2018 Tour of America's Dairyland
Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Shorewood and Bay View stages of the Tour of America’s Dairyland (ToAD) in Milwaukee. It was the perfect opportunity to take in one of the nation’s best cycling series. Plus, plenty of good insights and bombshells from the pros that we’ll be rolling out over the next few weeks; stay tuned!
In today’s post, I’ll be exploring my thoughts and highlights from the great week of racing. No race reports or recaps though; I’ll leave that to A Cyclist In A Strange Land’s new friend Sylvi from the VeloRambling blog who has been providing top-notch coverage for ToAD all week long.
America’s Toughest Omnium?
The Tour of Utah famously refers to itself as America’s Toughest Stage Race. After my time in Wisconsin, I’m wondering if the Tour of America’s Dairyland is America’s Toughest Omnium. First off, the racing was fast. Seriously fast. Every day. For 11 days straight. Even some of the talented Cat 1 and 2 riders that I talked to couldn’t believe the stamina needed to push through day after day, much less go for the win.
Then, there’s the natural elements that racers must fight. Putting aside the vicious lake monsters that the locals call “bugs,” the racers must face a weather roulette of intense heat, high humidity, and occasional downpours; sometimes all at the same time. As I walked the course after the Bay View Masters race, I saw that it was littered with cyclists downing emergency hydration mixes and seeking shade from the sun beating down on them. With so much adversity to overcome, no wonder so many riders decided to only enter select stages instead of subjecting themselves to the constant speed, heat, and the occasional hilly crit.
So, how hard is it really? In 2018, of the 123 Pro/1/2 riders (both men and women) that scored at least one point during the omnium (points are given to the top 20 riders), only four riders scored points during each of the 11 days. That’s only 3% of the field managing to score every day. Now, that’s what I call a tough and hyper-competitive omnium.
These racers have guts, they’re cycling heroes. They should be on posters plastered across the walls of every child in America.
Luke Mudgway is a true champion
22-year-old Luke Mudgway first landed on my radar this spring during the Joe Martin Stage Race when he finished 9th overall and 3rd in the youth classification. I wasn’t expecting such a strong performance (which included top-10 finishes in the time trial and stage 4 criterium) from the Canadian H&R Block Pro Cycling Team and was curious if his performance indicated bigger things to come for the U23 Continental squad.
Going into ToAD, I don’t think that even Luke could have predicted that there would be so much greatness waiting for him in the Midwest. Luke showed up at the Kenosha Crit only expecting to ride a few races before heading back to his home in Vancouver where his parents would be flying in from New Zealand for a visit. But, after finishing third, second, and fifth in the omnium’s early stages, Luke quickly found himself wearing the yellow cow-print leaders jersey and asking ToAD’s executive director Bill Koch if he could stick around for the rest of the series. Of course, ToAD couldn’t turn away its star rider and the Wisconsin community gathered together to ensure that Luke had the housing, transportation, and mechanical support to continue in the race.
By the end of the 11-day omnium, Luke had won the overall with a dominating 49-point lead over second place. During the week, Luke had scored four podiums (including a win) and five other top-10 finishes. Despite not having any team support, Luke managed to be one of only two other male pros to score points in every race (the other being Radsport’s Henning Bommel). This domination has put Luke on the map and will no doubt result in big teams calling to entice him with what his results could look like with their mighty lead-out trains in front of him. Hopefully Luke will get a chance to give H&R Block a few more boosts of glory before that happens.
The Pro Women battled for every inch of pavement and glory
The pro women faced a battlefield all week long as the tried and true crit racers desperately grasped for consistency while big-name spoilers like Samantha and Skylar Schneider entered select races to try to steal wins from tired week-long racers. In the end, spectators were delighted to see the race for the overall omnium come down to the final turn of the final race of the series.
Entering the final race battle for the overall omnium win was a three-way battle between ISCorp’s guest rider Katie Compton (a 14-time national cyclocross champion who is apparently a huge talent on the road too), Fearless Femme’s Rebecca Wiasak, and Roxsolt Attaquer’s Sharlotte Lucas.
The three women had traded top-five and top-ten finishes with each other throughout the week and entered the final stage in East Tosa with a legitimate shot at the overall omnium win. Fan-favorite Katie Compton was clearly the underdog needing to win the race and for her competitors to not score any points in order to have a real shot at the overall. Meanwhile, Rebecca and Sharlotte just needed to finish in the points and ahead of each other to clinch the overall. It all came down to the final turn. Rebecca just pipped Sharlotte for fourth and clinched the overall for the second year in a row. A hard-fought win for the Australian track rider who should be entertaining Wisconsin cycling fans for years to come.
The Japan Cycling Federation deserves our cheers
I think that everyone enjoys the intrigue and mystery of foreign teams that come to compete in the US. The press and riders are never quite sure what to expect and, regardless of whether the interlopers end up being sensations or duds, they always bring credibility and flavor to every race they enter.
The 2018 edition of ToAD brought teams from around the world to Milwaukee and although the Germans, Australians, and New Zealanders may have shaken things up more frequently at the pointy end of the grid, the Japan Cycling Federation riders were my favorite imports of the series. Watching the close-knit group tear around the circuit in their bright red and white skinsuits while trying to control and excite the race really caught my attention. Despite all their efforts, the men’s squad never managed to produce a big result outside of a couple primes. The women, on the other hand, truly impressed me as Miho Yoshikawa took the win in Kenosha, placed fourth in Shorewood, and ninth at the Waukesha crit. I’d love to see what kind of results the Japan Cycling Federation could produce if they stuck around the US a little longer and gave themselves a chance to better adjust to the American-style of crit racing. I’m sure they’d be a force to be reckoned with.
Plus, I’m pretty sure that I saw a member of the team walking around the race course in a traditional Japanese Yukata robe. That was awesome.
Hopefully this isn’t the last time that we see the Japanese Cycling Federation on our shores. As far as I’m concerned, they’ll always be a welcomed addition to any race.
Well worth the trip
I couldn’t be happier with my first taste of the Tour of America’s Dairyland. I’m amazed that they’ve been able to maintain such a successful event for 10 years running. At every single race, engaged fans from all over Wisconsin flooded the race courses to cheer on their favorite cyclists. The media engagement was just as outstanding with the blogosphere, newspapers (particularly the Journal Sentinel), and even to the television taking an intimate interest in the race and riders. There aren’t many races in North America where the media is so rabid to share cyclist’s stories with the community.
Good on you ToAD. You’re selling your product with flare; every other bike race in North America should take note!
I arrived back home in Minneapolis at 2:30 in the morning after the last race. My Mazda was covered in bugs and my body ached for my mattress. Even then, I couldn’t help but smile. You’d think that I’d be sick of bike racing after 11 action-packed crits. But, I was already getting antsy, excited to figure out which race A Cyclist In A Strange Land would get its boots on the ground for next. I can’t wait.