Race Recap Joe Martin Stage Race
For 42 years, Fayetteville has been home to the Joe Martin Stage Race, one of the toughest stage races in the country. The elite amateur cat 1/2 racers faced two challenging road race courses on Thursday and Friday before the Devil’s Den time trial on Saturday and finally concluding with the downtown Fayetteville criterium on Sunday. Joining me were my City Title Cycling teammates Eric, Reid, Ben G, and Adam. This was the first big race of the season and I hoped to finish a step higher on the podium than I had last year.
The course for stage 1 was basically a clockwise version of the infamous Winslow Death March loop but with a loop of Hell’s Kitchen thrown in on the way back into town and finishing on top of Mount Sequoyah. it was a cool day with a threat of rain in the forecast, but we were greeted with friendly skies at the start. Eric got into the early breakaway which grew its advantage to a little over two minutes before it began to be brought back. The racing really started between Winslow and Devil’s Den. As we approached Devil’s Den it started to rain pretty hard. I was poorly positioned in the back of the peloton and eventually found myself in a small group that got separated from the back of the peloton. By the time we got to the descent, the rain had stopped but the roads were soaked. I tried to minimize any more time lost on the descent and then bridge across to the peloton on the climb. I was able to catch the front of the peloton just as we hit the top of the climb, but it took by best ever 5- and 10-minute power to do it. By the time we reached Hell’s Kitchen, the break had been caught. Eric led me into and up the climb, and I put in an attack on the steepest part of the climb hoping I could get a few riders to come with me. Eventually Joe Goettl (Above & Beyond Cancer) came across to my wheel, followed by Eric. We worked to open up the gap, but with the top two returning riders from last year off the front, the remaining peloton responded quickly and caught us just as we made the turn north onto Highway 265. There were immediately a few attacks that got shutdown quickly and then Matt Stephens (Bicycles Plus) attacked with Kyle Tiesler (Evolution) on his wheel. The peloton hesitated for a few seconds and just like that they were gone. Eric and a few other teams started to chase but it was too little, too late. As the 30-40 remaining riders in the peloton hit the bottom of the climb to the finish atop Mount Sequoyah we were racing for third. I knew from the first few pedal strokes that I was going to be in more of a survival mode than shooting for a high finish. The efforts earlier in the race had taken too much out of me and I slid to 14th place across the line, 1:38 behind the winner, and 36 seconds behind third.
The 117-mile loop for stage 2 had a new approach to the finish, climbing the West Fork overpass and descending the Wall before heading north on 265. This was sure to break up the race a little more than the usual charge down Highway 71 all the way to Fayetteville. It was warm and sunny and looked to be a great day to be out on the bike. In following with tradition there is not much to report from the first half of this stage. The breakaway of three men got established, with Owen Schott (Velobrew) the most notable rider. They were eventually joined by five chasers, with a couple of Kelley Benefits riders in there. At the base of Mount Gaylor the leaders were over three minutes ahead of the peloton. I attacked right from the start of the climb planning on either bridging across or at least making sure the peloton rode hard up the climb. I got brought back after a few minutes and then Zach Gregg (Kelly Benefits) attacked. Nobody responded so I attacked and also got away solo trying to bridge across. I couldn’t close the gap and while he eventually caught up to the breakaway I was left in no-man’s land and was caught on the final slopes of the climb. The peloton crested the climb just over a minute behind the leading group and the chase was on. When we hit the West Fork climb we were 90 seconds behind the breakaway. I pushed the pace which caused our group to split in half. The second, third and fourth place riders had all been dropped and this was a great chance to jump a few spots in the GC. Eric and Reid were both there with me in the group of about 20. We tried to organize a chase but there just weren’t enough strong riders left in our group to close the gap. We passed a few riders who had been dropped from the breakaway which was now down to just two riders. Owen Schott won the stage ahead of Zach Gregg. Our group crossed the line 56 seconds later, with Eric managing to finish 10th after doing much of the work at the front of our group. With a few riders being dropped I moved up to 12th overall, and Eric moved up to 17th.
After winning the time trial last year my goal was to repeat and post a time under ten minutes. I also had a chance to move up as high as fourth with a really good ride. It started raining just before the first rider went off and the course was still wet by the time I went. Even with the rain I was still able to push full speed around most of the switchbacks. I made one small mistake in going into the supertuck too soon after the top of the climb when I should have still been pedaling. I ended up 1 second faster than last year with a 10:08 which was good for second place, 20 seconds behind Zach Gregg who showed that he was clearly the strongest rider in the race. I jumped up to 8th in the GC and Eric moved up to 15th after finishing 14th in 10:37.
The last few years I was able to defend my GC spot in the crit without too much trouble. That was not the case this year. Just five laps into the 18-lap race I found myself in a chase group with a few other GC riders and their teammates. Bad positioning and a few moments if inattentiveness was all it took for us to be left fighting to stay in the top 15 of the overall. We were able to make it all the way to the finish but I lost 1:58 and fell to 13th overall. Eric was able to stay in the front group and moved up to 10th in the final GC.
Some video I took of the crit.
It’s always disappointing to go into a bike race feeling really good and not get the result you were hoping for, but that’s the nature of bike racing. As many ways as there are to win a race there’s even more ways to lose. We still managed a respectable result with two riders finishing in the money. Of course in a race like this it is a team effort not only from the guys in the race but also the folks in the feed zone passing out bottles or on the side of the road in the most remote part of the course cheering us on. The support from the local cycling community throughout the race was just outstanding. I also want to thank our sponsors at at City Title & Closing, Smithfield, Shoulder Center of Arkansas, CLIF Bar, Custom Electronics, and The Bike Route. Also a big thank you to the race director, officials and volunteers who make this race the top-notch event that it is.