Words by Chris Dennis. Images from Jon Ninmer.
What is Tour of America’s Dairylands (ToAD)?
ToAD is 11 days of criterium racing on different courses in various locations around Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The women’s racing is split into two events – the Pro/Cat 1/Cat 2 group which is similar pace to Australia’s NRS racing but much more aggressive and with an exceptionally high skill level. The other event is the Cat 3/Cat 4/Cat 5 which is a pace similar to Australian state level (e.g. VRS) crit racing, but with a skill level similar to or higher than our NRS races.
Why we race ToAD
A) It jams an entire Australian year of high level crit racing into two weeks so athletes can accelerate their learning/development. For development athletes it provides an opportunity to hone race craft you simply can’t get in Australia. For NRS athletes, it takes them to new levels of skills and fitness.
B) It’s a very comfortable introduction to international racing for those wishing to do more, or go to Europe in the future
C) It’s an amazing experience to travel to the other side of the world and race your bike, meet new people, and have a thousand people watch you race every day.
D) Oh, and the prize money…it’s solid. Thousands of dollars up for grabs every race, with multiple sprint primes and payment down to 15th place. If you race well, you can make enough to cover your spending money, and maybe even your flights over!
Athletes racing ToAD 2018
Racing Pro/Cat 1/Cat 2
Emma “Chiller” Chilton: Chiller is a chiller. She’s also a gun. National U19 track champion and record holder. Most recently won a VRS stage in Tour of South West on a sprint finish. She is a sprinter, with plenty of experience…for someone who turned 20 a couple of days before she jumped on the plane to get here. This is the first step for her if she wants to pursue a career in cycling. Once she finishes ToAD she’s going to race ‘Intelligentsia Cup’ (similar race in Chicago) with ‘Fast Chance’, a new US women’s development team, and then on to World Uni Games in Portugal. ToAD is about race experience for Chiller, it’s about learning positioning and how to post results in a field full of Olympians and national champions.
Kirsty “Krusty” Deacon: Krusty is declared as such because of the way she rides - it’s kind of a no-holds-barred, lay everything on the line, throw a few elbows, take it to the limit (and sometimes a little beyond) kind of style. The first time she raced for us she crashed early, took plenty of bark off, got back on, got back in, then proceeded to bomb off the front Cyndi Lauper style (time after time). I have a cool photo of her gassing it off the front, with blood pouring down her leg, giving it everything. That’s just Krusty. Her goal for ToAD is to learn how to ‘bash’ people in the bunch - to be able to get physical with other riders so she doesn’t get muscled off wheels. We have no doubt she’ll pick it up fairly quickly!
Racing Cat 3/Cat 4/Cat 5
Alice “Debbers” Debney: Alice doesn’t know it yet, but she’s a natural racer. Imagine Lindsey Von if she took up crit racing! Strong, natural competitor, corners like she’s racing slalom, and happy to dust herself off if she bins it. Her goal for ToAD is to get race experience. My goal for her is to podium the whole thing.
Maddy “Maddy B” Beevors: Loves hills, and bulk kays…of which there are none at ToAD! ToAD for her is about getting comfortable with the push and shove of a 40-person racing bunch. Being a Heffron veteran, the courses won’t bother her - it’s more about getting a feel for aggressive racing. Given her penchant for long rides and long degrees ToAD will be a slow burn for Maddy B - one lesson at a time, never rushed, but come out of it 11 solid steps ahead of where she started. Feel something strong in this one I do - it’s going to be a pleasure to watch her build her race legs and gas her first attack off the bunch and breathe that clean racing air!
Day 1: ToAD Hall
There was wind in the willows, and rain, and just a general 'we might as well be in England' feel about the day. Dreary at best. It literally didn’t stop raining. But, that didn’t dampen some pretty exciting racing.
All our athletes rode very controlled and gutsy races in what were very difficult conditions.
The race plan for all was to get in a good position and watch how the other athletes race (who are mid-season, after months of racing already). And they pretty much did just that. Krusty and Debbers sat in the ‘office’ in their respective races, and Maddy B and Chiller tacked onto the back of the main bunch in theirs. All did a bit of slipping and sliding across the wet, greasy roads, but stayed upright and finished well: Alice 9th and Maddy 11th in Cat 3 (field of 30-40) and Chiller 3rd and Krusty 9th in Cat 2 - with Chiller rolling 14th overall for Cat1 (field of 40).
