It’s not often that a guy who drops out of a race gets the biggest check and the biggest kiss from a podium girl.
Isaac Howe, 26, cashed in both in the ISCorp Downer Classic, the historic race on Milwaukee’s east side Saturday night.
The Kenda 5-Hour Energy rider from Burlington, Vt., out-sprinted the field for the $6,250 Ben’s Cycle Ultra Prime, then called it a night, while his teammates battled to the line for points in the 4th Tour of America’s Dairyland.
In a nine-man sprint to the finish, Cody O’Reilly drove his wheel to the line first, and gave the Optum Kelly Benefits Strategies team its first win in a series dominated by the Kenda squad.
On a near-perfect summer evening, the residents near Lake Park set down their wine glasses and frites to cheer for the amateurs and pros racing around the one-mile criterium course. O’Reilly, a 24-year-old from Santa Barbara, Calif., has been housed 10 blocks from the historic Downer Ave. criterium course, heard about the big race crowds for days and found a bigger gear in their enthusiasm.
This is definitely one of the bigger ones so far,” O’Reilly said of his victory.
“You gotta like the times it hurts, and it definitely hurt, when the break was forming, and especially that finishing sprint.”
The break escaped from the field of 80-plus riders just after Howe won the sprint for the Ben’s Cycle lap prize, one of the biggest in U.S. cycling.
Howe said he lost two nights sleep fretting about the tight turn off Downer Ave. and the short sprint to the paycheck he also own in 2011.
“The pressure was on me to come through in a field sprint,” Howe said. “This wasn’t just me. The team won it.”
And the team will share it. The primes and the share of the $4,600 total prize purse will go into the team’s pot to be divided later.
The love on the podium, though, was all for Howe. His girlfriend from the University of Vermont, Megan Resnick, went for his lips instead of his cheek in performing her podium girl duties.
In a nod to gender equity, the race supporters from Ben’s Cycle also posted a $1,000 lap prize for the women, and Cari Higgins (Exergy TWENTY 12) won the exceptionally large prime, bigger than most prize purses in women’s racing.
Howe’s Kenda team has dominated through 10 days of the 11-day series, winning all but two races. On Saturday night, the team’s John Murphy stayed back in the field, protected the yellow cow-print jersey and secured his spot on top of the overall rankings.
Laura Van Gilder matched their team superiority with her individual dominance.
The 47-year-old rider from the Mellow Mushroom Rose Bandit Cycling Team, won another sprint and her eighth race of the series. With the win, Van Gilder secured her second straight TOAD championship and the 20-pound wheel of Sartori cheese to restock her pantry.
In the home stretch up Downer Ave., she surged ahead of Samantha Schneider, whose family in West Allis hosts Van Gilder during the 11-day tour.
“We’re pros and competitors on the bike, and after, we’re friends,” said Van Gilder. “I have respect for her and the other women in the peloton.”
On Sunday night, in Madison, Van Gilder will stand on the top step of the podium again, with at least eight victories in the 11 races.