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Joe Martin Stage Race ready for 40th edition, eyes expansion

Top U.S. domestic teams are ready to kick off their 2017 seasons at the Joe Martin Stage Race in Arkansas.

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When the late Joe Martin launched the Fayetteville Spring Classic bicycle race in 1978, he couldn’t have predicted that the event would become one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious, or that 40 years later it would bear his name. The Joe Martin Stage Race (JMSR) — renamed in the original race director’s honor after his death from cancer in 1988 — will return to the roads of Arkansas March 30-April 2.

The men’s field will feature 2016 USA Cycling PRT champion Ty Magner of Holowesko-Citadel, Rally Pro Cycling’s Sepp Kuss and Matteo Dal-Cin, and WorldTour veteran Greg Henderson, who is riding this year for UnitedHealthcare. Tayler Wiles (UnitedHealthcare), Erica Allar (Rally), and Ivy Audrain of the Hagens Berman-Supermint team headline an equally impressive pro women’s field.

“We have an amazing field of athletes who will absolutely be looking to place themselves in the early PRT standings,” said race director Bruce Dunn.

Beyond this year’s race, Dunn said his team hopes to build on the race’s popularity to begin a statewide Tour of Arkansas, which would be internationally televised within the next three to five years.

“The best is yet to come for the Joe Martin Stage Race,” Dunn added. “We hope to bring the sport’s biggest international stars on the roads of Arkansas within the next few years.”

Said Magner: “Joe Martin is always an exciting race. For the most part, the road stages are destined to be sprints, though the weather could mix things up this time of year. [Holowesko-Citadel is] headed there with a group capable of winning stages as well as the overall.”

The race begins Thursday with an uphill time trial featuring three miles of switchbacks at an average grade of 5 percent. Friday and Saturday will both see the riders take to the roads around Fayetteville, where the men will race approximately 110 miles daily to include roughly 6,200 feet of elevation gain, and the women 64 miles/3,500 feet daily. The event concludes Sunday with a criterium on a technical, 1.2-mile course in Fayetteville.

“We’re going in with a kind of two-pronged approach. We’ve got a couple of real rock spiders who can nail the uphill TT. If we can win [the TT] with Janier Acevedo or Alex Cataford, then we’ll protect them,” said Henderson, also noting he’s prepared to help JJ Haedo and Tanner Putt in the sprints.

Said Allar: “I quite like the Joe Martin course, despite the uphill time trial. I enjoy this race because it’s not just a climber’s course or a GC rider’s race. Riders who are strong, well-rounded, and can race a hard, technical crit have the chance to do really well.”

To celebrate JMSR’s 40th birthday, we went into the VeloNews archives for this report from the race’s first edition in 1978.