Courtesy of Tour of America’s Dairyland

Last updated on April 19th, 2021 at 11:48 am

After last year’s hiatus due to COVID-19, Tour of America’s Dairyland will return this summer, visiting as many as 10 communities in southeastern Wisconsin.

The popular competitive road biking series is scheduled to take place between June 16 and June 27. Now in its 13th year and 12th edition, ToAD draws cyclists from across the U.S. and overseas to compete in criterium-style races, hosted by neighborhoods and business districts. Spectators gather by the thousands to be part of the action and patronize nearby bars and restaurants. 

Plans are in their final stages, but the multi-day tour is expected to put on at least six to seven day-long race events, and “with any luck,” up to nine or 10, said executive director Bill Koch in an interview with BizTimes Milwaukee. Traditionally, ToAD runs runs 11 consecutive days, visiting 11 host communities.

So far, Manitowoc, Janesville, East Troy and Grafton have committed to hosting ToAD events. Organizers are working to get approval from Wauwatosa, Shorewood, and Hartland, which would be a new addition to the lineup. In Wauwatosa, the event would relocate to the village after seven years on West North Avenue.

This year’s tour won’t include North Downer Avenue on Milwaukee’s East Side; the neighborhood recently canceled its annual Downer Classic bike race in light of the city’s health restrictions and steep fines for noncompliant businesses, said Koch. Brady Street had been another new addition this year, but the BID has since backed out. Both marquee sites will join ToAD in 2022.

“The challenging thing for everyone has been planning today for what tomorrow will hopefully look like,” said Koch.

La Crosse-based Kwik Trip is ToAD’s presenting sponsor, now for the fourth year. Koch said the company, and the majority of the series’ sponsors, remained loyal to ToAD amid the pandemic and rendered financial support without contractual obligation.

ToAD is no stranger to working closely with its host communities, but these days, approval of an in-person event, especially one known to draw a crowd, relies heavily on local health departments.

“That’s a new thing for us,” said Koch. “We’ve never had to deal with health departments in 12 years of putting on this event, but it is a new reality and we’ve got an extensive overview of what our risk mitigation is going to look like at the events. We’ve been collaborating with several of those departments, just getting their feedback, along with other race promoter peer groups.”  

ToAD’s official schedule is set to be announced by May 1, said Koch. Organizers confirmed their 2021 plans in an email announcement Wednesday urging racers, host communities and sponsors to do their part to keep COVID-19 cases down.

All ToAD events will require the usual safety measures, like mask wearing and physical distancing. Organizers plan to install signage and adjust course set-ups to encourage people to spread out.

“One of the biggest things we’re doing is stretching our sound system around the course a little further, so that people who choose to be further away from the stage area, where there tends to be larger groups, can still hear what’s happening with the race,” said Koch.

In addition, spectators will be encouraged to walk the course instead of standing in groups. Barriers will be installed every six feet near the start-finish line to prevent crowding.

Pre-COVID, ToAD estimates the series generates more than $2 million in annual economic impact to Wisconsin. Koch said the impact may be less this year due to varying levels of comfortability with public events, but it all depends on case and vaccination trends over the next couple months.

As for rider participation, organizers have high expectations. The series usually draws competitors from 40 states and more than 12 countries, with an average of nearly 500 racing daily. That number is expected to remain or potentially increase, said Koch.

“People want to have events, people want to have bike races,” he said. “Everybody is just so anxious for things to return to some sense of normalcy.”

Riders will travel to Wisconsin from just as many states this year. H.owever, pandemic restrictions in some countries may prevent international cyclists from making the trip.

As excited as racers are to get back on the course, Koch said, public health and safety is the priority.

“The riders have to understand this is a party, it’s a public gathering for the community,” he said. “If the community wants to put it on, we have to be good stewards.”

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