By Tom Held Special to Published Jun 21, 2013 at 9:01 AM

Shorewood residents have become accustomed to the annual intrusion of pro bicyclists on their tree-shaded streets, but for some the high-level criterium racing in the Tour of America’s Dairyland remains a mystery.

Every few minutes, a seemingly chaotic and ever-shifting pack of cyclists whirls by at 30 mph, then disappears around the corner, while the folks on North Maryland Avenue and the connecting streets on the back side of a 1.3-mile course sip wine, socialize and wonder who’s ahead.

For those who paid attention to the intense action on Thursday night, the United Health Care team (all those guys in blue jerseys) provided an excellent tutorial.

For much of the 90-minute Shorewood Criterium Cycling Classic, they sat back while Cole House, Frank Pipp and Samuel Hunter Grove worked together and built a 40-second lead. With about 12 laps left, the squad turned up the pace, reeled in the three leaders and delivered Jake Keough to victory in textbook fashion.

Hilton Clarke and Luke Keough followed across the line to give the top team in the USA Cycling National Criterium Calendar rankings a podium sweep, in the opening race in the 11-day Dairyland tour.

In the fifth edition of TOAD, the first four races will be part of the 24-event national points series and help load the fields with the top riders in the U.S.

Clarke, an Australian, is currently second in the NCC rankings, and will be a rider to watch on Friday in the East Troy Cycling Classic, in his wife’s home town.

On Thursday, Clarke was happy to help his 26-year-old teammate don the yellow cow-print jersey (a nod to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board sponsorship).

"Jake and I have been racing together for about four years," Clarke said. "He’s been slugging it out in Europe and we really wanted to get him a win here in Wisconsin."

Another Australian, Kimberley Wells, enjoyed similarly solid support from her teammates and took the sprint victory in the women’s pro race by edging Colavito Pro Cycling’s Jennifer Purcell at the line.

"It helps to connect the dots and put me in the right place," said Wells, the reigning Australian National Criterium Champion. "They gave me a textbook lead-out. They all should be proud."

The 27-year-old from the Fearless Femme team said she had heard good things about the Wisconsin series and the enthusiastic atmosphere along the Oakland Avenue business district lived up to her expectations.

Laura Van Gilder, going for her third consecutive TOAD title, echoed the praise for the crowds and the series.

"It’s great to be back," said Van Gilder, who took third place on Thursday night. "It’s starting to feel like coming home to me. I enjoy seeing all the communities through the series."

The races spread across much of southern Wisconsin provide pros like the 49-year-old Gilder a rare opportunity to race criteriums every day for 11 straight days. She enjoys the routine of riding through town in the morning, then racing in the evening.

Bridging the gap 

The Tour of America’s Dairyland has supplanted ICC Superweek as the premier race series in the state, and TOAD organizers honored Superweek’s founder, Otto Wenz Jr., before the start of the men’s pro race.

A former racer, Wenz started Superweek with a single race at Summerfest in 1969, and built it into a 17-race series that drew some of the top riders in the world, including a very young Lance Armstrong. Wenz has long been a national figure in cycling, and was inducted in the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame in 1999.

Jerry Pearce, owner of Rainbow Jersey Bicycles, praised Wenz for his leadership.

"He influenced hundreds," Pearce said. "Without Otto’s passionate vision for the sport, the Tour of America’s Dairyland would not exist."

Cashing in

Lap prizes are one of the unique features of criterium racing, with cash and goods offered up for the first rider to reach the finish line on a specified lap. Spectators also get in on the action, and Dave Anderson’s crew on Maryland Avenue gathered $607 for a prize in the women’s pro race, and more than $750 in the men’s contest. Anderson, a swim coach at the Walter Schroeder Aquatic Center, easily retained his title for the largest front-yard party on the race course.

Next up

The United Health Care team will be defending its yellow jersey on Friday in the East Troy Cycling Classic. The pro women’s race starts at 4:20 p.m. and the men take the line at 6 p.m. Masters and amateur racers get their first TOAD laps earlier in the day, starting at 11 a.m.

The series continues with the Giro d’ Grafton on Saturday and the Carl Zach Cycling Classic in Waukesha on Sunday.

Click here for a complete schedule of TOAD races.

Tom Held Special to

Memories of running cross-country for the Slinger Owls motivated Tom Held to get his body moving again when he turned 30. Almost two decades later, he's still on the move. The 49-year-old bikes, runs and skis, and covers news for similarly active people as a freelance writer and blogger.

He spent 26 years as a daily news reporter, and applies that experience to dig out stories about athletes, races, endurance sports, fitness and self-propelled transportation. His work has appeared in Silent Sports Magazine, Wisconsin Trails and Cross-Country Skier.

Held lives in the Bay View neighborhood, where he counts being Dad to twin daughters part of his daily workout.