Fresh from Europe, Wildlife Generation Pro Cycling arrived at the 2022 Walmart Joe Martin Stage Race firing on all cylinders this past weekend, claiming the overall win, sprint jersey, two stage wins and the team classification in Fayetteville after four days of racing.
Australian Jonathan Clarke soloed to victory on the first stage and held the overall lead the entire race, almost identical to how he won the Arkansas stage race back in 2015, then riding for UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling.
Clarke's teammate, Noah Granigan finished second overall, and Tyler Stites (Project Echelon) took third.
The Walmart Joe Martin Stage Race, held May 19 to 22, has been a longstanding staple of the US domestic road racing scene for two decades. This year offered up even more for riders and fans alike after organizers secured Walmart as its new title sponsor, allowing them to fund a live stream on the final day. With only four UCI-sanctioned races remaining in the US, Joe Martin attracted a strong field of elite men and women, further motivated by its tradition of the equal prize purse.
How the race was won
Kicking off the four-day event was Mount Gaylor Road Race, a 190km loop around Fayetteville that featured more than 2,225m of climbing.
Australian Jonathan Clarke (Wildlife Generation Pro Cycling) claimed the stage victory by soloing to the finish 21 seconds ahead of teammate Noah Granigan, setting up the Wildlife Generation as the team to beat for the rest of the race.
Fresh off an overall win at Redlands Bicycle Classic the month prior, Project Echelon's Tyler Stites took third.
"We're just looking to get the momentum and keep it rolling," Clarke said. "It's mainly a young team. I'm the old statesman on the team, so it's nice when I get a result, and I watch how excited the young boys get to help me out, and I think it's also a good lesson for them to learn how to defend a race."
The Wildlife Generation Pro Cycling domination continued on day two of Joe Martin. Noah Granigan took the win atop Mount Sequoyah after 167km of racing on a similar hilly course as the day before. Mexican road champion Eder Frayre (L39ion of Los Angeles) finished a close second, and Tyler Stites (Project Echelon) was third once more.
The top of the GC standing remained unchanged, with Jonny Clarke, who finished seventh on the day, still in the leader's jersey by 21 seconds over the stage winner, Granigan.
"We've had an incredible schedule doing Tour of Turkey against some of the world's best," said Granigan, whose squad was racing together in the US for the first time since the pandemic. "To come back to the States and be able to back that up just shows how strong the whole team is from top to bottom. I'm happy to be racing in America again, and even better to be winning."
The Devils Den Time Trial was next on the menu, held on a testing 4.8km uphill course. Despite the rainy conditions, it was L39ion of Los Angeles's turn to shine, with Sam Boardman claiming the stage win with a time of 9:39.20. Xander White (CS Velo) took second, and Tyler Stites was third. Stites moved up to second on GC, 12 seconds behind Jonny Clarke (Wildlife Generation), with one stage remaining.
Noah Granigan finished 14th in the time trial, which dropped him down to third place, just one second behind Stites.
With the top three on GC so close, the time bonuses available in the 30-lap flat and fast criterium would be crucial. Wildlife Generation rose to the occasion, successfully protecting Jonny Clarke's lead by shutting down dangerous moves and keeping a close eye on Tyler Stites, who slid out around a corner, but still finished with the main bunch and would end up in third overall at the end of the day.
Thanks to Wildlife Generation's strong defensive work, Jonny Clarke not only took the win, but teammate Noah Granigan moved up to second overall and clinched the green sprint jersey along the way.
Best Buddies' Bryan Gomez narrowly took the stage win by a bike throw ahead of Tyler Williams (L39ion of Los Angeles), overall winner of the 2021 edition of Joe Martin. Hugo Scala (Project Echelon) finished third.
"We had a pretty rough week. We came here trying to fight for GC," Gomez said after the race. "Things didn't happen the way we wanted, but we knew we didn't have anything to lose today, so we went full gas. GC didn't happen, so we left it behind. My whole team was just trying and trying from the gun, and it was pretty good. I was having some issues with my chain, but I timed my sprint pretty well and won because of my bike throw. That was pretty cool. It was fun."
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