Sunday, June 26, 2016

ToAD 2016: Great ... Eventually

When the Tour of America’s Dairyland began on June 17, many of the biggest names in domestic criterium racing were elsewhere. Tulsa Tough had just concluded on the previous weekend. In Minnesota, the North Star Grand Prix was in progress and would run through June 19. Did the lack of star power matter? Would the presence of, say, ace sprinter Daniel Holloway have brought out bigger crowds for the opening weekend and the start of the new week? I don’t know.

But I do know this: until Holloway arrived on Thursday the women’s field at ToAD was far more interesting than the men’s. Tina Pic and Laura Van Gilder were here. So too was Kaitlin Antonneau, the Racine native who is better known as a world-class cyclocross racer. But the West Allis sister act of Samantha and Skylar Schneider was missing, as were star sprinters like Erica Allar and Alison Tetrick. The mighty UnitedHealthcare team arrived on Wednesday and immediately produced victories by Katie Compton (our 12-time defending national cyclocross champion), Lauren Tamayo (a silver medalist in the team pursuit on the velodrome at the 2012 London Olympics), and Coryn Rivera (the 2014 national criterium champion). Samantha and Skylar showed up for yesterday’s race and finished 1st and 2nd, respectively. Tamayo won the series finale today in Wauwatosa.

Holloway finished on the podium in each of his 4 ToAD appearances, winning at Bay View on Friday. His presence alone was enough to elevate the men’s field to relevance. But things got even better this weekend when the UnitedHealthcare men’s team finally took an interest. Ty Magner won yesterday at Downer Avenue and placed 2nd behind teammate John Murphy today. UHC is a Pro Continental squad, one step down from the top tier of professional teams worldwide. It was the only Pro Continental team at ToAD this year and that’s too bad, but it showed up for the only dates that really made sense in a complicated season that forces it to cross the country several times. Chasing paydays on the American crit circuit is tough on racers and tough on team budgets.

ToAD is a great series but there is a big difference from the first weekend to the last. There’s no “general classification,” per se, so riders come and go. At the professional level you can’t really tell a story about ToAD in the same way you can about the Tour de France, where the winner races every stage, exploiting his strengths on some stages and using his teammates to minimize his vulnerabilities on others. At ToAD every day stands alone, but not every day offers the same prize money or prestige, so sometimes the fields are anonymous and the crowds disinterested.

I hasten to add that dedicated amateurs do pursue overall series titles at ToAD by racing every day, and winning is no small accomplishment. But the amateur ranks don’t bring out the crowds. It’s just a shame that with a busy national racing calendar that spans the lower 48 states, there isn’t a way for ToAD to attract and keep the big stars for the entire series. Every race could be important, instead of just a few.

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