to the course for a warm up and reg. While I was eating the clouds had cracked open and the rain was coming down in large bulbous drops. This was my element. Growing up in Portland, I sometimes joke that I was born in the rain. Aside from the post ride cleanup, riding in the rain has never seemed to bother me and I had found gave me a bit of an advantage of my competitors. Last year I placed 3rd as a Cat 4 in a breakaway at the rainy Brisbeen Crit (Rainier got first and which I still hold against him) and do a large amount of training during the rainy bay area months. Unfortunately, the rain made this four corner crit downright dangerous. Fresh white crosswalk paint made for oil slicks on every turn causing multiple riders to go down what seemed like every lap. My rear wheel lost traction several times on turn one but I soon discovered taking the turn super tight actually avoided a lot of the paint creating a much safer line. Although frustrated that I kept loosing positioning due to riders sliding out, I moved up in the pack and sat 4th wheel. The next lap a KS rider in front of me lost his rear wheel in turn one. In slow motion his bike flew one direction while he slid across the wet pavement in front of me. I grabbed brake to avoid destroying him which caused my rear wheel to change direction and rotation quickly putting me elbow and hip first to the tarmac. I jumped got back up, check my person, checked the bike, and headed to the pit for reentry into the race. The mechanic pulled my lever back into position and sent me back into the field. At this point I was rattled from the crash and lost confidence in my cornering. Legs were locked up for the sprint and I rolled across the line at the back of the pack. After finished I checked my wounds and watched the carnage that was the walking wounded carrying their mangled wheels and bent shifters back to their team car. I ended up placing ____ which scored me two more points and moved me up to tied for 14th overall with two other riders. Lesson of the Stage: I have read a few articles arguing weather dropping tire pressure for wet pavement will do anything for you but I am not a true believer that the increased rolling resistance is well worth the traction. While I dropped 10psi from my original pressure in my tires, the BTY riders went as low as 80 and stated that although they felt sloppy in the sprint, they never lost traction in the turns. June 24th: Fond du Lac, WI Fond du Lac Gran Prix After having a great TT but feeling dead in almost all of the sprints so far besides at ___ where I flatted out, I called Shawn to put together a plan for the remaining three days in the series. Shawn reminded me of my fitness prior to starting the tour, that I was a 3 racing in a major 2-3 series, and that I had just raced seven days in a row. Still, I wasn’t feeling fatigued and didn’t feel the same comfort and fitness I had felt previously in the year. I gave him a quick recap of each race and we discovered that it was at the races where I got a proper warmup in, I was feeling the best. Who would have thought! With a new prerace warmup in my pocket and a few words of encouragement, I was ready to tear it up again. Arriving in Fond du Lac with just under 2 hours before the race started gave me no excuse to not get in a proper warmup. Looking for a parking spot I asked a female police officer if she knew of any nonmetered parking in the area. She responded “_________”. Parked and kitted up, I took it to the streets glued to my computer for the Shawn special. I rolled up to the line warmed up and early for a proper starting position. My legs were feeling great so I spent the entire day riding like a champion sitting top 5 merging into accelerations and slowing the pace when a BTY rider would go off the front. I sat 3rd coming into a $75 prime so decided to test the legs but quickly turned off the burners as a Papa John’s rider came from behind smoking all three of us. I sat back in my place and took shelter for the sprint. Things got aggressive going into the final two turns but I held decent position sitting top 10 for the long sprint. Unfortunately although my legs were feeling much better than previous stages, the experienced Cat 2 sprinters were feeling better and I faded to 15th over the line. Walked away with a check and a few more points in the bank holding 14th in the GC. Lesson of the Stage: Riding near the front of the pack can be much more efficient than anywhere else in the peloton. Not only is it usually safer, but controlling the pace and having time to merge with accelerations allows for a much more consistent riding and less undulations. Stage 9: Downer Now confident in my fitness and racing abilities, I was ready to tear it up and move up in the GC. Back down in Meqon, it was under an hours ride to the course in Downer. Although fairly simple, I mapped out the commute down and uploaded the route to my