May 18, 2022 - Sports

Joe Martin Stage Race kicks off 45th year

The criterium race in 2019. Photo: Kai Caddy
The criterium race in 2019. Photo: Kai Caddy

Watching the Walmart Joe Martin Stage Race is like watching a chess match moving 45 mph on two wheels. But you don't have to be Garry Kasparov to be thrilled by it.

Driving the news: The 45-year-old event — the oldest multi-day cycling stage race in North America — is being held in Fayetteville Thursday through Sunday.

Why it matters: One study estimated all cycling activity in NWA led to an economic benefit of more than $137 million in 2017, before some major events like the Cyclo-cross World Championship and U.S. Pro Cup were added to the area's calendar.

  • Molly Rawn, executive director of Experience Fayetteville, told Axios the January Cyclo-cross World Championship likely had an economic impact of $5 million, with about 17,000 people attending the event.
  • Race director Bruce Dunn hopes to draw about 5,000 spectators, compared to an estimated 2,000 in recent years. About 800 amateur and pro competitors will come from all 50 states and 27 countries this year.

Yes, and: The race is part of the USA Cycling Pro Road Tour and on the Union Cycliste Internationale Americas Tour, meaning it's a stepping stone for competitive pro cyclists.

State of play: At 45 years old, the age when most athletes slow down, the Joe Martin Stage Race is turning a tight corner into a headwind and doubling down. Dunn secured the coveted May time slot after the Amgen Tour of California announced it would go on hiatus.

  • Iffy weather and the ever-fluid Easter holiday meant the race's traditional April timing wasn't as popular with competitors.
  • And, Dunn landed a title sponsorship from Walmart in February, which helped bring an entertainment venue with a beer garden and live bands adjacent to the most spectator-friendly part of the race. This party will be at the Walton Arts Center parking lot on West Avenue.

The race on Sunday promises to be so exciting that it'll be broadcast on the Global Cycling Network.

  • All that means there will be more international eyeballs on Northwest Arkansas and its world-class cycling venues.
Map: courtesy Experience Fayetteville

Details: Each day of the race counts as a stage, and each stage has a winner that's ranked by time. The overall race winner is the fastest cyclist or team when the timed results of all days are combined.

  • Races Thursday through Saturday are multi-mile road races in the countryside.
  • Sunday's race is a 1.2-mile circuit around downtown Fayetteville — 16 laps for pro women and 30 for pro men. Race speeds spike going down Dickson Street before riders grind up Spring Street and then Church Avenue to the finish line at Center Street.

What they're saying: The criterium course is "punchy," Dunn told Axios on a recent walk around the circuit. The total elevation change for the 1.2 miles is 92 feet.

  • Compared to an average of 100 feet per mile on NWA's mountain bike trails, it means some road racers will be challenged more than usual and that no matter who's ahead the day before, they have to perform at their peak on Sunday.

Of note: One thing the race is known for is equitability between genders. Historically, it has had pro fields of about 55% male and 45% female.

  • Equal prize money will be distributed among the top 20 male and female athletes in the overall standings.

See the pro race schedule

See the amateur race schedule

See the spectator event guide for Sunday's criterium

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