The Kenda 5-Hour Energy Team, Laura Van Gilder and perseverance dominated the 4th edition of the Tour of America’s Dairyland, the 11-day cycling series that ended on the Capitol Square in Madison.
Rahsaan Bahati crashed in the series’ opening criterium race in Shorewood, fought for the right break through the summer heat then electrified the crowd with an electrifying sprint for his lone victory Sunday night. Both the spectators and Bahati relished the win.
“I crashed in that first race, and wasn’t as aggressive after that, I didn’t want to hit the ground again,” said the 30-year-old from Compton, Calif. “I have three kids at home and they need me in one piece.
“What kept me going was all the people cheering Bahati. I’m so happy to get a win.”
The support was well-deserved for one of the top riders in the U.S. pro criterium racing, and one who devoted his time to encouraging at-risk kids to give cycling a shot. Bahati arrived in Milwaukee early and led a group from DreamBikes on a tour before turning his attention to high-speed pursuits.
His struggle in the series was due in part to the powerhouse Kenda Team, sponsored by GEARGRINDER, and their well-executed team tactics across the 11 days of racing.
James Stemper, the Wauwatosa native, John Murphy, Chad Hartley, Luca Damiani and the rest of the squad controlled the peloton throughout the series, and set up the winning break every night. A Kenda rider won seven races, and Murphy secured the overall series championship with two races left.
He stood atop the podium, donned the yellow cow-print jersey and hoisted the 30-pound wheel of Sartori cheese, flanked by his teammate Stemper (3rd overall) and Alexei Schmidt, the Team Type 1 rider who broke the Kenda block for second.
Laura Van-Gilder, the 47-year-old leader of Mellow Mushroom Rose Bandit, was equally dominant.
Van Gilder won seven races, finished no worse than fifth and easily defended her overall title. Last year, she snacked on that cheese wheel through October and will be sharing it into the fall once again.
Like Bahati, her leadership extended well beyond the results.
Van Gilder’s teammate Scotti Wilborne broke through for a podium finish in Madison, and credited Van Gilder for her guidance.
“What an honor to ride with her,” Wilborne said. She’s one of the most celebrated female cyclists in the country.”
Wilborne provided one of the best podium moments of the series, joining her husband Ernie Lechuga and twin sons, Eli and Ethan (in diapers) for the celebration.
Lechuga’s coaching also has been instrumental in Wilborne’s transition from collegiate track miler to pro cyclist, a one-year sprint that took her from Cat. 4 to the pro ranks, with a break for the twins birth in July 2011.
“He tells me what to look for and when,” Wilborne said.
A well-known Wisconsin rider, Kaitlin Antonneau, led Wilborne across the finish line in the Capitol shadow on Sunday. Driving hard to separate from the field in a three-woman break, Antonneau reserved just enough to take the sprint and the TOAD win.
The 20-year-old from Racine added the TOAD title to the USA Cycling U23 National Championship she won in the time trial a week earlier in Augusta, Ga. If the nationals left her with tired legs, it also left her prepared for the 90-degree heat.
“It doesn’t even feel like I left Georgia,” Antonneau said after the finish.
Travels for cash: Nicole Whitburn, an engineer from Australia, finished third overall, but more importantly, scored enough cash to “almost” cover her travel expenses for her first trip to the Dairy state.
It was a learning, if not lucrative adventure.
“It was great fun, fantastic,” an exhausted Whitburn said. “The quality competition, fast, and racing day-after-day. “This is my holiday, my leave from work.”
In all, the Tour of America’s Dairyland awarded $135,000 in prize money and products, including the $6,250 Ben’s Cycle Ultra Prime scored by Isaac Howe in the ISCorp Downer Classic on Saturday night. Along with Alterra coffee, the Sartori cheese and assorted bike gear, the winners over the 11 days will be well-stocked for their training.
Full results of the Tour of America’s Dairyland can be found here.