Rollin’ Down The Highway

Ozark Outdoor Supply

The Highway 71 Classic is, as its name suggests, a classic ride in Northwest Arkansas, attracting more than 200 cyclists a year. While there are a few different ride options (including a “dirty” route), the main one goes from the Greenhouse Grille in Fayetteville to Mountainburg and back, covering just under 75 miles. Highway 71 is wide and smooth, and after leaving Fayetteville, there is some pretty awesome scenery to take in.

Lined up and waiting to go.
Lined up and waiting to go.

The most difficult part of the ride is the ascent up Mount Gaylor, a steady 9+ mile climb that is featured in the Joe Martin Stage Race next month, The event usually happens at the beginning of March, but due to below freezing, icy weather, it was rescheduled to March 23rd. This was a good decision. The sun was shining, and although it was a bit chilly, I knew things would soon start to heat up.

The 71 classic attracts some strong cyclists, and when you get a bunch of strong, fast riders together, it is bound to become a race. That’s just the way it goes. It doesn’t really matter if it’s official or not. There are several Strava segments en route, and lots of KOM hunters. Almost as soon as we rolled out of the parking lot the pace ramped up. This was clearly not going to be a chill ride. There were attacks, sprints for city limit signs, and breakaways. It would be kind of silly to get into detail like it was some kind of important race, but I will say that several Strava records fell, and everyone got a good workout, and a fun ride in.

On the ride.
On the ride.

At the halfway point in Mountainburg there was an aid station with tons of food, water, gel, etc. Everyone was very appreciative of the 2 ladies running things at the aid station. The nice thing about it not being a race was that we had time to take a short break, get some food, and regroup before the ascent up Gaylor. After the short stop, the lead group climbed Gaylor, and kept the pace high as we rode back into Fayetteville. The headwind was pretty brutal, but with a strong rotating pace line we kept chipping away at the miles.

All Sports Productions - Legend Highlands
Sustenance
Sustenance

There were lots of sprint sign opportunities on the way back which kept the ride pretty exciting. In previous years there have been some gnarly crashes, but this year it was pretty tame, and no one left any skin on the road as far as I know. The fastest group ended up averaging about 21 mph. By the time we got back into town, it was warm and  and a couple crazy amigos and I headed out for some extra miles. Lots of shenanigans occurred (including some 18 wheeler motorpacing) and we ended up with 105 miles and 6,000+ feet of climbing. All in all a great day in the saddle. The Highway 71 Classic is a must do, and I hope to see even more people next March!

Editor’s note: Thanks to Gerald for the great write-up and to Robin Grunnagle for sharing photos from the Highway 71 Classic. You can read Robin’s take on the ride on the Wheels Hot Fayetteville blog.

Arkansas Cycling & Fitness.
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