John Van Susteren looks forward to the Tour of America’s Dairyland each year.
It’s not difficult to see why.
The road cycling series, the largest of its kind in the United States, attracts cyclists from across the country and world. It winds through southeast Wisconsin over an 11-day span, exciting spectators with criterium-style bike racing.
“It’s the Super Bowl of our season,” said Van Susteren, a 59-year-old cyclist from Mukwonago who has competed in each Tour of America’s Dairyland to date.
Speed and spectacle should be plentiful Tuesday when Janesville hosts a Tour of America’s Dairyland stage for the first time. The Town Square Gran Prix, which will bring downtown Janesville to life with 11 races over roughly 10 hours, will mark the sixth stage of the 10th edition of the Tour of America’s Dairyland.
Criterium racing isn’t for the faint of heart. Cyclists in the peloton—the main pack—ride elbow-to-elbow on closed courses. The top cyclists will reach speeds exceeding 30 mph. Primes—pronounced preems—are initiated every few laps, kicking off what Van Susteren described as a “mini race within a race.”
That means frequent breakaway attempts, frequent sprints and frequent chaos.
Anderson Bortoletto, of McFarland, races for Lakes Area Physical Therapy, the cycling team Van Susteren founded 11 years ago. Bortoletto, 45, said he sometimes attacks during the lull following a sprint.
“I’ll take advantage of people going for the primes when they’re tired and try to establish a breakaway,” Bortoletto said. “Every now and then, I try to grab the primes myself. It depends on the race.”
In criterium racing, time counts up until officials begin counting laps down, said Bill Ochowicz, one of Tour of America’s Dairyland’s co-founders. The goal is to have the end of the final lap line up with a race’s predetermined time limit.
So, in the example of the men’s category 1/2 pro race, which has a 90-minute limit, officials might begin the lap countdown after 45 minutes have ticked by, giving cyclists time to position themselves for the final sprint.
“It’s really about energy conservation,” Ochowicz said. “Conserving energy by staying out of the wind and riding in the group. You save energy by riding in the draft. The trick is to have the most energy at the end.”
The first race Tuesday—the junior 9-12 boys and girls race—will begin at 10:05 a.m.
How cyclists will handle Janesville’s 0.85-mile circuit is anyone’s guess. Cyclists will have to acquaint themselves with a course Ochowicz described as a “halfpipe.”
Cyclists will climb uphill twice per lap as they head away from the Rock River. A right-right-left-right series of turns could help more technical cyclists gain an advantage before a 400-meter sprint down Milwaukee St. to the finish line.
“Someone who can really throw down on the hills could get a breakaway,” Van Susteren said. “Because of the length of the race and the hills involved, they can add up after a while.”
What to watch for
Keep an eye on cyclists wearing cow-patterned jerseys. Those racers are the points leaders in their division.
Team strategy plays a big role in bike racing. Watch for racers wearing like-colored jerseys—they’ll usually stick together.
“It’s quite a chess match,” Van Susteren said. “The alliances between teams are constantly shifting.
“The idea is to get the right combination of cyclists up the road, ahead of the pack. And to have some cyclists police the pack, to discourage chasers.”
Janesville Velo Club’s Bryan Fratianne, 23, will compete in the men’s category 4/5 race, set to start at 11:45 a.m.
A group of cyclists from the Japanese Cycling Federation—six women and three men—are using the Tour of America’s Dairyland as a tune-up for the Asian Games in August. The Japanese cyclists are wearing white jerseys with red accents.
The final two races Tuesday will feature the best of the best—category 1 and 2 cyclists. The pro women’s race begins at 4:45 p.m., while the pro men’s race begins at 6:30 p.m.