Garmin 500 as to not get lost before my ace. After a successful commute down I surveyed the course and went out for my Shawn special. My legs felt alright but I had a bit trouble getting my heart rate up at first. It might have been from the longer commute. The course was pretty flat with a few long straightaways and one sharp sweeper in the middle of the course. Ben told me not to brake in this turn as although it was sharp, it was wide enough to rail. Unfortunately the crawling pace and terrible line of the peloton forced us to make a sharp last minute turn instead. After a decent result the day before in Fondy, I decided to try and hover near the front again. It was a little more difficult this time around with heavy attacks and swarming in the straightaways. Coming into the finishing lap I had decent positions but all went to hell when the front of field decided they were all poised to win and sat up to rest for the sprint. This caused uproar in the field and there was a massive shift in the peloton putting out of contention for the sprint. As the field in front of me gave up any chances or even contenting the sprint, I started to poach wheels from riders and hitched a massive free ride up to the front with a BTY rider. Better positioning now but things bottlenecked in the last turn and I lost several places. I jumped on what looked like a good when for the sprint but he faded fast and I was stuck sprinting in the wind for 11th. Best result so far outside of the TT but still not a good representation of my fitness. I made my way to the recovery tent to suck down some tasty chocolate milk and waited for results to be posted. Once they went up, I noticed my name wasn’t on the results. I knew I had done well and didn’t think I had done anything to take me out of contention so disputed the results with an official and they went through the camera footage again. For those of you non bike racer folk, you get a 15 minute window to dispute results before they are made official. If results are reposted, as they were in this case, then the 15 minutes is reset. Walked away with yet another check and bumped up a place to 13th in the GC. Lesson(s) of the Stage: Always check results, especially in a stage race. I normally could care less if I finished outside of top 10 but this this case it meant valuable points. Another thing to note is to identify strong riders and teams early in the series. They are usually solid wheels in the peloton and set you up for a good result. Stage 10: Madison After nine straight days of racing and two solid days in a row, my legs were raging for a victory. My confidence was high and fitness higher. I felt zero fatigue from the previous nine days and stood tall as my fellow competitors hobbled and whined of sore muscles. The weather was scorching but not even the sungod_______ himself could have slowed me down. As the crit went around the capitol in Madison, the surrounding roads around weren’t that great for a warmup. I found the Cycleops tent and posted up on a trainer next to a Ritte rider I had chatted with a few times at earlier stages. I spun and drank water for a good 20 minutes before starting my Shawn Special. Heart Rate was looking good and legs felt better. 15 minutes before the scheduled race start I rolled around sidewalks lining the course getting an idea for the elevation and lines the masters racers riders were taking. The pavement was of decent quality and roads were fairly wide. The course was a basic four corner crit with a quick downhill to a quick uphill on a short finishing stretch. The course suited my climbing abilities and sprint, sit, sprint style perfectly. Any Tuesday Night Park regulars will attest to my ability to stomp up a climb and continue to keep a high pace before sprinting. I found a drinking fountain outside the capital, soaked my head, and headed over to the start line. Everyone jokes that there is the race before the race to get good positioning. Riders line up in a row after the barriers clipped in with an easy gear waiting for the follow car from the previous race to go by so they can jockey for a good position on the starting line. This is something I hadn’t experienced much until I came out to Wisconsin but I also found these races to be much more full throttle from the gun making navigating the field a little more difficult early in a race. My flawless warmup and timing landed me a solid starting position and for the first few laps of the crit, my legs the best they had all week. As I sat spinning up the climb, riders dropped behind me panting and throwing their machines underneath them. Several attacks went off but Dissapointing Final day at ToAD. Legs felt the best they had all week and the course was perfect for me. Conserved the whole race and sat top 10 on the final hill, two riders in front of me ran out of gas, and went into each other. Finished 22nd and dropped down a spot to 14th in GC.