Next on the NRC schedule is the 34th edition of the Joe Martin Stage Race presented by Nature Valley, around Fayetteville in Northwest Arkansas where lush green rolling terrain is in store. The four stages, almost the same as last year, make the race suited well for power sprinters that can keep their own in the time trial or for time trialist with a good finish kick.
The impact of the crunch of the overloaded race schedule in May, with the conflicting USA Crits Speedweek in the Southeast, the Pan Am Games in Colombia, can be seen in the smaller field size – 98 men and 38 women on the start list. And to make it worst, some of the UCI Continental teams are skipping the race to get ready for the Amgen Tour of California. A shame really for the race and for the competition.
New this year is not only a GC leader’s jersey, pink for women and yellow for men, but a sprint competition with a green jersey and a U23 classification with a white jersey.
The men’s race seems poised to be another RealCyclist.com’s vs BISSELL battle with NRC leader Francisco Mancebo on one side and Ben Jacques-Maynes and Jeremy Vennell who finished second and third last year. Last year’s winner Luis Amaran is skipping the race, but his team Jamis/Sutter Home is counting on his two sprinters, Anibal and Alejandro Borrajo, to bring in stage wins. Other teams to watch include Chipotle Development and Pure Black Racing who were both quite active at Tour of the Gila and in a race well-suited for their riders, V Australia who won two stages last year. (See men’s roster)
Small teams in the women’s field with most having between 3 and 5 riders. TIBCO/To The Top has been plagued with injury lately including to last year’s winner Alison Powers but is fielding 5 riders with Meredith Miller. NRC team leaders Colavita/Forno d’Asolo has only three with ace sprinter Modesta Vzesniauskaite who won 2 stages last year.; originally on the preliminary start list Cath Cheatley is also out with an injury. Other riders and team to watch include Canadian team Juvederm/Specialized with Gila best young rider Lex Albrecht and Primal/MapMyRide’s Emily Kachorek. (See women’s roster)
The stages. The race begins with the time trial, a 2.5-mile (4km) climb out of Devil’s Den State Park on Thursday, May 5. 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%. Last year, Andrew Talansky then with CalGiant set the fastest time, a course record, of 7:54.43, and now retired Katheryn Curi Mattis was the fastest woman with 9:38.76.
Friday’s road race goes straight into the hills, with multiple climbs. Starting from a Wal-Mart parking lot, the men’s field will cover 110 miles (177 km) and 5,300 feet of climbing and the women 64 miles (103 km) 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.
A flooded section has caused a last-minute change to the staging and finish area for road race on Saturday, May 7, but the main portion of the course stays the same. After a 12-mile out-and-back spur from the staging area, the riders tackle a 23-mile loop that features over 1,500 feet of climbing per lap. The men do 4 loops for 104 miles (167 km) in total and the women 2 loops for a total of 58 miles (93 km).
The final stage is the Sunday criterium in downtown Fayetteville, which returns to the 2009 1.2-mile course, meaning that last year’s dangerous corner, the site of many crashes, is gone. A later start will mean hopefully a bigger crowd on Mother’s Day. The men race for 85 minutes and the women for 55 minutes.
See cheat sheet for detailed stage info.