Francisco Mancebo (RealCyclist.com) is aiming to add another overall title to his series of National Racing Calendar (NRC) stage race wins at the 34th annual Joe Martin Stage Race held from May 5-8 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Defending Champion, Luis Amaran (Jamis-Sutter Home) will be in attendance, however, Alison Powers (Tibco-To the Top) will not be retuning to defend her title leaving the race wide open for a new overall winner to emerge.
"We always want to see more racers each year," said Bruce Dunn, race director of the Joe Martin Stage Race. "But what we’re seeing each year is an incredible increase in the quality of riders. Quantity is great, but we also want to see the reputation of the race grow each year as well. This year's early-season commitments from teams should make this a reality."
Mancebo kicked off the NRC season with an overall win at the Redlands Bicycle Classic held at the end of March in California. He went on to win the Tour of the Gila last week in Silver City, New Mexico. Some of the tough competition he will face during the Joe Martin Stage Race include an array of powerful overall contenders and sprinters that include Amaran and his teammate Tyler Wren (Jamis-Sutter Home).
Others include Jonathan Cantwell (V Australia), Andrew Bajadali and Jason Donald (Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth), his own teammates Cole House and Cesar Grajales (RealCyclist.com) is in the running for a good result, Lachlan Morton and Alex Howes (Chipotle Development), Jay Thompson, Ben and Andy Jacques-Maynes (Bissell) and Mike Northey (Pure Black Racing), among others.
On the women’s side, last year’s NRC winner Cath Cheatley (Colavita Forno D’Asolo) is off the bike recovering from an injury, however, Modesta Vzesniauskaite will no doubt play a dominant force during the race after winning two of the four stages last year. Other contenders include Tour of the Gila third placed overall finisher Kathryn Donovan (SSC Velo-Empower Coaching), Lex Albrecht Juvederm-Specialized), Nicole Evans (Primal-MayMyRide) and Meredith Miller (Tibco-To the Top).
"We have three riders, it’s a small team because we have a lot rider selected for Pan American Championships and the other part of our team is at the USA Crits," said Colavita Forno D’Asolo DS Rachel Heal. "But, it is a fairly small field and not that many teams with lots of riders. Modesta won the two road stages here last year and I am hopeful that she can repeat that success. The second stage’s loop is still the same but the start and finishes are different."
The peloton will be racing for more than $55,000USD in prize money. The race will kick off with a four-kilometre up hill time trial through the Devil’s Den State Park on Thursday. Andrew Talansky, who now races for Garmin-Cervelo, won the men’s race last year and now retired Kathryn Mattis, racing for Webcor-Builders, won the women’s event.
On Friday, the racing will continue for the men with a 176kms road race, and for the women with a 102kms road race, through the country roads that surround Fayetteville. Both fields will climb over a midway ascent over Mount Gaylor. Bernie Sulzberger (V Australia) won the men’s race last year and Modesta Vzesniauskaite (Colavita Forno D’Asolo) won the women’s race. Janel is time trialing well at the moment so it helps for her in the overall."
Saturday will offer the riders a revamped road race that has not been announced at this time. The surprise course will no doubt offer a challenge for the overall contenders. Last year’s event offered a large-lopped circuit race where Cantwell won the men’s race and Vzesniauskaite took her second win in the women’s race.
The race will conclude on Sunday with a criterium held in downtown Fayetteville. The challenging course starts with a blazing fast and technical downhill and offers a short but steep uphill to the finish line. Neither Alexis Rhodes (Garmin-Cervelo) nor Karl Menzies (UnitedHealthcare) will be present to defend his criterium victory.