And importantly $100AUD in the kitty already!
Happy athletes - very happy manager - and no rain forecast for Day 2.
Day 2: ToAD the wet sprocket
It was forecast for no rain… but it rained, oh my word it did - both the precipitations kind, and the green dollar bill kind!
Plan for the day was to build on yesterday, so:
A) For Alice and Kirsty, from their comfortable position in their respective offices, jump on a break or two to test their legs in open water, just to get a measure of where they’re at.
B) for Maddy and Emma, get up into their respective offices, to get in a position where they can get more involved with the race.
So how’d it go?
Positively delightful. Like a proud dad I am!
Alice and Maddy opened up proceedings in Cat 3 by sitting nicely in the front third of the bunch and watching things pan out for a few laps - at which point Alice decided to bomb an inside line and scoot away for a few laps…exactly as planned - and fortuitously right in front of me, so I got to see all the action! She did so early enough in the race that she could sit back in and then sprint for a $50 prime and a 5th place finish.
Maddy had a couple of very meaningful wins - getting comfortable in the bunch, settling into the drops for the whole race, and getting comfortable and flowing through the corners - one of those moments when something just clicks and you get to the next level of your racing…that is what ToAD is all about.
And the Cat 1/Cat 2 race was a similar story with Kirsty and Emma sitting pretty for a while before Kirsty attacked the bunch (using the same inside line, I might add) and gapping the field for a lap. It was early on, and the bunch was frisky (and full of Olympic track stars) so she got reigned in without much hesitation.
Emma also had a ‘light-bulb’ moment, realising that this isn’t the VRS, so she can’t pull a Wiasak and sit on the back of the race and rely on her strength to bring her up for the final lap sprint. She’s gotta move early and get in good position well before the last laps.
See you tomorrow for Day 3, the Giro d’ Grafton which is a personal favourite of mine from last year.
Day 3: ToADtally kicking goals!
And with the sunshine came a shining star!
Today was Emma’s turn to flick the switch and step up a level. She’s been a bit tentative in the wet, but today she got right up in the mix of Cat 1/2 - winning a sprint prime and sprinting into 11th place. It is hard to describe how impressively she rode today. It was a fast race - very fast - full gas…so fast there were no breakaways, though Peta Mullens, Ash Ankudinoff, Sharlotte Lucas and Katie Compton (15 time US CX Champ) all had a go. Emma now sits 18th on GC.
Kirsty sat out (due to a cold) but came and watched the action - nothing like spectating to light a fire in our desire!
Alice and Maddy both started well - both up in the office, getting things done. Then Maddy got caught up behind an ‘almost crash’ and couldn’t get back on. She spent her time focusing on cornering (there was one hectic down-hill right hander). She was happily gassing on with her little grummet, making every minute count! Alice chased a few primes to no avail and came in 15th in a huge field of 48 women. She has settled into the racing well and sits 6th on GC.
I had a good chat to Arunkon (Owner/Manager/DS) of Fearless Femme, who was really happy to see us in the US again. He’s keen to try and send a few US girls out for the Aussie summer - which might add an extra dimension to our summer adventures at Heffron/Stromlo/St Kilda!
Once again, Giro d’ Grafton didn’t disappoint - it remains my favourite course at ToAD.
Day 4: Fortitu-oADs the order of the day
It’s Day 4 - and now we learn how to race!!
With the nervous energy well and truly drained from their veins, and weariness creeping into the muscles, the girls now have to race smart to keep getting their results especially against the athletes who are race hardened after a couple of months on the job.
It’s all the little things now:
A) Get a good start, so you’re in solid position if the bunch gas it off the start.
B) Maintain good position so you’ve got some room to play with if the bunch surges, or you’re a bit slower on the hills or through corners.
C) Stay out of the wind.
D) Suck wheels.
E) Look through the corners so you’re smooth and don’t wash off speed.
F) Look well ahead into the bunch so you can anticipate the bunch and are not wasting energy using brakes or chasing surges.
G) Eat. Drink.
H) Warm up properly.
I) Warm down properly, roll and rest.
J) Be smart about when you expend your energy.
From little things, big things grow.
