Hundreds of cyclists are in Northwest Arkansas for the 37th Annual Joe Martin Stage Race, whose events start Thursday. Cyclists from 20 countries and all 50 states will be competing.
The Joe Martin Stage Race began as the Fayetteville Spring Classic in 1978. When race director Joe Martin died in 1989, the race was re-named in his honor.
“For several years, local cycling teams promoted the race,” said Bruce Dunn, race director. “In 2003, we decided to do race production full time and put it on the professional race calendar.”
Twelve years later, the Joe Martin Stage Race is one of only nine recognized on the National Race Calendar.
“It brings a big smile to my face to say that this race committee and this community and cyclists have all combined to stay the course,” said Dunn.
The race has reached the national stage by sticking to its roots.
“You’re really not trying to change up the stages as much as you’re trying to refine the process,” Dunn said.
Two-time Olympic cyclist Frankie Andreu is a veteran to the event.
“It’s everything you can ask for,” he said.
Along with tradition, Andreu said it’s the courses that keep some of the world’s best cyclists coming back.
“It combines all the different aspects of road cycling into this great stage format over four days,” he said.
Challenging and renowned, it’s a race amateur cyclists are excited to check off their bucket lists.
“It’s definitely nice to say that you’ve come and competed at this level,” said Oliver Flautt of the Lupus Racing Team out of New York. “I’m looking forward to see where I stand at the end.”
But the success of the event all comes back to one man, Joe Martin.
“In 1978, he dreamed of having a race in the Ozark hills here,” Dunn said.
That dream has become more than a race for those who participate.
“They have really left their heart and soul on the course and at the finish line,” Dunn said. “I think that’s what brings people to the event.”
Dunn said the race will bring in between $800,000 to $1.3 million to Northwest Arkansas.
The event starts on Thursday and will run through Sunday, with some streets being closed a few of those days.
On Friday, West Street between Prairie Street and Dickson Street will be closed from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Dickson Street between West Street and Block Street will also be closed.
On Sunday, major intersections downtown around East, Dickson, West, Spring and Church streets will be closed from 7:15 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The race events happening on Thursday and Saturday are out of town, so organizers do not expect any major problems.