By Jason McDowell Creative Director Published Jun 02, 2022 at 5:01 PM Photography: shutterstock.com

The Tour of America's Dairyland (often shortened to ToAD and pronounced like the amphibian) is a trans-city, 11-day block party that also happens to have a high-speed, edge-of-your-saddle bike race rolling through it. The series attracts nearly 1,000 racers from around the U.S. and 15 other countries across the globe. The people who race at ToAD appreciate the unique, long-form schedule. Indeed, few – if any – other race series feature as many days of racing in a row.

But, of course, that kind of travel comes with a cost to the traveling athletes. Time away from work, flights, gas, rooming and vehicle rental can all add up. And so, to make the series more accessible to more participants, ToAD organizers have developed a local host-housing system to try and ease this burden.

However, the number of incoming riders vastly outnumbers the number of willing hosts.

"On average we have about 30 families hosting racers each year," said host-housing coordinator Sarah Drilias, though she notes this does not include hosts who have coordinated their own private relationships. "Often times long-term friendships are made [through this system], and in following years, the cyclists reach out directly to their hosts from the previous year.

"Currently I have close to 40 cyclists requesting housing, but requests generally ramp up the closer we get to race day."

Four women sit around a dog
The racing is wild, but the evenings are mild. PHOTO: Jason McDowell
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To many, 11 days of hosting strangers may sound like a big ask, but speaking from personal experience, the overall effort required is pretty minimal and the act of hosting has been a rewarding experience. They aren't your in-laws (to say nothing of my own wonderful mother-in-law, who is also participates in the program). You don't have to worry about providing your guests food, or entertainment, or drive them around. What they are mostly looking for is a comfortable place to sleep, a little fridge space, an outlet for their rice-maker, and a secure, indoor spot for their bike. Access to a washer and dryer are a bonus, too.

"Overwhelmingly, the feedback I have received on both sides is that the host-housing system a wonderful experience," says Drilias. "Cyclists are grateful for a home away from home while they race and hosts love 'being a part of the action' that is professional cycling."

Five guys on a bike ride.
Another benefit: Going for a spin with some of the nation's top cyclists. PHOTO: Jason McDowell
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Bike racing can feel like a somewhat anonymizing sport. Out-of-town athletes from a niche sport, decked out in similar colors, with their faces blocked by big sunglasses and helmets, whizzing by at fast speeds in big blobs, it's hard to know who to cheer for. Being a host therefore gives you a default starting point.

But it's not a perfect system.

"As with anything in life, there are positives and negatives [to hosting]," admitted Drilias. "Sometimes hosts and cyclists don't get along for whatever reason. I've heard of very messy cyclists, and I've heard of hosts who smoke!

"But overall it seems to have a positive effect."

A woman stretches her back and a dog takes advantage.
Pets love the host housing program. PHOTO: Jason McDowell
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Personally, I've been lucky enough to enjoy that overwhelmingly positive side, and I would happily host any one of my past guests once again. But this brings up issues in and of itself: Over the years we have met and hosted too many lovely people, who inevitably bring more lovely people back the next year, who then swap teams and bring out ever more excited people. It becomes difficult to disappoint. If only I had the space...

So, what's in it for me?

In exchange for hosting, the series organizers have historically sent a thank-you box filled with cheese and coffee, but this year they've also added an end-of-series party and a custom host shirt-sey (a sport jersey-shirt) into the mix, thanks to support from the dedicated attorney cyclists at Reinhart.

Andy Narrai, the chief marketing officer of Reinhart explained why.

"We wanted to center our support on the host-housing families because they generously open their homes to top riders from around the world and share our commitment to racing and the deep sense of community it creates."

They also share a passion for the sport.

"We were looking for a way to better engage with, and support the larger cycling community," Narrai noted. "ToAD was a natural choice for us because the eleven races in their premier series cover so many of the communities that we serve throughout Southeast Wisconsin."

A blue jersey shirt with white cow-prints
The Tour of America's Dairyland host-housing shirt-sey.
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The jersey design is a fusion of Reinhart's new colors and the signature cow print, blending the two brands together.

"It's a two-tone, half-and-half design that will stand out proudly while our host families cheer the riders on along the course," said Narrai.

Hosts are also invited join in an exclusive celebration during the closing days in Wauwatosa.

How do I become a host?

Lining up to be a host is easy; just have to let Drilias know how many available sleeping surfaces you have (and what type) and she will find teams to fill them. If space is limited, teams can be split across multiple houses, but hopefully within a short distance of one another.

So, if you have a free room and an extra key, you can get in contact with Sara at sdrilias@tourofamericasdairyland.com and she will be happy to find a guest for you.

Jason McDowell Creative Director

Jason McDowell grew up in central Iowa and moved to Milwaukee in 2000 to attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.

In 2006 he began working with OnMilwaukee as an advertising designer, but has since taken on a variety of rolls as the Creative Director, tackling all kinds of design problems, from digital to print, advertising to branding, icons to programming.

In 2016 he picked up the 414 Digital Star of the Year award.

Most other times he can be found racing bicycles, playing board games, or petting dogs.