PS: Good news - Kirsty is back on the job. Bad news - Alice took a day out today with a cold.
Day 5/6: ToADwards the finish line
ToADay we are officially on the down-hill run with 6 down and 5 to go. So, let’s do a recap of the last two days:
Day 5: West Bend
The theme for today was all the simple things - good positioning and a bit of a consolidation day, nothing fancy - a mental health break, as such.
For Maddy, this meant getting a good start and getting in solid position straight off the gun, to make sure she could maintain position when the bunch surge, which she did perfectly…until she had a little lie down on the side of the road…pushed into the gutter round the last corner of the first lap. Neutral put her back into the race just behind the bunch which meant she couldn’t get back on and couldn’t organise her little group to work well together to chase down. We’d already discussed that scenario though - so it’s always Plan B and focus on your second-tier goals namely smooth cornering, power down early, and make life easy for yourself.
Alice wanted to focus on good position through the race and then hitting the last corner in a good enough position to contest the sprint. All went well, but she got pushed out on the last lap, so was a bit behind on the sprint and rolled 6th – still a pretty handy result!
The Cat 1/Cat 2 race sort of just putted along. The Fearless Femme team sent Ash Ankudinoff up the road for 40 minutes, so the race was about people getting organised to chase her back. Then when they did Georgia Baker and Katie Compton countered...and that was the race. Emma had a crack and rolled 9th. Kirsty tapped in after a bit of ‘cat herding’ duty making sure Emma wasn’t loitering up the back too much.
Also - we caught up with Lizzie Standard, a 21-year-old New Zealand girl that I’ve been talking to about riding for us. She (and her mate Kate Smith, a 19yr old NZ track beast) are both riding for team Hollander. It turns out they’re as lovely as they seem on email, so we’ll start racing as a little team hence forth! Just don’t tell anyone! Lizzie rolled in 13th.
Day 6 Janesville
It’s days like these that keep guys like me (and Dan and Jessie) around.
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that Maddy B has had some bad luck, getting caught up behind a crash, a couple of bad starts, and a little crash of her own, and as such has been struggling to stay in the mix.
So, Day 6 I asked Alice to play domestique for Maddy, to make sure she stuck to the bunch. Generally, the racing is pretty solid for the first 5-10 minutes as the Cat 3 girls blow out all the Cat 4/5 girls and then settle down to racing. So, if you can hang in there for the blow-out, you’re good for the race.
So, Alice, who’s 6th on GC, and has been slowly been building her bank account cleaning up the primes, spent the first 35 minutes making sure Maddy was in the mix, dropping back and leading her through the bunch, yelling at her a bit, pushing her into gaps she didn’t know was there, all done in true Alice fashion!
And Maddy, true to her tenacious self, made sure she was in good position as often as she could, and followed Alice into gaps that weren’t there, and did exactly what she was told. Maddy hung in for the bunch finish (19th) even after another couple of ‘bad luck’ incidents including having neutral spares gaffer-tape her shoe on and replace her E-tap battery as both had been damaged in yesterday’s crash.
Oh, and when I released Alice from domestique duties with 5 laps to go, she gassed it off the front on the last lap and came in third for our team’s first ToAD podium, which was also her goal for the race.
And THAT is what this team is all about.
The Cat 1 race was…hectic at best
A gentle beer before the race revealed that $5K in primes were on offer, so Fearless and ISCorp (the two best teams) would be focusing on the big primes $500, $1000, $2000 and likely would not worry about the win. So Vie13 KOM and our little Kiwi mates thought we’d sneak in for a few early primes and then try a mid-race break to try and sneak away for the win – which can work because the organisers will make the primes just for the main bunch if a break gets away with a big lead, so if you only want to chase cash primes there’s no point chasing the break.
That was until they called a prime on the second lap and then every 3 laps after, and none of them were small, and it started pissing down with rain, and then it started raining Olympians and US Champions and things got very fast, very real, very hectic…and a little bit scary-dangerous.
Kirsty snuck off the front for a lap but then it was all over. The girls just sat in, stayed upright and all came home safe.
A very good result in the end!
And now they’re even hungrier to get amongst the action.
Stay tuned for Port Washington.
Day 7: TooooADear!
