It’s Ironman week in Madison…and throughout the week, I’m previewing the race | from the perspective of a spectator. Yesterday, we talked a little bit about the 2.4 mile swim, so today it’s on to the bike…and the 112 mile race through the rolling hills to the west of Madison.
The bike portion of the race starts where the swim finishes | at Monona Terrace. The riders start by cruising down the west helix (the curly-cue ramp to the parking area of Monona Terrace) and then head out John Nolen towards the coliseum. Much of the first part of the race is considered a “no agression zone.” It’s sorta like race-car drivers under a yellow flag | they’re driving, but not agressively passing other drivers until they get the green flag | then it’s GO TIME!
From the coliseum the athletes head out to Verona, where they hook onto a loop that takes them to Mt. Horeb, Cross Plains, and back to Verona again. They do that loop twice, before heading back to Madison.
The Ironman Wisconsin bike course is generally considered a tough course. While we’re not climbing any mountains in Wisconsin, the course is constantly climbing or descending and there are lots of twists and turns in the road, meaning the riders must ALWAYS be thinking | shift up…shift down…slow down for the turn…speed up on a short flat stretch…there’s really no time on the course when you can relax and just ride.
While there are plenty of hills on the course, there are some favorites for spectators to watch the race | the first of those comes just after the race goes through Cross Plains, the hill is called “Old Sauk Pass.” It’s a wooded stretch or road, with a long, curvy hill-climb. Just when the riders think they’ve made it…it goes up yet again! This is a fun place for both riders and specators | the spectators give this stretch of road kind of a Tour de France feel, as they line both sides of the road…and as some points start closing in on the riders climbing the hill. You’ll see spectators running the hill alongside the racers, just as you do at the Tour. There might also be a few beers consumed on Old Sauk Pass | please take your trash out with you after the race. To get to Old Sauk Pass | drive out Highway 14 from Middleton until you get to Cleveland Road | take a left on Cleveland and drive as far as you can until you find a good parking spot. From here you’ll need to take a bit of a walk | UP a giant hill on Cleveland until you get to Old Sauk Pass Road. Take a right on Old Sauk Pass and follow the crowds to the hill. You’ll want to pack a lunch and bring your own drinks, because once you’re there, you’ve got that same hike to get back out.
The next great spot to watch the race is another hill. This time, head out to Midtown Road and grab a spot anywhere on the hill between Timber Lane and Shady Oak Lane. Once again, you’ll see big Tour de France-like crowds, a few beers being consumed, and plenty of people in costume cheering the riders. I’ve seen guys in G-strings (you can’t UNsee that), Devils and Angels and lots of other crazy costumes on Midtown Road. Another nice thing about Midtown is the fact that there’s usually porta-potties along side the road | just make sure that you give the racers priority when using them. To get to Midtown from Madison | take M towards Verona until you get to Midtown. Take a right on Midtown, and once again go as far as you can until you can find a good parking spot | you might want to park on Meadow Road, just off of Midtown, if you can’t find a spot on Midtown.
One more great spot for watching the race | Main Street in Verona! This is a GIANT PARTY! As the riders round the corner from Cross Country Road onto Main Street, they are greeted by thousands of spectators lining both sides of the street, loud music, and an announcer urging the crowd to scream for the racers! In addition to the party atmosphere in Verona, food and drink are both nearby | so you don’t need to pack in a lunch and your drinks. Verona is also the easiest spot to get to | Ironman offers a free shuttle bus to Verona, with pick-up and drop-off near Monona Terrace, at Wilson and Carroll Street. The bus runs from 8am ’til 4pm.
Racers have until 5:30pm to complete the 112 mile bike course, before heading off on the 26.2 mile run through downtown Madison and the UW campus. We’ll preview the run course tomorrow!