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'More Than Just A Bed': Tour Of America's Dairyland Host Housing Program Is Unique In Cycling World

Photo courtesy of Karen Larson
Members of the Australian UCI Pro Racing Sunshine Coast Team relax at their host house. The team is currently winning the Tour of America's Dairyland Pro Men Series.

The Tour of America’s Dairyland (ToAD) is the largest competitive road cycling series in the United States. It attracts cyclists from the U.S, Europe, South America and Australia. This year is the biggest series yet, boasting 11 days of racing in 11 different communities throughout southeast Wisconsin and more than 1,100 athletes participate.

When traveling for and competing in a cycling series, teams typically need to figure out their own accommodations. Something that makes the ToAD different is the Host Housing Program, which offers to provide housing for athletes and their team members in local homes.

The program has made recruiting racing teams a lot easier since cycling teams usually don’t have large budgets. It’s a unique experience for the athletes and the people that open their homes to them, says Karen Larson. She founded the housing program when ToAD first started.

Upwards of 70 families are recruited by word of mouth each year to host cyclists, according to Larson. Those who volunteer to open up their home can do everything from getting air mattresses to hosting barbecues for cyclists before the series starts.

Credit Courtesy of Karen Larson.
Karen Larson (second from left) is an ambassador for the Hagens Berman Supermint - UCI Pro Women’s Cycling Team. They are currently winning the Pro Women’s Series of the Tour of America's Dairlyand.

While feeding cyclists staying in your home isn't a requirement, Larson says it's something they all look forward to if they get the time. “We get to hang out and get to know everybody, and that’s my favorite stuff,” she says.

It’s a lot of logistics to work out, but Larson says that by reaching out to local cycling clubs and bike shops she's able to find plenty of hosts. “The cycling community is close everywhere,” she says. “It’s really nice.”

Ben Kersten, managing director of the Australian Cycling Academy, is in Wisconsin to oversee his team during the series. He says that the host homes are the reason his team continues to return to ToAD because the host families help the teams explore the area while they’re here.

"It's more than just a bed, it's an experience." - Ben Kersten

Getting to build those relationships with local people and not having to worry about coordinating where to stay sets ToAD apart from other cycling series, Kersten says. His team travels all over the world to various continents to compete.

He says Australia doesn't have host housing.

"It makes it very unique over here and something that brings us to America. It takes away that massive cost of accommodation. But not only that, you make lifelong friends and you get to experience a new city and a new country ... The team goes home with more than just medals. They’re going home with good memories.”

The ToAD series runs through June 30.

Audrey Nowakowski hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2014.