Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer
One of the longest, continually held cycling races in the country takes place right here in Fayetteville, yet many locals still don’t even know about it. Either that or they aren’t quite sure how to watch it. Maybe we can help.
The annual Joe Martin Stage Race enters its 41st year this weekend with over 500 athletes from 24 countries expected to fill hotels and guest homes across town and the surrounding area.
The four-day, four-stage race begins Thursday (April 12) and ends Sunday afternoon near 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.
Thursday, April 12
The pros and elite amateurs begin the stage race with a change of format for 2018. Instead of starting with the time trials, a road race is planned with an exciting finish atop Mount Sequoyah in Fayetteville.
Each of the three races will follow the same 2.5-mile finishing stretch that includes a series of challenging climbs leading to the finish line at the gates of the Mount Sequoyah Center.
The center will host outdoor games from 1-6 p.m. with food for purchase and a local beer garden. The event is free and open to the public. Those attending should park at Sequoyah United Methodist church at 1910 N. Old Wire Rd. and take a free shuttle to the top of Mount Sequoyah. Shuttles will run continuously throughout the duration of the event.
Other great spectating locations include anywhere along the final finishing hill climbs, including Spring Street, Fletcher Avenue, Oklahoma Way, Missouri Way, and Assembly Drive.
With riders averaging at least 24 miles per hour, expect the elite amateur men to finish around 2:30 p.m. with the pro women coming in at about 4 p.m. and the pro men arriving possibly as early as 5 p.m. depending on the speed of the peloton.
Friday, April 13
The pros and elite amateurs will race again Friday on road courses that include between 3,600 and 6,200 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 60-mile course begins in Cedarville and heads east to U.S. 71 to mirror the last leg of the men’s race.
Spectating will be easiest at the finish line in downtown Fayetteville, but we’ve had fun in years past watching the peloton pass by the scenic overlook at Artist Point and then hurrying back to town for the finish. If you try this, don’t attempt to come back on Highway 71 or you’ll be stuck behind the peloton. The best bet is to park at the rest stop just north of the scenic overlook and after the riders pass, head south on 71 towards Mountainburg and follow the sign right to take I-49 back to Fayetteville after Lake Fort Smith. The pro women should be at Artist Point at around 1:30 p.m., with the elite amateurs coming by at about 2:15 p.m. and the pro men at around 3 p.m.
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 elite amateur men expected to finish at around 3:15 p.m. and the pro men’s race expected to end at about 4 p.m.
Saturday, April 14
Professional riders continue earning points on Saturday with an uphill individual time trial at Devil’s Den State Park (course map). Riders leave the starting gates one at a time beginning at 8 a.m.
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.
Non-elite amateur events also begin Saturday with road races starting at 12 p.m. near Delford Rieff Park in Prairie Grove.
The non-competitive Gran Fondo rides begin at 8:30 a.m. and offer several course options of varying distances from 23-74 miles. Riders will leave and return to the same location on Buchanan Street in Prairie Grove.
Sunday, April 15
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.
Crits begin at 8 a.m. and are expected to last until at least 4:30 p.m. with other events planned, including a free kids ride for ages 3-12 with varying distances per age group and finishers medals.