Want bicycle races to return to Janesville’s downtown? How about two straight days of races?
Organizers of the Janesville Town Square Gran Prix have announced the Tour of America’s Dairyland pro-am cycling series will kick off in downtown Janesville on June 17 and 18.
It’s the first time the annual pro cycling circuit has held two full days of races in Janesville. The races were scrubbed last year during the COVID-19 pandemic. That makes this year the first time the races have been held downtown since June 2019.
Paul Murphy, local event chair for the Gran Prix, said in an interview Tuesday that Janesville already had been selected to host the tour’s opener this year, but a cancellation of another stop in another Wisconsin community brought the option for Janesville to host not one but two races.
Murphy said tour dates and stops for the major circuit cycle races have been in flux in recent weeks, in part because planners for the Dairyland tour have been working through a patchwork of differing, local and countywide policies on COVID-19-era crowd controls.
He said one Wisconsin community hosting a stop of the cycling tour apparently had pulled back at the last minute on approving the races.
“They (The Dairyland tour) had a last-minute cancellation,” Murphy said. “And so they called us up and said, ‘Hey, can you do two?’ We said, ‘Yeah, we think we can do it,’” Murphy said.
City of Janesville officials quickly moved into discussions with organizers over a two-day set of races—an option Murphy said came up just a few weeks ago.
This year, the races will run on a Thursday and Friday. It marks the first time since Janesville began hosting the Gran Prix in 2018 that the downtown will get to host races on a Friday.
The city of Janesville already had signed off on the initial June tour stop of the races in the city’s downtown. Murphy said when he and another local organizer approached Janesville City Manager Mark Freitag about the chance to tack on a second day of races, the manager gave the idea a preliminary blessing.
Local organizers initially had proposed setting up day two of races at one of several possible locations outside downtown, but Murphy said that Freitag and other city officials believed the race would work well as a two-day event downtown.
“He (Freitag), said ‘No, both day one and two of these races will be in downtown Janesville.’ And he said, ‘Just think of a race on Thursday, a race on Friday, and then people coming down to the farmers market on Saturday,’” Murphy said. “This is what downtown development and downtown promotion is.”
Under city rules and administrative processes, Murphy said local tour organizers are able to amend permits on a one-day event to allow a second day, although some licensing, such as an alcohol sales permit that’s good for one day, will need to be amended as well.
The course will again be in a “dog bone” configuration—two loops connected by a single straightaway in both directions—in downtown Janesville. The direction riders will travel will switch from clockwise to counter-clockwise on day two of the series, according to a news release.
Murphy said he and city officials believe that current local and county rules on crowd size and public gatherings during the ongoing pandemic will allow for a cycling event that in past years has brought about 2,500 people to the downtown.
He said the races this year will be without grandstand and bleacher areas, and that’s to encourage people to spread out around the mile-long course and maintain a safe social distance.
This year, spectators will also be able to spread out along the new pedestrian footbridge over the river at the town square.
SSM Health is planning to set up sanitizing and hand-washing kiosks in public areas around the course, Murphy said.
Murphy estimates that at least 4,000 people attended the season’s first Janesville Farmers Market last week, which led him to believe there’s pent-up demand for outdoor events.
Murphy said organizers for the Gran Prix are working with local hotels and the Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau on overnight accommodations for a set of races that now have sprouted a second full day.
”It could be a nice shot in the arm for Janesville’s hospitality industry coming off a tough year,” Murphy said.
Organizers also have announced the addition of a junior race to the proceedings. Family-friendly activities and other downtown events will take place during the tour.