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Skylar Schneider and Jonathan Clarke win opening stage of Walmart Joe Martin Stage Race

Schneider sprints and Clarke soloes on day 1 of the four day stage race.

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The Walmart Joe Martin Stage Race kicked off on Thursday in Fayetteville, Arkansas with two UCI road races, the Mount Gaylor Road Race for the men and the Arkansas Tourism Devil’s Den Road Race for the women.  Men raced a 119-mile course that included more than 7,300 feet of climbing, while the women’s course measured 69 miles with 4,300 feet of elevation gain.

Pro women’s race

L39ion of Los Angeles’ Skylar Schneider outpsrinted a whittled field of 23 riders to win the opening stage of the Walmart Joe Martin Stage Race on Thursday.

Rylee McMullen was just behind her for Instafund Racing in second, with Schneider’s teammate, Shayna Powless in third. The riders had faced a strong headwind for most of the first half of the race, with few takers interested in attempting an escape.

Read also: Preview: Walmart Joe Martin Stage Race

A break of four riders finally went just prior to the only QOM of the day at 45km into the stage, consisting of Emma Langley (EF Education-Tibco-SVB), Emily Marcolini (3T/Q+M), Austin Killips (Wolfpack), and Heidi Franz (Instafund). Both L39ion and DNA Pro Cycling had missed the move and were quick to organize to close the gap.

“Normally with such a strong headwind you kind of expect the first half of the race to be pretty easy and chill, but Fount took the front from the beginning and made it really hard,” Schneider said. “I can’t even tell you where we raced easy today, it was a battle to the finish line. It hurt so bad, which makes it feel so much better.”

The women of L39ion of Los Angeles had skipped the prior two stage races, opting to race Speed Week crits instead. The first day of racing came as a shock to the legs for the California squad. Schneider had also suffered a flat around the time the break had escaped and was forced to swap bikes with her sister, Sam.

“This is the first stage race since last August here at Joe Martin, so that’s a bit out of my comfort zone,” Schneider said. “I was on my sister’s bike after I had a flat, we’re not the same size. I think tomorrow, I’ll feel a lot more comfortable.”

After the break was caught with roughly 30km to go, EF Education-Tibco-SVB organized them selves on the front, driving the pace. The team missed the top three in the final but has its eyes set for the overall.

“We’re here to win, so we always want to go for the number one spot,” Langley said, after trying her chance in the break. “Our plan was to set us up for GC for the next three days. I think we did exactly that. I was in the break, but rode a little conservatively because I knew the girls were chasing behind. We came all together again and kept the group working just to make sure that no other chasers would catch back on.”

“All five of us are capable of winning, so we’ll see how we feel each day. We’re all prepared to take on a leadership role, or a working role, so we’ll see how the next few days play out.”

Austin Killips notched the top points at the QOM for ATX Team Wolfpack, earning the first QOM jersey of the race. Ngaire Barraclough of Cyclery Racing was the Best Young Rider, with Skylar Schneider earning the pink overall GC jersey and the sprint jersey for her efforts.

Pro men’s race

Jonathan Clarke earned a solo victory in the men’s race, finishing with a sizeable gap ahead of his Wildlife Generation teammate, Noah Granigan, and Project Echelon’s Tyler Stites in third. Wildlife Generation is racing their first stage race in the U.S. after a big block of races in Europe and Turkey.

“The first half of the race was pretty boring, things started to rev-up up that main climb,” Clarke said. “Our boys were all over everything, we were good. A big powerful move from Team Echelon’s Stephen Vogul went on the downhill; I thought it was a good wheel to follow. It took everything I had to get to him. We were trading turns, until he told me he was cramping and he swung off and I time-trialed to the line.”

Both wind and heat were a factor. After the time spent in Europe, several riders including Granigan mentioned suffering from cramps leading in to the finish.

“Things are starting to change for the team,” he said. “We had a rough start, but then a good Tour of Turkey and now we’re looking at steamroll results. Last time I won the first stage of the race, I told myself I don’t care about the GC and then I won the GC…so I don’t care. Now we’ll win the GC.”

Project Echelon had spent a lot of energy, driving the front after a strong showing at Tour of the Gila two weeks ago and winning Redlands Bicycle Classic earlier in the season. VeloNews caught up with the Team Director, Isaiah Newkirk after the finish.

“We were where we needed to be, with the winning move but Johnny had a killer ride and chapeau to him, that was amazing,” Newkirk said. “There was a lot of disorganization in the chase, and that wasn’t coming back. We’re a little disappointed but there is still a lot of bike racing left. We got on to the podium and so we’re happy with it but there is still work to be done.”

The men will start the road race for stage 2 at 11:15 AM local time, with the women heading out after noon, finishing atop Mt. Sequoyah.

Full results can be found here