I think it has something to do with the ‘Port’ in Port Washington. It’s kinda like ”yeah, we’re an old port town, so we’re gonna make this hard, like the olden days, when ships were made of wood and men were made of steel!” Except, because they’re not a proper port (i.e. they’re only on a giant lake, not an ocean) they’re overcompensating in a massive way so it ends up being properly hard, people getting shelled like blue swimmer crabs on the Chesapeake!
They said this year would be easier than last year. Except it wasn’t. Off the home straight there was a one-minute power climb (maxing out at 15%) followed by a roller-coaster descent. Then repeat 20-30 times. Only 10-20 riders finished each race.
Good news, Alice finished in Cat 3, and came in 12th and is now 5th in the GC for Cat 3.
Even better news - Lizzie Stannard appears to like hills - bossing up with a smile on her face, throwing down attacks like a wild woman, just to see if Scandolara had turned up race fit! Unfortunately, Lizzie couldn’t stay away on the descent and ended up getting reeled in by Bec Wiasak every time she got away on the hill. She finished 7th in what was a pretty impressive performance.
Emma is now 3rd in the GC for Cat 2.
From tomorrow onwards we’re back into flat racing and big crowds. It should be a smooth ride to the finish line.
Day 8: ToADumm….ToADumm….ToADumm…
That is the jaws-theme sound of Bec Waisak, lurking around the back of the bunch, waiting to eat up sprint primes!
Shorewood is a delightful suburb nestled on the banks of Lake (more like ocean!) Michigan, with big ass houses and big wide flat streets built roughly on a grid system so the crit course is a big wide flat square…so how do you reckon it panned it?
Actually, Ash Ankudinoff won off a late break and Bec sprant to third (yes, I reckon that’s a word!).
But, let’s get back to what matters:
Cat 3 race
Maddy sat the day out so she’s got fresh legs for the final three days. Generally, everyone tries to sit out one day while they’re here cause 11 days is pretty taxing, on the mind as much as the legs.
Alice, starting to feel better from the cold, went to work double time! The last four days of racing are known as the ‘lowlands’ as they’re all close to Lake Michigan, so flat fast courses. As such, they add a ‘Sprinters Classification’ for the Lowlands segment of ToAD…which, of course, Alice wants to win! So, she commenced proceedings by taking the sprinters jersey. And she rolled in 5th and is now 4th on GC. Maddy is 9th on GC, from a field of 35.
I think we can be pretty proud of both of them!
Cat 1/Cat 2 race
I keep meaning to take a photo of the Cat 1 bunch because it would highlight something pretty special about our girls. Kirsty and Lizzie are 21 years old and Emma is 20. The bunch they are riding with includes:
Katie Compton - 15 times US CX champion
Bec Waisak - 2 x world champ, Comm games silver medalist and current Australian crit champ
Ash Ankudinoff and Georgia Baker - Olympians, Comm Games gold medalists
Peta Mullens - previous Australian crit champ and been pro for almost as long as our girls have been alive!
The Japanese track team
Valentina Scandolara - no introduction needed
Jess Mundy and Josie Talbot – both been pro over here for a couple of years
It’s pretty special seeing our just-out-of-juniors athletes ducking in and out of the office in that sort of company!
The key for them now is changing the way they race, now that they’re not big fish in the junior pond. They are all strong and fit, with great bike skills and plenty of experience but now they are in a race where EVERYONE has those attributes. So, they have to learn to race as a team. They can’t just rely on their ridiculous talent to win races. One-woman breaks need to become slingshots and counters, and head-to-head sprints for the line need to become lead outs from a lap out.
And that is our focus for the next three days!
Lizzie is sitting 19th on Cat 1 GC
Emma is 2nd on Cat 2 GC (9 points behind the leader)
Kirsty is 17th on Cat 2 GC (after missing two races to illness).
Day 9: TwoAD to go
I’m sure there’s some rule about not letting the kids go outside when it hits 100 degrees…there’s definitely a law of nature that makes it so!
Cat 3 raced at 11.00am, which was their latest start, and came on the hottest day thus far. That combined with a cracking pace and short course (800m) meant Maddy and Alice struggled in the heat and ended up getting pulled (along with two thirds of the field). Alice had an impromptu lie down in the grass post-race while her body decided it best stay still while it cooled down. By the time I got on site, she was gibbering away to the locals, making friends like your grandma at a CWA meeting - everything back to normal!
