Tour of America's Dairyland Cycling Series Moves Final Act to Wauwatosa
The 11-day series, touted by organizers as the largest competitive cycling event in the country, is moving its closing race from Madison to East Tosa next year. It will follow the sensational Downer Classic.
Billed as the biggest competitive cycling event in the United States, the 11-day Tour of America's Dairyland will end in Wauwatosa next year and thereafter.
Already scheduled for June 30, 2013, the final day of the race series will center on the East Tosa business district along West North Avenue.
The Tosa race day, a Sunday, will follow the hugely popular Downer Classic on Milwaukee's east side on Saturday, which drew 30,000 spectators this year.
The East Tosa Alliance, a group formed to promote the business district and neighborhood, has signed on as the principal local organizing sponsor for the race, with a first right of refusal for subsequent years.
The Tour of America's Dairyland — ToAD for short — holds 10 back-to-back events on consecutive days in the metro Milwaukee and Fox Valley areas. But the series has culminated on its 11th day with a final race around Capitol Square in Madison.
Next year, it's that race that moves to North Avenue in Tosa.
Criterium racing: A full day of constant action
Most of the Tour races, principally sponsored by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, are criterium races rather than road races. Criteriums take place on short urban loops rather than across country.
"In a road race, (spectators) find your spot, wait hours and watch the riders go by once or twice," said Ed Haydin of the East Tosa Alliance. "In a criterium, you watch them come by 80 or 90 times."
The Tour races, with multiple age divisions for men and women, and even a race for kids, go all day and into the evening,
Local amateurs race for pride against professionals who come from all over, even from abroad, to take part and vie for prizes. The 2011 race series awarded more than $130,000 to winners.
It isn't the huge stakes of the Tour de France and other purely professional events, but it's always a big day for area businesses and a thrill for locals and visitors.
Jack Hirt, the executive director of ToAD, said some Downer Avenue business owners have told him that the Saturday of the Downer Classic is their biggest day of the year.
"When we went into Fond du Lac four years ago, they had nothing going on in the summer except Walleye Weekend," Hirt said. "The race went from a couple thousand spectators the first year to 15,000 this year.
"Now, they're putting in new restaurants and scheduling other events."
How the race came home to Tosa
Hirt, who lives in Wauwatosa, happens to be a neighbor and friend of 5th District Ald. Joel Tilleson, and this year invited Tilleson and Haydin to come watch the Tour's Schlitz Park Criterium on June 26, a Tuesday.
"The idea for a Wauwatosa race came over beers at Walter's after Schlitz Park," Tilleson said.
Before the week was out, Tilleson, at Hirt's invitation, had persuaded Mayor Kathy Ehley to attend the Downer Classic on Saturday — and to share a ride in the Tour's pace car, a Mini Cooper convertible.
"It was really exciting," Tilleson said, "and I think the mayor bought into bringing that to Tosa right away."
Tilleson said the Wauwatosa Police Department has indicated it's willing to work with the organizers, and other area alderman have signed on, too.
It makes a good deal of sense to finish the Tour in Tosa. Not only Hirt but also the two other major organizers of ToAD — Tom Schuler and Bill Koch — live here.
Schuler has a storied career in bike racing and owns Team Sports Inc., a sports management company. He was a co-founder of the 7-Eleven Cycling team, the first American team to compete in the Tour de France, and is an inductee in the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame.
East Tosa's new energy makes it a candidate
"Criterium racing was once really big in Wisconsin," Hirt said, "but it kind of died out. Schuler and I and some others decided to try to revive it, and that's how the Tour came to be.
"We said, 'Let's put Wisconsin back on the map.' We knew we could recruit pros, masters and amateurs, and we went to communities that used to have races and others that seemed like they'd be welcoming.
"Wauwatosa came onto the map because, living here, we saw business people and residents getting involved in North Avenue again," Hirt said. "From the initiative that the East Tosa Alliance has been taking, we thought it could be a really good combination."
Moving the final race to Tosa from the iconic Capitol Square was not that difficult a decision, either, Hirt said. There are so many events on the Square all summer, including the farmers market each Saturday, that the race didn't stand out all that much, and many businesses didn't stay open on Sunday to promote it.
"When we look for factors in a community to host a race, we're looking for a really strong community partner to generate the hype, get businesses involved, get a lot of spectators to come out," Hirt said. "It's marketing the economic impact — and East Tosa is eager for that."
Then there's the aging factor.
"I'm really beat after those 11 days," Hirt said. "So being able to walk home Sunday night instead of driving home from Madison, that's worth it right there."