Over the past few years I’ve been to my fair share of local bike events but nothing prepared me for the spectator delight that is the Joe Martin Stage Race. As usual our time commitment level was running high and only one of the two Arkansas Outside Power Couple could make it up to Fayettville to watch the final day of racing, and I am so glad it was me.
The schedule for Sunday included the Criterium races for all categories. We pulled into town, quickly found a great parking space just South of the action in time to catch the end of the Cat 2,3 Women and the start of the Master’s Women. Wandering down to the square we staked a spot on a corner of the 1.2 mile course that AO contributor, and Joe Martin Race competitor, Chad Cragle suggested.
While the Start/Finish line is exciting, standing out on the course gives spectators a chance to really watch the teamwork and strategy that goes on during a race not to mention that you’re in position to watch some excellent bike handling skills in the turns. Of course that also means you’re in position to watch the disaster unfold if someone makes a mistake. The loud bang of a teammate’s pedal cracking into the cement curb for example, could lead the teammate behind him to pee his chamois. I speak not from experience, I’m only citing the post race conversation overheard while part of the SimplexQ team enjoyed a little post race recovery time standing on the corner with us.
I was a bit surprised that only a few people were watching from either of the two corners on West Avenue at Dickson and at Spring. The corner at West and Dickson had the bonus of a stretch of cobbled pavement that sounded brutal as the wheels bumped along in quick succession but the riders said it wasn’t too bad, it was “sticky” they said. When asked, most riders said it could have been worse if it had been wet like Saturday’s weather for the Road Race. Those having lunch on the 2nd floor balcony at Hog Haus Brewing Company on on that corner could enjoy good food, a good brew and a bird’s eye view of the racing. Most of the crowd was along Church Street (or Church Hill), the climb to the finish line where the riders’ pace slowed slightly though with most of the riders, especially the CAT1/2 and Pros, the slowing was almost undetectable if not for the up out of the saddle dancing on the pedals that was going on.
About mid hill where Meadow Street intersects, there was a block party going on and I do mean party. They had a sound system blaring tunes, they had a grill going, they had folks wearing Church Hill t-shirts clanging cowbells and cheering their lungs out. They also gave the riders something to chuckle at as they had chalked in a turn sign off the course that simply said BACON.
The Pro Women showed up too.
During the Pro Men’s race, the sun had come out in full force and we headed up to a patch of shade along Church Street low on the hill. With 85 minutes of full on racing, the pack (the winner averaged 24.78 mph for the race) was coming by every few minutes. Not knowing anything about anyone in the race, I picked a team rider and cheered. I didn’t cheer for him because of his team affiliation. I didn’t cheer because he was winning. He was actually working the peleton, controlling the action for a teammate in the breakaway. I cheered because he was sporting a full beard. Mike Friedman of team Optum / Kelly Benefit Strategies was my target for the race. “GO FUZZY MAN GO!” I screamed. “Wow, you really do have a thing for beards don’t you?” was the keen observation from one of my companions. So you see, even if you have limited knowledge of cycling, even if you don’t know any of the people riding in the race, being in the crowd, swept up in the action mere inches from the spinning wheels, is worth a trip to next year’s Joe Martin Stage Race. I’ll be there. I wonder if Fuzzy Man will be there too?
While the pros came from around the country and around the world, our local boys were making their presence known. Cat5 SimplexQ racer Barret Richardson used a 4th place finish in Sunday’s Crit to catapult himself into an 11th place overall finish. The Cat4 members of SimplexQ Keegan Knapp, Charlie Roberts, John Gillum, Nolan Reed and Jim Gillum used teamwork to put them in 17th, 18th, 20th, 21st and 28th overall. Arkansas Cycling and Fitness rider CHAD CRAGLE! had a pretty good weekend of racing and came in 13th overall with Spokes rider Derek King taking 27th. Cat3 Junior riders Evan East and Alex Bumpers gave the locals a little podium time with Evan taking 1st in the Time Trial and 2nd in the Crit for 2nd overall. Alex’s recent changes in his nutrition and training regimen helped take him to 2nd place in the Road Race and 4th overall. SimplexQ Cat3 racer Derek Berry also had a good weekend to take 6th overall.
Cat2 racer Zack LaVergne was coming off a serious wreck that damaged his bike as well as his body and he was plagued by mechanicals throughout the weekend. The SimplexQ team thought they knew just how to cheer him up during his Crit ride, they showed him some skin.
Flashing him may not have helped fix his bike, but it did give him something to laugh about, or rather laugh at.
Next year you can join the fun. Come on up, cheer for your favorite hometown riders, cheer for your favorite pros, cheer for men with beards! Come up and have some fun cheering from the side of the road or the bleachers. Just come have fun. It’s a party.
You can find the results of all the racing at Joe Martin this weekend here.
Lots of photos from the crits are now available on our Facebook Page.