Next on the NRC schedule is the Joe Martin Stage Race in Northwest Arkansas.
In previous years, Joe Martin was followed by the Tri-Peaks Challenge to provide two NRC stage races in two weeks of racing in Arkansas, but this year Tri-Peaks was replaced by a new race, the Tour of Arkansas, a non-NRC event. Starting just two days after Joe Martin’s final stage, is the Mt Hood Cycling Classic in Oregon, which moved up in the NRC Calendar. And this year, Hood is a UCI-sanctioned race for the women, a very important distinction in an Olympic year. What does this all mean? It means that some teams are skipping Joe Martin to focus on the next race, producing a somewhat small field in the women’s pro race, with only 42 names showing up in the start list.
The stages. The four stages, two road races, one individual time trial and one crit, are the same as in previous years, but the organizers shuffled the stages around. putting the ITT first in the hopes of forcing a bit more aggressive racing. Both road races have typically ended up in bunch sprints.
The race now begins with the 2.5 miles ITT climb out of Devil’s Den State Park on Thursday, May 8. The course starts off with a brief flat section before the road steadily climbs 680 feet to the finish with an average grade of 6.8%, with most of the climb at 10%.
Friday’s road race goes straight into the hills, with multiple climbs – the men’s field will cover over 5,400 feet of climbing and the women over 3,500. There is a 9.2 mile section with an average grade of 2.7%, and the finishing straight has a 6% uphill grade over the last 350 meters.
The third stage and second road race is held on Saturday, May 10. A challenging course with climbs, beautiful scenery and a slight downhill finish. The main portion of the course – which starts and finishes in Fayetteville, is a 23-mile loop that features over 1,500 feet of climbing per lap, with the men doing 3 loops and the women 2 loops.
The final stage is the Sunday criterium in downtown Fayetteville, held on a technical 1.3-mile, 8-corner course with a tough climb to the finish that challenges the field as the race progresses.
The pro men teams. Defending champions for multiple years, Health Net-Maxxis is bringing back last year’s winner Rory Sutherland and the team is hoping to make it 4 year in a row in Arkansas. Big man Karl Menzies is the wildcard on the team as he won 2 stages last year and finished fifth overall, and finished second overall in 2005.
Bissell is sending only five men to the race. Richard England, finished 5th overall on GC in 2006, is coming off a strong showing at Tour de Georgia, winning stage 5 in a bunch sprint after keeping up with the field in the climbs.
Straight from Tour of the Gila, Colavita/SutterHome is bringing a full squad including Gila 3rd place Anthony Colby and sprinters Sebastian Haedo and Alejandro Borrajo. Jelly Belly is hoping to reconnect to its past successes at Joe Martin with a full roster including Mike Lange and Nic Sanderson.
One team looking to upset the apple cart is Team Type 1, looking to Glen Chadwick, Valeryi Kobzarenko and Chris Jones to make things happen. Sprinter Emile Abraham took a bunch sprint to win a stage in 2005 and should also be watched.
Other teams present include CRCA/Empire Cycling team, Mercy Cycling Elite Team p/b Zero Mtn, Rite Aid, Team RACE led by Mark Walters, Team Rubicon, THF Racing, TOSHIBA-Santo with USA Crits Speed Week winner Mark Hekman. Notably absent from the list is Toyota-United.
The pro women teams. Aaron’s is not present to defend last year’s win.
The Cheerwine squad with Laura Van Gilder, who has been on the stage podium multiple times in the past, is always a threat. Colavita/Sutter Home will be hoping to better last year’s 3rd place for Nichole Wangsgard. Team Advil/Chapstick led by Sue Palmer-Komar who has finished in the top 10 twice in the past 5 years.
Other teams include Kenda Tire, LoneStarWorks.com, Metro Volkswagen Cycling Team and Team Revolution.
Full roster here.