Walking along Milwaukee Street becomes an adventure on the day of the Town Square Gran Prix.
Walkers have to dodge, dip and dive away from practicing bicyclists, people promoting businesses with freebies and the giant walking ice cream cone from Culver’s named Scoopie.
No matter where you are, you can hear the clanking of cowbells as bicyclists whiz past.
The Town Square Gran Prix made its second annual stop in Janesville as a leg of the 11-day Tour of America’s Dairyland competition.
Despite the hundreds of racers and spectators coming from across the state and country—some from as far as Australia—the massive bike race maintains the spirit of the Janesville community.
As rain came down around 1 p.m., Doug and Denise Caldwell were huddled under an awning near the Boost Mobile store on Main Street.
The Janesville couple watched the race this year and last year. A little rain was no problem for them.
As the Caldwells watched on, a bicyclist took a quick, wide turn onto Main Street from Court Street and wiped out, landing on his knee on the concrete.
Doug ran out in the rain to help. He and some other spectators pulled the bike up over the street barriers and helped the racer get off the course.
Denise ran to find help.
Doug, who builds electric bikes for people with mobility issues, tried to put the chain back on the racer’s bike.
Before walking away with event staff, the racer perked up, saying, “At least I got $500 out of it.”
The streets of downtown were littered with people handing out promotional items and signs encouraging spectators to stop, eat and imbibe with downtown small businesses.
Sandee’s Thai Fusion on Main Street opened its restaurant and bar all day for the event. The restaurant typically closes after lunch ends at 2 p.m. and before dinner begins at 4 p.m.
Wiggy’s Saloon on Parker Drive had a chalkboard sign advertising deals. The YMCA hosted a slew of food trucks offering grilled cheese, snow cones and other treats.
Spectators devoured slices of pizza under the Mac’s Pizza Shack tent while the rain came down in the afternoon.
Not every business owner reaped the rewards of more foot traffic.
Geri McCluskey of JIT Staffing displayed signs in the staffing agency’s window saying the bike race hurts small business and recommended the race be held in one of Janesville’s parks instead of downtown.
The staffing agency’s clients could not get to the office because of closed roads. The staff had to take clients’ checks, which usually get picked up by mail, to the post office, McCluskey said.
The staffing agency didn’t bother opening last year. McCluskey said they should not have bothered opening this year. She does not think organizers took the concerns she voiced seriously.
The voice of the Gran Prix
To keep the racers and crowds informed as the race progresses, an announcer runs the start (and finish) line.
For many, the messages are just a voice in the air. But Brad Sohner is a very important part of the day. Sohner works as a race announcer for numerous tours and races around the world.
He has announced the Dairyland Tour since its inception 11 years ago, and he said it’s one of his favorite events every year.
“There’s a lot of races that happen during this week, but I always come to this because it’s a unique race. There’s nothing else in the country like it,” Sohner said.
And while the tour can be a tiring challenge over the 11 days, he said Janesville is one of the best stops the tour has had.
“Janesville has been incredible,” Sohner said. “I literally travel all over the world doing this, and I have never seen this much time and money put into a prime course.”
A return home
For third-year tour rider Blaise Schaeffer of North Carolina, the Janesville leg of the race provides some extra motivation.
Born in De Pere, Schaeffer said the tour reminds him of his roots.
“I call it my annual voyage back to the Midwest,” Schaeffer said.
“It’s an awesome series that’s really well put together with a lot of great volunteers, friendly people and good races.”
As a thunderstorm poured rain on both the track and his bike, a smile spread across his face before Schaeffer added he enjoyed the cooler weather in Wisconsin.
“It’s only year two, but we love coming to Janesville. The course is awesome, it’s a great atmosphere. … They just go above and beyond at this venue.”
Bike racing in the blood
Koen Prenclow will tell you right away who his favorite tour racer is.
Prenclow’s dad, Brady, wheeled past the 13-year-old from Minnesota on Tuesday and got a smile and a yell of ‘good luck’ from his son.
Prenclow said he travels with his dad for multiple legs of the race and has started racing in the youth divisions occasionally.
“It’s mostly a family thing,” Koen said Tuesday.
“My dad started when I was about 5, and now it’s just a thing we always do.”