After waiting for years to have a shot at racing in the criterium circus of American racing, I finally got the chance this year to race Tour of America’s Dairylands, in and around Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Basically 10 straight nights of 90 minute races. I remember being nervous for the first time in a long time, I’ve done plenty of criterium's in my time and believe in myself, but on the other side of the world, against people I had barely heard of, with a different format of racing, I had no idea what I was up against. I’ll never forget the first race. Everyone basically races like kamikaze’s, so much different to anything i’ve raced before at home or abroad! I spent half of the race not being able to wrap my head around the risks that everyone was taking at any point in the race, every lap was like a ‘last lap’. Eventually I just accepted that this was how it was going to be, and from there the ball started to roll.
At the end of the ‘Tour’, (it was 10 seperate races in a row), I had netted myself a few top 10 finishes, including a 5th. I had the best chance to win on that day, but after throwing ‘the kitchen sink’ at the first few races, I spent too much energy, losing the sprint by a few metres while feeling fatigued, but that’s racing. It was such a thrill to race in front of big crowds every single night, even early in the week, that sets american racing apart from the rest. The riders over there were super confident, a few cocky, and a few yappy. We had a lot of fun competing against them, talking a bit of trash, but shaking hands at the end of the day.
If you can imagine an older kid in a playground, making their own rules, that’s kind of like american crit racing! Not that it was a bad thing, but you probably wouldn’t find this style anywhere else. All sprint premes were for the peloton only, and all were between the $75-$300 mark, except for the one ‘gamblers preme’, which maxed out at $4,000, was always within the last 5 laps to light up the crowd.
They were always called at times in the race to encourage the peloton to catch the breakaway and have a big bunch sprint. Also, some of the courses were so unique. A couple on the side of a steep hill, most of them through cities with tight corners, in the dark with literally ‘2’ lights on, and some a bigger version of a velodrome. All were on roads with super rough surfaces, which is different in America too, you just have to deal with it, but man did it cause chaos. I was pretty convinced that I wasn’t going to make it through a few corners.. (cue plug for S-Works Turbo Cotton tyres)
I think some of the best experiences from racing here was the premes, I won myself a handful of them, and while I was way too exhausted and focused, I couldn’t believe how nuts the crowd went for all of them! Also, racing against one of the best criterium teams in the world, United Health Care, was just insane. You could do everything right all race, and more, and still not come close to these guys, the horsepower and class was 2nd to none. Having chocolate milk given out after every race was just.. Awesome!
We spent some time between Dairylands and BC Superweek in Canada doing more normal things, spent some time with our friends at NSWIS, went camping with our host family, playing a basketball tournament and going to waterparks. The 4th of July fireworks went for literally 45 minutes, and kids threw them in the street. But after a week of normality it was time to fly up to Vancouver, Canada, for the 2nd half of the racing. After a 24 hour delay, and a night in Denver.. We finally made it.
We arrived in Vancouver and racing started the very next day. It rained nearly every morning but cleared up by night time thank god. Canada was a bit more of what we were used to, with no crazy riders, and some solid courses. But this time, there were a handful of UCI pro teams to go up against, instead of just one or two, we were one of the only teams not at that level. The pace of these races were just on from the gun, a sprint to keep up on the first lap, and then a sprint every lap just to keep up. It was much tougher as a small team to go up against the big teams, especially in the finale’s, just with the extra energy needed to fight your way through. It was getting pretty frustrating to keep coming around the 20th mark every day, but there was no way I was going to let up.
The first UCI 1.2 race we did was a 150km road race, around a pair of 6km laps, in the middle of the day, something we hadn’t down in a while! There was a solid hill in it, and no straight longer than a few hundred metres, so I made sure I was in the right breakaway. Some of the big teams were playing the tactical game, not rolling turns, talking trash, trying to get a reaction out of us in the breakaway. As much as I wanted to react, there were 3 motorbikes surrounding us, and one of them was a camera for live steaming, I didn’t need to get myself into trouble. Towards the end of the race I just ran out of energy, while the Canadian national champion rode away to a solo victory.
After this we had a day or two for rest, so we took the opportunity to go and visit Whistler, which I soon found out is Mountain Bike heaven. Trails absolutely everywhere! a 20 minute chair lift to the top and your off and running, I don’t think it gets much better for trail riding. But I had to keep focused on the racing, with the one of the biggest crit’s in the world the very next day.
I’d heard about the Gastown Grand Prix an awful lot, it’s been running for about 50 years, right in the heart of Vancouver. Half of the course was on pave, the roads were so rough, but there was $12,000 for the win, so who cares! The crowd was so big it scared the crap out of me. It was like the ‘Monaco GP’ in Formula 1, just a huge spectacle. We were moments before the start when a firetruck stormed onto the course, a drug addict was running in and out of buildings setting off alarms, so we sat on the start line for an extra 30 minutes.. We were told that if a 2nd firetruck was called, the race would finish immediately, and the rider first across the line would win.. Are you kidding me? It ended up being one of the toughest races i’ve ever done. From having cold muscles to on the limit was too much for my body, I could have sworn more than half of the 70 laps were sprint premes. I ended up getting a flat tyre and getting caught behind a big crash. We had to go through the middle of the course to prove we crashed and get put back with the leaders. The middle of the course was a shopping centre! A group of 20 riders were flying through the crowd to get back to the pit area, man thats something I’ve never experienced before, hopefully never again.
The next day I just wasn’t having it, I needed to get a result. I felt so horrible for the first half of the race, but just focused on doing everything right, to compete in the sprint. Eventually my body turned itself around, and went from about to pull out, to ready to win the damn thing. Ultimately with 2 laps to go, a huge crash happened, and I was the last one to escape upright. But this put some distance between myself and 8 riders, I couldn’t close it down when everyone is at full flight, so I came 9th. I believed I could have bettered that, but I’m happy to have not crashed.
The next couple of races ended up the same, trying to hold my own against big teams, and just running out of steam towards the end, it was exhausting physically and mentally. I didn’t leave a stone unturned, I know I did all I could, and am proud of that.
Riding generally around Vancouver was perfect, seperate bike lanes everywhere, great views, and incredible coffee. We went riding around Stanley Park everyday, I don’t know how else to describe it as, amazing!
But our time had come and it was time to go home, we still had an all day stopover in Los Angeles up our sleeve though. We spent the day riding beach cruiser’s up and down Venice beach, having fun crashing each other, photobombing photoshoots, being part of street performances and watching some epic skateboarders, finishing off with some quality time at the pub. We kind of only just made our flight on time, but by the time I woke up we were back in cold wet Sydney. Reality isn’t too bad though, I couldn’t be happier working at Drift Bikes and chasing my dreams in racing.
I’ll see you all in-store or on the road soon!