Cat 1: enter a big ass bag of ice and 10 pairs of stockings! It legit said 99 degrees on the truck thermometer. And my lord those girls raced well. Everyone where they should be: Emma and Lizzie in each other’s pockets in the office and Kirsty wherever she was needed - off the front, back in the bunch, and most importantly, there for Emma when some pelican jumped an inside line only to realise it wasn’t there and promptly took down half the bunch – Peta Mullens with a broken wrist and Emma with a broken bike.
Kirsty hung around neutral spares while Emma’s bike was getting fixed, to make sure she got back in the race and then when it turned out neutral hadn’t done such a good job on Emma’s bike, gave Emma her bike. Unfortunately, she didn’t give Emma her slightly-reduced-in-length legs….so Emma could only really tap round for the rest of the race to make sure she accumulated some omnium points. Lizzie continued riding well to roll 11th in the bunch sprint.
All of which was followed by the Womens’ Cycling Dinner at Centraal Cafe at which all our young ladies presented themselves well making polite conversation with a variety of dinner guests and partaking in delicate portions of delicious morsels while I pummeled a gallon of coca-cola, sweating like a pig in bare feet watching the pro men and concluding that my self-preservation instinct is waaaaaaaaaay too high to ever consider racing with those guys!
Tomorrow we shall see how Emma’s hip is, get her bike fixed, and hopefully saddle back up.
In the words of the once great and always legendary Gary Ryan of Vie13 Kustom Apparel, “Das is Racing”.
Day 10: ToADay was a good day.
Actually, they’ve all been good days, even the ones when we didn’t get the results we wanted cause that’s the point of ToAD – it’s a space to try stuff you wouldn’t normally, to have ups and downs, and to learn a bucket load about racing and yourself.
Having said that, it’s nice when everything comes together on race day! Everyone was back on their game today. The sun and rain finally found some middle ground. No crashes. No mechanicals. No bike swaps. And $5 cheese burgers raining from the heavens!
Everyone rode the race they were meant to. So, I pretty much stood on the side line and watched them do their thing. Which was a delightful respite to prepare me for what will be a nervous (for me!) day of racing tomorrow.
Emma is currently leading Cat 2, so is the highest ranked ‘amateur’ in the Cat1/2 field. There are a couple of solid girls chasing her, but another solid race today will see her hold onto the jersey. A bit of help from Lizzie and Kirsty again today should seal the deal.
Alice is currently 4th in Cat 3, well within reach of 3rd if she continues to hit it like she has been. And everyone else is in the top 20 in their category.
So, two podiums, everyone in the top 20, some cheese, and a fair swag of cash sounds like a pretty good tour to me!
Let’s see how it all pans out!
Another day very much like yesterday – everyone doing what they set out to do and quite impressively.
So, we ended up:
Alice 3rd, 3rd in sprinters class, and 2 x podiums (3rd)
So, if I may take you back a few days to when we were setting goals for the tour:
Emma “Chiller” Chilton: ToAD is about race experience for Chiller - it’s about learning positioning and how to post results in a field full of Olympians and national champions.
Result: Achieved. Clearly.
Kirsty “Krusty” Deacon: Her goal for ToAD is to learn how to ‘bash’ people in the bunch - to be able to get physical with other riders so she doesn’t get muscled off wheels. We have no doubt she’ll pick it up fairly quickly!
Result: Achieved. One of the best domestique efforts I’ve seen in the three years I’ve been doing this. It felt like I was working with a pro.
Alice “Debbers” Debney: Her goal for ToAD is to get race experience. My goal for her is to podium the whole thing.
Result: Achieved. On both counts.
Maddy “Maddy B” Beevors: Given her penchant for long rides, ToAD will be a slow burn for Maddy B, one lesson at a time, never rushed, but the goal is to come out of it 11 solid steps ahead of where she started.
Result: Achieved. Every day. One of my favourite moments of ToAD was watching her tapping away at the front of the bunch at Janesville with a big cheesy grin on her face.
Lizzie Stannard: Lizzie’s goal was to catch up with us at ToAD (after a few email exchanges, and a bit of hopelessness on my part), and have a chat about racing with us back home. Which she did - bombed up to us on the second day, and the rest is history. Lizzie is a perfect fit for our crazy-casual-professional-ness. We’re very glad to have her on board.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we do ToAD.
