Janesvillians, it’s time to brush up on your cycling lingo.
Fancy the chance to see several racers put the hammer down as they attempt to win a prime filled with cash?
Or would you rather pick out a quiet spot to watch the colorful, swirling mass of riders in the peloton meander its way through the “City of Parks?”
If none of that made sense, just know this: The Tour of America’s Dairyland is bringing criterium bike racing back to downtown Janesville.
Janesville’s leg of the famed tour, the Town Square Gran Prix, is set for Tuesday. Nine races will be contested over roughly 10 hours, filling the city’s downtown with the sound of cowbells and humming bike tires.
The Tour of America’s Dairyland, the largest competitive road cycling series in the country, began Thursday in Kenosha and wraps up Sunday in Wauwatosa. The Town Square Gran Prix is the sixth of 11 stages—the midpoint of the Tour’s 11th edition.
Jeremy Mathews doesn’t plan on racing all 11 stages. He’s got a method.
“You pick the rainy days, that way less riders show up and you get a better chance of finishing well,” Mathews joked Wednesday. “It worked last year.”
But rain or shine, Mathews will be racing Tuesday at the Town Square Gran Prix. He wouldn’t miss the chance to race in his hometown.
The Janesville native has been biking for decades, but it wasn’t until his hometown was picked to host a stage of the Tour last year that he decided to give competitive cycling a whirl.
He played multiple sports for Janesville Craig High School in the 1980s but never considered himself an endurance athlete—until he joined the rowing team while attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“A lot of my friends were racers,” Mathews said Wednesday. “I never raced—I just always had a cool bike.”
So what changed?
“It wasn’t until the Tour came to town that I thought, ‘Now’s the time to put the pedal to the metal.’ Like I should’ve when I was a younger.” Mathews said.
“I loved it. I felt a great sense of pride having that in my hometown.”
Mathews is one of six Janesvillians slated to race in the Town Square Gran Prix, joining Bryan Fratianne, Ryan McGee, Kyle Pierson, Noah Nelson and Ben Ryan, according to registration lists provided to The Gazette.
All will compete in the men’s division 4/5 race, set to begin Tuesday at 10:45 a.m.
Navigating ‘The Dogbone’
The most noticeable change to this year’s Town Square Gran Prix is to the race course. With construction ongoing on the Milwaukee Street Bridge, race organizers had to choose a new route unless they planned on building a jump over the Rock River.
That would have been highly entertaining for spectators, though probably less so for racers.
The updated course is roughly shaped like a dog bone. The Court Street Bridge connects a set of four-turn rectangles on each side of the Rock River.
Instead of crossing the Rock River and continuing to Jackson Street like last year, racers will make a sharp left turn at Franklin Street and circle the block before heading back east toward the river on Court Street.
After turning left onto Main Street, racers will turn right, making a short climb up Milwaukee Street before turning right again for a sprint to the finish line on Parker Drive in front of The Gazette building.
Janesville’s course includes eight turns—the most of any course on the Tour of America’s Dairyland. The two cornering sections could help breakaway riders pull away from the slower-moving peloton (the main pack)—and stay ahead, Tour of America’s Dairyland executive director Bill Koch said.
Taking up a viewing position along Court Street would allow spectators to see the field twice each lap. The long straightaways could also be the launching pad for breakaway attempts, especially when the pack is eastbound.
Bryan Fratianne believes those straightaways—1,427 feet long apiece, Janesville race chairman Paul Murphy said—will make things difficult for racers in the middle or back of the peloton. The Janesville native is in the midst of his second Tour of America’s Dairyland bid. He recorded top-25 finishes in the men’s 4/5 division at each of the first two stages, including a personal-best 17th place finish in East Troy on Friday.
“It’s going to be a lot harder to move up through the field in those areas,” Fratianne said of the straightaways. “I can see the pace either going up or down in those areas because it’ll be really strung out and really hard to move up.”
For spectators keen on watching furious sprints, finding a spot near the finish line would be the best bet.
“Like any human being, you are driven by the feedback and response from your audience. You’re seeing this concentration of people twice,” Mathews said of the “dogbone” course. “It should create more adrenaline for the racers.”
Listen for the ringing of a bell. That indicates a prime—it rhymes with “beam”—has been initiated. It’s a one-lap mini-race, an added incentive for riders to push their way to the front of the pack for the chance to win cash.
What is criterium racing?
A criterium race takes place on a short, closed course. It’s a non-stop sprint—especially when primes are involved. The top cyclists will exceed 30 mph at times.
Koch described criterium racing as “NASCAR on two wheels.”
Criteriums are easier to set up and quicker than their more well-known counterpart—road races such as the Tour de France.
Criterium racers must be able to ride safely while surrounded by other riders and be able to accelerate and corner quickly.
The short course keeps the peloton compact, though strong riders at the front of the pack might attempt to set a pace weaker riders can’t maintain. There are frequent breakaway attempts as riders try to win primes or pull away for a stage victory.
Officials monitor the early portions of the race, gauging the pace of the peloton to determine a lap count that will bring the race to a conclusion at its designated time.
So, if a race is scheduled to last an hour, officials might use the first 20 minutes to establish a lap count that will bring the race to an end 40 minutes later.
How does Janesville fit in?
The Town Square Gran Prix will mark the midpoint of the Tour for most racers, but it might hold more significance to racers in the two master’s divisions.
Janesville will host the first of six stages in the 40-plus master’s division, while also serving as the final stage for the 50-plus master’s division.
Last year, master’s racers were split by skill level, with both groups competing across all 11 stages. The new schedule should be easier for working professionals to fit into their calendars, Murphy said.
“They can be away from their profession, take a week’s vacation and go bike racing for a week,” Murphy said.
Australia’s Peta Mullens and Great Britain’s Harriet Owen share the women’s pro division lead through Sunday’s stage in Waukesha.
Owen won the women’s pro race last year in Janesville.
Two-time reigning champion Rebecca Wiasak was in 30th through three stages but could have something to say in the title race still. The Australian placed third Sunday.
Cesar Marte won Saturday at Grafton to cement his lead atop the men’s pro division. Marte, 26, made headlines in 2014, when he accepted a two-year suspension from the United States Anti-Doping Agency for a doping violation.
The Tour of America’s Dairyland is in West Bend today for its fifth stage.
Riders earn points based on their finish at each stage. Naturally, the riders that compete in all 11 stages will have an advantage over those that skip some. Thirty points are awarded for winning a stage.
The top 20 finishers in each race earn points toward their division’s overall title.
Division leaders will be wearing cowhide-patterned jerseys.