One of the longest, continually held cycling races in the country takes place each year in Fayetteville, though some Arkansans still aren’t familiar with it. Either that or they aren’t quite sure how to watch it. Maybe we can help.
The annual Joe Martin Stage Race celebrates 40 years this weekend with over 750 athletes and teams from 27 countries expected to fill hotels and guest homes across town and the surrounding area.
The four-day, four-stage race begins Thursday and ends Sunday afternoon just off the downtown Fayetteville Square.
While Sunday’s events are the easiest and most exciting to take in, there are options for those who want more.
Hagens Berman Supermint Pro Cycling Team
Professional riders begin earning points on Thursday afternoon with an uphill time trial at Devil’s Den State Park (course map). Riders leave the starting gates one at a time beginning at 12 p.m. for several hours.
Spectators can catch competitors as they prepare and leave the start house, and can also walk along the three-mile uphill course (watch out for riders) or hang out at the finish line.
Depending upon arrival time, spectators must use the appropriate entry to Devil’s Den State Park. If arriving before 11 a.m., take Interstate 49 south to Exit 45, and then turn west/right on Hwy. 74. If arriving after 11 a.m., take I-49 south to Exit 53, and turn west/right to proceed south on Hwy 170 into the park.
The pros begin their second day with road races that include between 3,500 and 5,400 feet of hill climbing. The men’s course begins in west Fayetteville and sends riders on a 110-mile race south along the Oklahoma border before heading east to catch U.S. 71 near Alma, and then north towards Fayetteville. The pro women’s 64-mile course begins in Cedarville and heads east to U.S. 71 to mirror the last leg of the men’s race.
All Friday events finish near the intersection of Church Avenue and Center Street in downtown Fayetteville. The anticipated finish for the women’s race is approximately 2:45 p.m., with the men 1,2 race expected to end at around 3:15 p.m. and the main pro men’s race expected to finish at about 4 p.m.
Quebec-based Silber Pro Cycling
Amateur events begin Saturday with time trials at Devil’s Den starting at 7:30 a.m. Viewing spots are similar to those in the pro time trials (see above).
The remainder of Saturday’s events begin and end outside Baum Stadium in south Fayetteville.
The non-competitive Gran Fondo rides begin at 8 a.m. and offer several course options for anyone who wants to experience what it’s like to be a pro cyclist for a day. Riders will head south on Hwy. 265 before making varying loops to return to the stadium later in the day.
The Gran Fondo uses the same start and finish line where the amateurs and pros will race on Saturday beginning at 11 a.m. With six amateur categories and three professional categories scheduled (see course map), spectators can expect to find riders racing along Hwy. 265 and the famous Hogeye Loop for most of the day, with the final race expected to end at around 6:45 p.m.
Aside from the start/finish, a great place to watch the races is on Hwy. 156 approximately three miles west of the I-49 Exit 53 at West Fork. The area, commonly referred to as “The Wall” is a difficult climb for the riders and is an exciting place to get dropped off and watch the action on the side of the road.
Sunday is easily the most exciting day to take in the Joe Martin Stage Race. Both amateurs and pros will compete in criterium (or crit) races featuring multiple loops around downtown Fayetteville (see map below).
The crits serve as the final stage of the race as the leaders hope to hold their advantages and the others attempt to overtake them in the overall standings. The racing action is always fast and furious with riders hitting speeds of over 35 miles per hour while riding within inches of each other through 90-degree turns.