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Joe Martin Stage Race

By Zoie Clift

Sutherland finished fourth on the Brasstown Bald stage of this year's Tour de Georgia

Sutherland finished fourth on the Brasstown Bald stage of this year’s Tour de Georgia

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

The Joe Martin Stage Race, set to start Thursday, will feature two road races, an uphill time trial, and a downtown criterium in the race’s hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Organizers are expecting over 700 athletes from 17 countries and more than 40 states to compete in this year’s race, said race director Bruce Dunn.

Health Net-Maxxis has won the Joe Martin the last three years and anchoring the returning group is 2007 NRC winner Rory Sutherland, the 25-year-old powerhouse from Canberra, Australia.

The team has won 7 of 8 stages of the race in the last two years. Last year, Karl Menzies won two stages and Sutherland won one stage and the overall.

“We’re coming back with a great group of guys with the ability to do well,” said Sutherland. “It’s a strong team for the type of parcourse. It’s also another good opportunity for the younger guys like John Murphy and Kyle Gritters to make their mark on the race. Fayetteville is a good place to race around, with a good feel. After Georgia, it’s nice to be able to come to a smaller but really high quality race. It’s just fun to do.”

Also registered to come is the Jelly Belly crew. Director Danny Van Haute has added six new riders to this year’s roster, including 2007 Pan American Omnium champion and former USPRO Criterium champion Brad Huff. Other teams entered include Colavata/Sutter Home, Team Type 1, Rite Aide, Bissell, TOSHIBA-Santo, Mercy, Team Rubicon-Orbea, THF Racing, Jittery Joe’s, CRCA/Empire, and Team RACE Pro.

Top teams in the women’s field include Team Cheerwine, Advil/Chapstick, Colavita/Cooking Light, Team Kenda Tire, Team Revolution, LoneStarWorks.com, Mercy, and Team Ultralink.

This will be the race’s 31st year (the event began as the Fayetteville Classic in 1978) and 6th year as an NRC race.

“This is one of the few courses where the criterium really makes a difference.” said Dunn. “It is definitely one of the top five crit courses in terms of toughness.”

This year the race moved the time trial to Thursday in an effort to break things up and make the two road races more dynamic.

“With the time trial now occurring as the first event, the dynamics of the stage race have changed from past years, where the eventual overall leader of the race was determined on the time trial.” said Dunn. “With a GC leader being established early on now, the two road races should see more action with teams not being able to control the action as in past years.”

Joe Martin starts with a short time trial route at Devil’s Den State Park on Thursday. The route (which is flat for the first half-mile and then pitches up hard and continues climbing until the end) is 2 1/2 miles at an average grade of 6.8 percent.

The second day of racing is straight into the hills, with multiple climbs. Men will take on 110 miles with over 5,400 feet of climbing and the women’s race is 64 miles with more than 3,500 feet of climbing. The route ends with a 6 percent grade over the last 350 meters.

A challenging but beautiful course greets cyclists on Saturday with climbs and a slight downhill finish in Fayetteville. Men ride 92 miles and women 69 miles. The main portion of the course is a 23-mile loop that features over 1,500 feet of climbing per lap, with the men doing three loops and the women two loops.

Sunday’s race is 90 minutes (3 laps) for men and 60 minutes (3 laps) for women. The technical 1.3 mile course hosts an uphill section leading to the start/finish line and takes the racers around eight corners on every lap.

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