Wrap-up from the athletes
Emma Chilton and Kirsty Deacon
Firstly, thank you so much to all the sponsors and supporters that helped us get over and race in the US.
We've had an awesome time here and have gained so much experience from racing! If any of you girls are considering doing it next year we highly recommend heading over!
We are still in the US looking forward to a few more races with Fast Chance (an American team that invited us to stay longer and race with them). This Thursday we head to Detroit for two crits and then we are off to Chicago to race Intelligentsia to wrap up our time here. We've had a great time so far and are really excited about this opportunity.
Maddy Beevors and Alice Debney
On our first few rides around Milwaukee one of the things that astounded me was the respect and love the locals seemed to have for cyclists. Cars would give us heaps of space on the road, people on the street would cheer for us and yell things like "girl power!", we had a couple of people we had never met buy us coffee (and somebody invite us back to their house, but that's a story for another day), and a commuter ride out of his way to show us the way to the lake. A local police officer introduced us to their police dog (which was Kirsty's dream come true as she wanted to meet an American police officer), and a fun evening was spent when the power went out (as a result of which we couldn't sit on our phones because the wifi was down) where we ventured out to find frozen yoghurt and didn't want to walk back so jumped on Bublr bikes (think like oBikes but people don't leave them in the Yarra).
We were very fortunate to stay with Mark, who was an extremely social guy. He took Maddie and I to a 4th of July party on our last night where we watched a 45-minute firework display over Lake Michigan, and out for dinner and frozen custard, a Wisconsin delicacy, on our second last night.
With Americans being so friendly in general, all the locals I came across seemed very enthusiastic about having a bike race up their street. Local businesses sponsored primes and the Dairyland farmers provided free chocolate milk!
This was my experience racing Cat 3:
Before the first race I was extremely nervous to say the least! This was largely due to the wet conditions. Having participated in a total of 5 criteriums before racing ToAD I still considered myself extremely green. I spent the first half of the first race very close to the back and absolutely terrified of the wet road, losing places on the corners when I did manage to make my way further up, and having to sprint back on. Toward the end of that first race I figured it was a lot less work to stay near the front, and picking someone with good skills who takes good lines saves energy and teaches you the best line to take on the corners. I also learned that cornering over a manhole in the rain does not necessarily result in having a crash. I was finding it easier to take the corners super tight like a slalom course, but I discovered taking them wider was just as easy if I merely bloody looked where I was going, in the same way I did when I took the corners tight! So, by the last day, I was using the corners to sometimes even gain places (for example, if the person in front of you doesn't take the exact line of the person in front of them BAM you've stolen a wheel!) instead of losing my position. I also discovered you can run over a lot of stuff on the road (manholes, rough pavement, some potholes - not absolutely everything on the course but a lot of things that I would have previously dodged) that you may not think you can run over. So, I stopped wasting energy on dodging stuff I didn't need to pretty much. Witnessing the team work executed by the dominating teams was great to watch too, and it will be fun to try some of their moves out in the future when there are a few more of us!
All in all the US and ToAD was a great experience. My legs are not even keeping up with my mum on a casual stroll at the moment because they're so wrecked ... but no regrets!
I am currently writing this from my couch-that-doubles-as-a-bed in a downtown Vancouver apartment, with the pins up for the third-to-last BC Superweek crit later tonight. I have spent the last 4 days sick so am hoping to pull a successful weekend out of the bag and make a bit of a name for myself (as well as earn some money needed for groceries...). Luckily the courses here are hard, with some elevation to be gained and some World Tour teams to put the hammer down - a style of racing which suits me pretty well. There is big money here too... Tuesday's race had $12,000 for the win plus thousands in primes, so it has been really hard being confined to the couch instead of chasing breaks and riding at speed. My mantra "suck it up, buttercup" has been put to good use this week!
Racing over here has been fantastic in that I've raced for almost 20 days in a row, allowing me to apply the learnings from each day to the next, and to improve my riding technically, tactically and (hopefully!) physiologically in a short period of time. The best part has, however, been meeting new people and creating contacts, as cycling is often not about how good you are (well, yes it is....) but about who you know and what opportunities you can create for yourself.