A local tradition resumes with the 26th running of Food, Folks & Spokes on Thursday in Library Park.

For the third consecutive year, the event serves as a kickoff for the 11-day Tour of America’s Dairyland cycling criterium throughout the streets of southeast Wisconsin.

Local cyclists of varying age, experience and ability have the opportunity to compete against riders from around the globe in eight races ranging from category 5 to professional.

The opening ceremony begins at 11 a.m.

The free event, hosted by the Kenosha YMCA, includes a variety of local food vendors and all-day entertainment in addition to eight races.

“Food, Folks & Spokes is such a fun event where the whole community comes together and celebrates health and wellness with the bike races, but it’s also a fun time for the community with the games and music,” said Chris Finkel, development director at the YMCA. “It’s a great tradition.”

Rain or shine event

With almost certainty, the weather will be an improvement from last year when steady rain fell the entire day of the event. The rain did not halt racing — despite slick road conditions — and there was still plenty of food. It was the “folks” part of the equation that was missing as evident by one of the lowest turnouts in 25 years.

“We cannot control the weather,” Finkel said. “Sometimes there’s been bits of rain in the past but never the entire day. People didn’t want to come out in that. This year is going to be better.”

Big racing slate

The racing slate includes a debut of the six-day Masters 50 plus series (riders age 50 and older) and an expanded return of the hand cycle division for disabled riders. The four-day Associated Bank Handcycle Classic begins in Kenosha and concludes Sunday in Waukesha.

Eight-time Paralympic medalist Oksana Masters is competing in the Handcycle Classic. However, she will not be competing at the series’ opener in Kenosha, according to Tour of America’s Dairyland executive director Bill Koch.

Australian cyclist Rebecca Wiasek, the defending Pro 1-2 Women category overall champion, will return to defend her tour title. Pro Category 1-2 defending tour champion Luke Mudgway of New Zealand is currently competing in Europe.

This year’s field includes over a dozen Aussie riders and LKT Team Brandenburg, a team of five riders from Luckau, Germany.

Big crowds expected

Last year, over 110,000 spectators watched the tour, which featured nearly 5,5000 entries from over 1,000 racers including professionals, Olympians and amateurs.

The tour begins in Kenosha before heading to East Troy (Friday), Grafton (Saturday), Waukesha (Sunday), West Bend (June 24), Janesville (June 25), Muskego (June 26), Shorewood (June 27), Bay View (June 28), Downer Avenue (June 29) and Wauwatosa (June 30).

“The kickoff event is always important,” Koch said. “As the first of 11 straight days of racing, it sets the pace for the balance of the schedule. A lot of relationships will be made with people from many states and countries. It all starts in Kenosha.”