Jimmy Stemper's chance at winning the East Tosa Gran Prix was within reach.
He had lapped the pack of cyclists and was in the lead with two other competitors. All three had a chance to win the Gran Prix, the final race in the Tour of America's Dairyland series. Stemper, who was riding solo without his 5-Hour Energy teammates, said his odds felt promising to take first place in his hometown in front of his friends and family.
Until the accident. Another cyclist had collided with Stemper's front wheel and broke a couple of its spokes. The wheel started rubbing up hard against the breaks. Stemper said he had trouble getting his bike moving.
Once he was finally able to move himself to mechanical support and get a new tire, Stemper had to chase for the lead — hard. But he was too late.
"I had no chance of winning," said Stemper. "Since I had lapped the field I was still in third place." He completed the race in 63.47 minutes.
"I felt a lot of the love from everyone. I hope everyone in Tosa enjoys what Tour of America's Dairyland is. It's an awesome race. To have a good race like that in Tosa is really special," he said.
Stemper, 28, turned professional in 2009. He had worked his way up the rungs since picking up the sport in college, when he attended Marquette University.
In fact, Stemper, whose family moved to Wauwatosa six years ago, is only known as "Jimmy" in the Milwaukee cycling community. A teammate he rode with on the Trocadero team called him that, and it has stuck ever since.
"I haven't gone by Jimmy since eighth grade. Everywhere else I'm Jim. But when I come back to Milwaukee, the announcers — and all the people here — know me as Jimmy."
This is Stemper's fourth year racing in Tour of America's Dairyland, a series of 11 consecutive races in various Wisconsin spots, including Beloit, Schlitz Park, Grafton and Wauwatosa. In 2010, Stemper won the entire series.
In addition to taking third at East Tosa Gran Prix, Stemper nabbed third place at Schlitz Park. He recently recovered from a collarbone injury sustained in a cycling crash.
These kind of road races, called criterium races, are ideal for spectators, he said.
"When I do a road race, we ride through a city and people see us come by once. But in a criterium, it's a short lap. We do 50 to 60 laps of this tiny course. They are super fun for spectators to watch."
This race also was fun for Stemper. The course was the perfect way for him to train for a bigger race he was preparing for called the "Tour of Quing Hai Lake" in China. Stemper left for the 14-day stage race in China with his 5-Hour Energy teammates on Wednesday, just three days after the Gran Prix.
Even with a big race in sight, Stemper made the little things a priority this past week. Immediately after the Waukesha race he competed in, a 6-year-old boy invited Stemper to a race up a hill.
"He went hard all the way up the hill. I tried to pretend we were in the Tour de France. I was announcing for him. He won," said Stemper.
After the East Tosa Gran Prix, Stemper pulled a different young fan aside, his 6-year-old neighbor, Jackson Myers, for a picture. Myers competed in a kids' race and also got third place.
"I just remember when I was a kid biking, it would have been fun to go to a bike race. When I did go to bike races as a Category 5 cyclist, I saw professionals riding and I thought they were not accessible. I'll always take chances I get to talk to anyone at the races, especially kids," said Stemper.
The Myers live across the street from the Stemper family.
"Jimmy is such a positive role model," said Sarah Myers, Jackson's mom. "I don't think (Jackson) understands about Jimmy being a professional. He just really looks up to him as an awesome biker."
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