When registration for the first Big Sugar Gravel opened in 2019, the race’s 1,000 cycling spots sold out in just 5 minutes.
That’s when organizers from Life Time, the company behind Big Sugar Gravel and many other events, knew it was on to something.
“We’ve always looked at Bentonville and Northwest Arkansas as a place of long-term commitment,” Michelle Duffy Smith, marketing director for Life Time, said in an interview Thursday.
Life Time is now doubling down on that commitment, adding an MTB event called Little Sugar the weekend before Big Sugar Gravel in October. For the week in between those events, the company also announced the Big Sugar Classic Cycling Festival, which will offer family-friendly events.
If the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, Calif., marks the beginning of the North American cycling season, then the expanded plans for October in Bentonville aim to bookend the year. It marks the final event in Life Time’s Grand Prix and 7 grueling months of pro cyclists staying on their A-game.
“That is exactly the vibe you felt, this celebration of an amazing year,” Duffy Smith said. “Sit back and drink a beer and reminisce about the year. We see that kind of thing as expanding with this event.”
Little Sugar MTB
Registration for Little Sugar MTB opens March 1, the same day as Big Sugar Gravel.
Slated for Oct. 15, the new MTB event will allow up to 1,000 cyclists this year, and Life Time organizers say that could expand to 2,000 riders in the future. Participating cyclists who shred down the state’s popular singletrack trails will also have the opportunity to qualify for the Stages Cycling Leadville Trail 100 MTB.
The event weekend will begin with a one-day expo on Saturday, Oct. 14, when cyclists can try the challenging trails that they’ll tackle for the actual event on Sunday. Little Sugar’s course roughly follows the course of Little Sugar Creek through Bentonville and Bella Vista, Ark., granting riders a scenic trip through the area’s waterfalls, caves and grinding climbs.
Cyclists familiar with the Leadville Trail can expect more switchbacks and singletrack on Little Sugar (previously the name of Big Sugar’s shorter gravel course).
Three course distances will be offered: 100k with 6,610 feet of elevation gain, 50k with 3,461 feet of elevation gain, and 20k with 1,125 feet of elevation gain. Exact courses are subject to final approvals. There will also be a $25,000 prize purse for the top finishers of the 100k event.
“The singletrack mountain bike terrain and development that has taken place in Northwest Arkansas is undeniably world class and we are very excited to bring a new Life Time MTB event to the region,” Kimo Seymour, President of Life Time Events, said in the news release.
Big Sugar Classic Cycling Festival
With its festival expansion of the Big Sugar Gravel event, Life Time hopes to create a bigger event that will “celebrate and wrap up the off-road North America cycling calendar.”
Given Bentonville’s growing reputation for stellar cycling, it’s not entirely surprising that Life Time decided to widen its annual offerings in the area. Company organizers hope that adding an MTB race and a festival will turn that week into one of the biggest cycling gatherings in the country.
The increasingly popular Big Sugar Gravel, set for Oct. 21 in Bentonville, Ark., will now include the Big Sugar Classic Cycling Festival, which will run from Saturday, Oct. 14, through Sunday, Oct. 22. In other words, it begins with the Little Sugar MTB race the first weekend, and ends with Big Sugar Gravel the following weekend.
“Our goal is to create something that’s family-friendly, which is what drew us to Bentonville,” Duffy Smith said. “That community has so much more than just trails. There’s entry-level riding, and museums, and art, and parks. There’s a great food scene. There’s so much more than just bikes. It has established itself as an iconic destination, and we’re so excited to expand long term.”
Last year, Big Sugar Gravel drew about 4,000 riders and spectators, organizers said. With the festival, that number could expand to 10,000 for the whole week. With a new hotel coming to Bentonville and 150 Airbnb rentals in nearby Bella Vista, organizers said they’re confident the region can accommodate everyone who shows up.
Attendees can expect trail spotlights, industry gatherings, group rides, and clinics, Life Time said. That week in Bentonville will also see other events, including Outerbike Bentonville from Oct. 20 to 22, as well as the Big Sugar Gravel Expo on Oct. 19.
Additional details about the festival will be announced in the coming months. There’s no entry fee or registration required to attend the festival.
Learn more about event plans and updates on the Big Sugar Gravel website.