A post-race ritual like no other in bike racing and it was quite needed. Between the ~1,200 calories, we burned every night and the muscle damage that occurred after 11 straight days of some of the fastest criterium racing in the country, protein, and sugar were welcome nutrients for our bodies.

I wouldn’t call myself a criterium racer per se. I can race them, and growing up racing in New England, I’ve learned how to do fairly well at them at times. But genetically, my disposition is towards long, steady efforts, not 4 sprints per minute. That invariably leaves me with a bit of a disadvantage, but one that is easily negated by using brains and not brawn. Eleven days is a long time; one half of a Tour de France. So the first half of the 2018 Tour of America’s Dairyland was spent towards the back, utilizing brain in order to have the ability to use whatever brawn I would have left during the second half.

It was, of course, strange to roll up to the race every night at 6p (a time at which, on most race days, I would be contemplating how long until I could go to bed). Stranger still was the fact that it was June 21st and I still hadn’t raced a true criterium yet this year. Day 1 was spent simply figuring out how to corner at 50 kph again.

Twilight criteriums really make for a weird time schedule. Everything gets shifted about 4 hours forward; so instead of waking up at 8a, you wake up at noon. Instead of eating lunch at 1p, you’re eating breakfast then. And of course, instead of racing at 4p, you’re racing at 8p. The worst part (or best part, depending on who you ask) is going to sleep. You can’t go home after the race and expect to do such a thing. The adrenaline is still flowing and there’s the time consuming and ever-present discussion with teammates regarding how “if I just gone left instead of going right, I would’ve won”. Or in my case, “I can’t believe we have to do this for 10 more days.”

I could do an in-depth report of each day but I won’t because as I said before, 11 days is a long time and truthfully, I’m not the greatest bike racer in the world so most of the races were spent trying to only get 1 tooth kicked in each night instead of all of them. But no race report is a race report without an actual race report, so I’ll give a few short ones about the races I could say I did okay at.

Day 5 of ToAD in West Bend, WI was the day I had decided I would start actually doing some racing. It was a great course with six corners, the first half being a bit uphill and the last few corners being after a great downhill in which we hit speeds of 40 mph without even pedaling. I played some games, followed a few attacks, but ultimately it was to come down to a sprint so I began sitting back a bit. I somehow found myself on the front of the entire bike race with about 4 laps to go, and despite being quite interesting and unexpected, it still wasn’t the weirdest thing to happen that night. Instead, that award would go to the fact that I went from first to 46th in four laps, which is the equivalent of going from first to last*** any local P/1/2/3 criterium (mostly because there aren’t even 46 starters sometimes in local elite races). Every night of racing seemed to have a theme, and this one was unequivocal, “you suck at holding position in the closing laps.”

Day 6 was a new course in Janesville, about 90 minutes outside of Milwaukee. It rained all day, and when it rains in Milwaukee, it rains as if the skies are dumping Lake Michigan on you because, well, they are. It was dry for the first 30 seconds of the race before Lake Michigan came down on us. Yet despite the rain and the panic that sets in when 40 people crash 50 feet in front of you and you realize your brakes don’t work anymore because of the rain, I would consider it to be the best day of racing all week. Of course, $5,800 in primes didn’t hurt, but the atmosphere, the course, and the entire town of Janesville really made it a fantastic race. I found the front with 2 laps to go, teammate on my wheel, brought back the breakaway by myself, and he scored 15th against some of the best racers in the country. A successful day.

Day 7 was the notorious Port Washington Criterium. The course last year was essentially a 2 minute climb followed by a 1 minute descent but this year they changed it to a much less climber friendly course. Instead of a 2 minute climb, it was shortened to 40 seconds, making it just a really long sprint each lap instead of a strategic slugfest. I made it 22 minutes this year, which sounds really bad but considering only 24 riders finished on the lead lap (of about 100 who started) and the fact that I (believe) I was the last rider to be pulled out of the race, my result doesn’t actually look too horrible. Regardless of where I finished though, it was the most painful 22 minutes of my life (thank you to Colin Strickland and Michael Sheehan, who collectively spent 100% of the race off the front making us mortals suffer at the back).

The final days of ToAD were extremely hot and humid. The humidity was oppressive and 95° temperatures were the norm, making simply standing outside for any significant amount of time a feat in and of itself. Lots of ice socks were used, many bottles of water were poured over heads, and I generally spent my time at the back of field again trying not to spontaneously combust. Such is bike racing I suppose.

The Tour of America’s Dairyland is a race like no other, and there are a lot of people who are a part of making it happen. For me, those people were my teammates with whom I spent the 11 days with: Keith, Zander, Stephen, Doug, and Nate, as well as our special guest from Chicago, Sean. A huge thank you goes to our host family, Patrick, and Julie, as well as their son (who also raced and placed second in the Cat. 3 omnium), Sam. A final thank you goes to my parents for helping me fund the trip and who never cease to support me in this strange and wildly expensive habit.

~Ben Ryan

***Insert Talladega Nights reference here.