When you think of stage racing, you think of Wisconsin, right? No? Well you probably should.

The Tour of America’s Dairyland (ToAD) is in its 14th year and going strong. They quietly set the bar high back in 2009 when they launched, and they’re sticking to their values. Namely that everyone should have access to world class racing, and that equal prize money is a given. This year the event includes races from June 15-25.

Making it happen for 14 years and counting

The inaugural event came together when several Milwaukee-area cycling enthusiasts decided to start what was then a five-day road race. Since the launch, the series typically stages 11 consecutive days in 11 different communities throughout Southeast Wisconsin.

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scenes from the tour of america's dairyland event in wisconsin
Courtesy Tour of America's Dairyland

During each of those days, eight to ten races take place morning to dusk, offering opportunities for everyone. From junior riders as young as nine-years-old, to seasoned masters. Novices, pros, men, women, and non-traditional bike racers alike. Each year the event grows, and each year it features pro and amateur participants from more than 40 U.S. states and 15 countries.

Professional cyclists who have participated in the past include Matt Busche (USAC Pro Road Winner), Rahsaan Bahati (multi-time US National Crit Champion), Brent Emery (former U.S. Olympian), Katie Compton (14-time U.S. Cyclocross National Champion), Dan Holloway (U.S. Olympic track team), Coryn Rivera (holder of 71 U.S. National titles in road, track, cyclocross and MTB), Jennifer Valente (US Olympic gold, silver and bronze medalist on the track), and Ayesha McGowan (American professional road cyclist).

Bill Koch, Founding Member and Executive Director, says that after the first year they had a series of listening sessions where they invited women of the community to share their thoughts on the event moving forward. “We talked with women triathletes, cyclists, recreational riders, enthusiasts, whoever wanted to show up, and we asked, ‘What is it that you like about bike riding? What is it you like or don't know about bike racing? What are your fears?’” From there ToAD worked to make things more inclusive. “I wouldn't say we felt pressured to do it. We just wanted to do it. So we've been doing as much as we can to equalize everything we do.”

Equal prize money for men and women since before it was cool

ToAD has equal payouts for top pro men and women cyclists and men and women hand-cyclists. They also offer all kinds of primes for various achievements. In short, they want to celebrate as many athletes as possible, and see all different kinds of people on the podium.

scenes from the tour of america's dairyland event in wisconsin
Courtesy Tour of America's Dairyland

In an effort to continue to create a non-intimidating atmosphere, ToAD also offers coffee rides for novice women to ride with the professional women. “They meet at a local coffee shop and we usually do two of those during the series,” Koch said. Last year women made up 34% of the total riders. And they want those numbers to continue to rise. “We’ve been working closely with Ayesha McGowan to bring her Thee Abundance Grant winners to ToAD.”

Koch says that in addition to getting more women involved overall, they also want to focus on getting more women of color involved, and more hand-cyclists involved. “We want people of all shapes and sizes and colors and nationalities coming from all over the world to race their bikes in Wisconsin.”

It’s not too late to get in on the competition and the fun. Expect to see some big names in racing, as well as lots of others out to have a great time giving it their all.

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Micah Ling
Freelance Writer

Micah Ling is a freelance writer based out of Salida, Colorado. She splits her time in the mountains biking and trail running. Connect with her on Instagram and Twitter.