Joe Martin- It was my second stage race last year, and the first stage race I was fit enough to not feel as if my legs and lungs were being trampled on by a baby elephant every gasping moment. So when I found out the race was going to be UCI event this year, I was excited and optimistic for a result. Going into the race, people were asking me what I was hoping for. I said, top 15 and I would be happy. Sure, on paper 15th doesn’t sound that exciting, but I need to learn to velcro my shoes before I can move to laces. (That sounds like a decent analogy)
Cycling is a hard sport to explain to people, and results are also hard to explain. I mean, apart from the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd part- it’s hard for some people to understand the importance of anything farther down the line. There are so many moving parts in stage races, that easily affect the outcome of your final placing. Joe Martin is a 4 day race consisting of a short uphill Time Trial, a 110 mile road race, a 110 mile circuit race, and an 84 minute criterium.
Coming off of a 21st place at Redlands, I knew I was riding decent in the criteriums, climbs, and road races, but I knew I needed to work on my TT. The Joe Martin TT is uphill, but it’s super short with fast sections. So it doesn’t really favor a true climber, rather it’s all about getting super aero, then putting out the most amount of watts possible. So I did a little mock TT practice at home, and worked on my aero tuck.
In Arkansas, one had many fine delicatessen dining options. On top of the list was Denny’s. So if you ever want to know what the best pre race meal is, roll into your local denny’s and order the red white and blue. Not only does it shout America (Eating this with Clay every day was hilarious because he’s Australian and had to eat his American morning patriotism to fulfill his Visa credentials), but it’s quite delicious too. 2 eggs (over medium of course, which depends on the cooks definition of medium; We came to find that the Tuesday cook is not nearly as skilled as the Saturday cook. And don’t even try to eat at Denny’s on Sunday), 2 sausage links, hash browns, and pancakes with blueberries, strawberries, icing, and whipped cream.
Stage 1- Uphill TT
Going into the TT I wanted a fast time, didn’t want to blow up, and wanted to nail my warm up. A lot of moving parts for just a 2.7 mile race. Starting my warm up, I was feeling a little flat from the travel, but that quickly dissipated as I out sprinted a giant Rotweiler on some random mountain road in Arkansas. (Cue in the banjos). Going into the TT I had a certain power number in my head which I nailed, just need to work on using the whole course and getting more aero. The time was good, and much better than last year’s (8th through last year’s course). But I ended up 29th on the day, I was disappointed on the placing, but I had to remind myself it was a UCI race now, and a lot of teams were there who weren’t there last year; especially the Colombian team, they had 7 riders finish in front of me in that TT. AMAZING!
Stage 2- Good Ol’ Arkansas Roads 110 miles
Arkansas really is beautiful. It’s even more beautiful when you’re battling cross winds and hoping it doesn’t rain. This race usually goes by a set script. Huge fight for the break, break goes, everyone chills, then the group brings the break back on the super fast descent into town. That’s sort of how it went this year, but there were a bunch of scares before the break actually established. A few large groups were splitting, one of the breaks I bridged to in fear it was going to stick, then a less threatening one finally went. Eventually that break was brought back, and by brought back I mean they were caught 1k from the finish line, while 75 chasers were trying to make a left hand turn into an alley only big enough for a smart car. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the left hand turn into town is extremely important. If you aren’t top 20 wheels, you’re not going to finish there. Thankfully, Brechtlemania led me into town perfectly, as I sprinted into position. And by sprinted into position, I mean I was actually literally sprinting from the left hand turn 1k from the finish. Then I sprinted over the hill, in 15th or so wheel, then slight accelerated into the finish for 17th. If I ever wished i had a go pro for a finish, this would be it. Oh and did I mention. It rained.
Stage 3- Circuit Race 110 miles
This day is usually the most stressful for whoever is in the GC lead. All day, Jamis had to patrol the front, while only letting go a break they felt confident in bringing back. This year, the winds were pretty bad in places, so it would be difficult for a break to roll all day. The circuit features a pretty good climb each lap, that allows for an opportunity for splits if paced right. As a team, we were hoping to get in a major split, and drive the pace heading into town. But due to the winds, the splits never really developed. On the final climb I went second wheel up the climb, surrounded by the Colombian team, hoping to split the race apart. This didn’t happen so a pretty large group of 60 or so was heading into town together. We assessed who made it over from the team; Brecht, Cortlan, Max, myself, and Clay. Apparently, Clay was dodging a car parked weird alongside of the road, when someone hit him from behind. He went down pretty hard on his hand, so he was nursing his wrist going into the finish. Brecht, Cortlan, Max and I started our lead up train, but amid the hectic run in, we were separated. Brecht finished 10th on the day and Cortlan right outside. A good result for both of them.
Hotel Room etiquette
Staying at the super 8, Clay and I started to make the room feel like a home away from home. Amid leaving for another Denny’s trip, the cleaning lady snuck into the room for some cleaning action. Unbeknownst to her, we returned too quickly and were faced with a dilemma. We had a race and needed our room, so we decided we needed to ask her to leave our room. We walked upstairs, and as soon as we made eye contact, we decided bein
g late was better than kicking her out. I don’t know why this story is relevant, but kicking a cleaning out of your room is really intimidating.
Two burritos or Chicken Fried Pineapple Rice. Always.
Stage 4- The Crit
1st-20th were now only 31 seconds apart. I was sitting 19th going into the Crit, and hoped to move into the top 15. The crit is probably my favorite crit in the US. Straight up, and straight down, with a few technical features at the top. There were time sprints throughout the day, so I hoped to pick up a few seconds. I went off the front on the lap before the first time bonus sprint point in hopes to roll solo, or with a small group. UHC had other plans, UHC lead out engaged.
After that a small break went, which helped calm the field down for the mid part of the race. Once we hit 10 laps to go I knew it was time to get to the front. Things slowly started getting more and more real. Going into the last lap, the peloton was completely strung out and I was in the top 20. Heading up the final climb before the big climb into the finish, I was all out trying to hold the top 10 train. Turning the final climb, I was slowly cracking; I ended up rolling across in 16th and missed some pretty big time splits. Finished 16th overall same time as 15th. Pretty happy with that for my first UCI stage race. A huge thanks to the sponsors, and of course the teammates. The young guys did a great job, and so did the rest of the team. Up next is USPRO nationals for the Americans, then we head to Winston Salem, then up to PHILLY. Very excited for these next 3 races.
Music you need
I think I’m going to add this section to each post. It will be my favorite song from the stage race.