Of all the races here in Wisconsin, by far the most popular are those in Tour of America’s Dairyland. More of a series than a tour, this eleven day long event takes riders through many of the different towns and cities of Wisconsin with nine criteriums and two road races. While this is why I think it’s more of a series than a tour (you really just see the downtown areas of the cities, aside from the two road races), it’s nice to have so much racing packed into one week. And what a week it was!
One odd thing about ToAD is the way that they split up the categories. Since some big teams ome to race the events on the NRC circuit, the organizers need to have a way for them to organize the races so that the fields are even enough in those races. So what ends up happening is for the first seven days of racing the top field is a Pro/1/2 field, and then the last four days it’s simply a Pro/1 field. Also, during those first seven days of racing, there’s a 2/3 field, which means that the 2′s have the option to race either the 2/3 or the Pro/1/2. It seemed like the 2′s most serious about winning the overall in the category opted to race the 2/3, but I think there were still a few 2′s who had predominantly raced in the Pro/1/2 for the first seven days.
This was a great option for the 2′s, but it certainly made it difficult for the 3′s who had either just cat’d up (like myself) or just not up to snuff yet. I had an OK race at the Giro d’Grafton on the first Saturday, finishing mid-pack, but for the first 20 minutes I thought I wasn’t going to make it. I have to say, the pace was a bit of a shocker, and it was tough to keep up with all the accelerations. I kept with it though and eventually settled in. I was happy just to finish!
The second day at the Carl Zach Classic in Waukesha what a whole different story though. Everything started ok, but the course made it immediately clear that it would be tricky. It was a six corner course with narrow streets and a really fast descent section that slammed riders right into a corner. Unfortunately, there was about 3 or 4 crashes in a few consecutive laps in the middle, and eventually I ended up getting gapped, partly because of my own endurance and partly because of the crashes. I had a cramp in my stomach, was feeling very tired, and had to slow up at one point. Soon I made my way into a group of about seven other riders, but we ended up getting pulled about halfway through. I think we were all feeling the fatigue of the race and the crashes were certainly on our minds, so getting pulled wasn’t necessarily the worst thing that could happen. I was pretty bummed about the race, especially since my family had been there, but I knew that it was just a tough day and that I had to persevere.
I wasn’t able to do any of the weekday races because I’m taking a summer school class right now (it also would have cost a TON of money), so my next races were this last weekend. The first one was the ISCorp Downer Classic, which is one of the biggest crits out there. There were massive crowds and huge primes, superprimes, and prize winnings to be had. The course was very flat and in the shape of a triangle, with one corner having two smaller corners apart of it. Being such a flat and simple course, the race was very, very fast. Right off the bat I had a mishap with one of my cleats–as we started I couldn’t get my left shoe clipped in and lost a few positions because of it. This got me a little frustrated, but I made it into the mix alright. Soon though, I started feeling pretty bad. I got another stomach cramp and every sprint out of a corner seemed to make it worse. I tried as hard as I could to stick with the pack, but eventually I fell back and was pulled a few laps later. This was very frustrating, as my legs had felt good. I started thinking about what went wrong, whether it was my nutrition, hydration, the heat, my form, or all or none of these. It seemed like it could have been anything. The next day, I decided that I would be very careful with how I went about preparing for the race.
Being that the last day of ToAD is in Madison, I had the luxury of being able to relax at home and get ready for the race like I would if I were going for a training ride. The race took place hardly a mile away from where I live, at the Capital in downtown Madison. Since the race was so close, I was able to do my warmup in my apartment on my trainer, and then finish my warm up with some sprints down the street to the Capital. I timed it perfectly and rolled up to the course just as the field was taking a warm up lap. I literally rolled up to the barriers, got on the course, and rode to the line. That was very nice!
Once the race started, I could definitely tell that it was going to be a better day than the one before. I didn’t cramp immediately and I didn’t feel immensely tired either. I had deliberately shortened my warmup to only 20 minutes because I wanted to be fresher for this race. Perviously, my warmups had been about 40 minutes long, which I now think is just way too much. After the normally fast and touchy first 20 minutes or so, we settled in and the serious racing took place. Being that the course was so short, we did about double the laps of a normal criterium. They certainly went by fast, and luckily the course was more suited to my abilities than the others. It was a simple square, with one of the corners being a small hill that turned off to the finish. I remember remarking that the race felt much more aerobic than the others, more reliant on fitness than on sheer power. Because of this I think I had a much better race and was about to finish 37th, which I am pretty happy with, considering that all the 2′s were now in the race and the sheer size of the field because of it. I’m also happy that I made some progress with getting my warmup and pre-race routine sorted. Although I think I still need to work on it, I do think I’m getting there. For me, there’s just something about the immediate burst to 100% that doesn’t work well with me, but I’ll get used to it. It’ll just take time, like most things in cycling.
Overall, I’d say that this Tour of America’s Dairyland was a humbling and yet thoughtful one. I was forced to learn so much by the intensity and fast paced nature of the races, and I think I’m a better rider because of it. Even though I didn’t perform as well as I’d hoped, I know that there’s next year, where I hope to make more of an impact. Until then, I’ll be training and getting in those ever important miles in the legs. We’ll see what happens next year!