The second stop on the USA Cycling National Racing Calendar comes in Fayetteville, Arkansas at this week's Joe Martin Stage Race, where Redlands Classic winners Alison Powers (Now and Novartis for MS) and Francisco Mancebo (5 Hour Energy p/b Kenda) will defend their overall series leads.
The four-day, four-stage race is one for the strong men: it includes a short time trial, an uphill finish on stage 2 that offers a chance for powerful climbers to gain a few seconds on the challengers, a second road race with a testing 23 mile circuit and a fast run-in back to town for the finish after 115 miles, and a fast but technical 8-corner criterium in downtown Fayetteville.
Racing kicks off on Thursday with a short but arduous uphill time trial in Devil's Den State Park - the 2.5 mile course that will take the men around eight painful minutes, the women about one minute more. In the past two years, Mancebo has dominated this stage, and as well as coming into the race as NRC leader, he can also claim the title defending Joe Martin Stage Race champion.
Powers is a two-time winner in Arkansas - having claimed the opening stage in her last outing in 2010 en route to repeating her 2009 overall victory. After a dominating performance in Redlands, it would be hard to imagine who could beat the Now and Novartis rider. While 2012 winner Jade Wilcoxson (Optum Pro Cycling) will not start, her on-form teammate Brianna Walle and Joelle Numainville could wage a challenge, as may the strong Team TIBCO squad containing 2011 time trial winner Amanda Miller and former German champion Claudia Haüsler.
Mancebo looked invincible in the final stage of the Redlands Classic, and went on to place second overall in his homeland at the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon. He will be hard to beat, especially with a team which showed impressive support of its leader at Redlands.
Chad Haga and his Optum Pro Cycling team will be seeking revenge after being unable to keep Mancebo from snatching the yellow jersey off his shoulders on the final stage of Redlands. While the team lacked firepower because it was split between Europe and the US then, in Arkansas the team will field a full team, with welcome reinforcements coming from criterium champion Ken Hanson and the irrepressible Mike Friedman.
Luis Amaran (Jamis-Hagens Berman) is also on fine form and showed he is able to go toe-to-toe with Mancebo in Redlands. His teammate Juan Jose Haedo will also be looking to add to his victory tally, and Ben Jacques-Maynes will look to turn his luck around after a poorly timed crash knocked him out of contention in the opening NRC race.
Expect to see fireworks from the young upstarts at the Hincapie Devo team: Joey Rosskopf rode aggressively in Redlands and will be looking to get some results for his efforts. Same goes for Brad Huff (Jelly Belly) who stepped outside his normal role as a sprinter in Redlands and went on the attack repeatedly.