The Joe Martin Stage Race is a nationally and internationally contested cycling race in Fayetteville, Arkansas. 2016 will mark the 39th anniversary of the amateur races; 14th anniversary on the USA Cycling Pro Racing Tour (PRT) and 2nd year to be on the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) America Tour calendar.
Chicago Women's Elite Cycling is racing Joe Martin as a composite elite team. We'll be posting daily updates from the field on the riders, the racing and the beautiful hills of northern Arkansas.
Day 1 began with a time trial. The course, a 3-mile climb out of Devil’s Den State Park, was new for 2016 and much more technical than courses in years past (you can check out the route in detail here). CWEC Directeur Sportif Alison Powers took the team on a course recon a few hours before the start, highlighting the ideal (and the less than ideal) lines along the steep switchbacks that comprised the first 3k of the course.
What was the gist of the recon? As Alison recounted to me afterward, “Pacing for this course was really important. The climb was steep in some parts and moderate in others, with a fast straightaway near the end. But the corners really made it technical - so that was really the focus.”
As a member of the CWEC support crew, my job was to be stationed at the finish with cold water for our riders as they came across the line. The walk up to the finish line gave me a great view of the course itself as the men’s field raced up out of the state park. As the riders sprinted past me, I could hear and see why they call it Devil’s Den. The sharp switchbacks offer no respite for riders, but the scenery is insanely beautiful.
Jannette Rho was the first CWEC rider to explode out of the starting chute. She recounted her race, saying “The whole time I was surging. I was working hard, as hard as I could have, but I didn’t do it right - and I don’t even know if there’s a way to do it right! Someone said to me, if you finish feeling good, you didn’t do it right.”
As the rest of the team finished strong at the top of the climb, I met them with water bottles. Their starting times were fairly spaced out, so I was able to spend a few minutes chatting with each as they recovered. I wasn’t sure what mental state they’d be in after clawing their way out of the Devil’s Den - but all seven of the CWEC riders were excited and optimistic afterwards (and maybe a little relieved to get it over with). The taste of blood in the back of one's mouth was a consistent theme; an indicator that they were indeed going hard enough. I expected the riders to say that the switchbacks at the beginning of the course were the most physically demanding aspect of the race, but a number told me that the long climb and straightaway at the end of the course was the tougher challenge.
After dinner that evening, Alison capped the day by directing the riders to write down their memories and insights from the race as soon as possible. "The best way to learn is to write it down - you can look back on it next week, or next year, and remember what you learned before the same time trial next year.”
She also gave an overview of Stage 2, a 64 mile road race, saying "I think it’ll be a good race. I think it’ll be a sprint finish. I’m excited to see how our girls do with the bigger, more aggressive field. A road race is a whole different beast than a time trial.”
Check back tomorrow for more updates from the field and beautiful snaps from SnowyMountain Photography.