Defending champion Skylar Schneider (L39ION of Los Angeles) won the opening day for pro women at the 2022 Walmart Joe Martin Stage Race in Fayetteville, Arkansas. In the bunch sprint, Rylee McMullen (InstaFundRacing) trailed for second and Shayna Powless (L39ION of Los Angeles) secured third.
The pro women’s event covered 111 kilometres (69 miles) on the Devil’s Den Road Race, with 1,301 metres (4,270 feet) of elevation gain. The peloton of 89 riders started mid-day with winds blowing 20-35 mph.
"It was a really tough race," defending champion Schneider said. "I think normally when it's such a strong headwind, you expect to be able to be calm and just hang out at the back. But it was pretty full gas from the start today."
"I think everyone wanted to try and make or break away except us who wanted a sprint so we just had to cover the moves and be patient."
The peloton was all together as the race rolled through Devil’s Den State Park and hit the main climb of the day, a three-mile twisting ascent with an average gradient of 8% located 43km into the ride.
From a front group of 15 riders on the climb, four riders formed a solid breakaway: Heidi Franz (InstaFund), Emma Langley (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB), Austin Killips (ATX Wolfpack) and Emily Marcolini (3T/Q+M Team). They used a massive tailwind and passed through Winslow to build a gap of over one minute.
At the intermediate sprint in Brentwood, just north of Winslow, Franz took maximum points, trailed by Langley in second place and Killips in third, and the gap was down to 35 seconds.
The leaders were caught with just under 40km to go, 23 riders making up the reduced peloton at the front.
With 25km to go, the wind began to fade while the pace at the front picked up with EF Education-TIBCO-SVB in the lead and L39ION of Los Angeles looking to move in the mix. The road narrowed to one lane due to construction just 6km from the finish line, but the pack was undeterred to set up the favourites for a sprint finish.
"I actually had to change bikes with my sister at the base of Devil's Den climb. I had a flat at the worst time and we're different sizes, so I had to finish this stage on a really small bike but I'm just grateful that we made that decision when we did and I could finish it off," said Skylar Scheider.
"I'm still at a loss for words. And I'm excited to now try and defend the jersey these coming days."
The four-day stage race continues on Friday with the women’s Mount Sequoyah Road Race, a 107-kilometre (67-mile) trek back through Devil’s Den State Park, but in a clockwise direction, a loop opposite of what was done on Thursday.
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Jackie has been involved in professional sports for more than 30 years in news reporting, sports marketing and public relations. She founded Peloton Sports in 1998, a sports marketing and public relations agency, which managed projects for Tour de Georgia, Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and USA Cycling. She also founded Bike Alpharetta Inc, a Georgia non-profit to promote safe cycling. She is proud to have worked in professional baseball for six years - from selling advertising to pulling the tarp. She has climbed l'Alpe d'Huez three times (not fast). Her favorite road rides are around horse farms in north Georgia (USA) and around lavender fields in Provence (France), and some mtb rides in Park City, Utah (USA).
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