The Big Sugar Classic is an ultra-endurance gravel grinder held on gravel roads through the Northwest region of Arkansas and the Southeast region of Missouri. The start is in downtown Bentonville, Arkansas, which has become a biking mecca. Big Sugar is produced by Life Time Events, a premier operator of first-tier endurance events, including the Leadville Race Series and Unbound Gravel (AKA Dirty Kanza). This is the culminating event in the Big Sugar Classic festival, which is a week-long celebration that allows off-road enthusiasts to shred both the MTB trails and gravel roads that put Bentonville on the map for cycling. It is also the final stop of the Life Time Grand Prix Series. It should come as no surprise that Strambecco rates the event as one of the Best Gravel Events in the South-Central region.
Event & Course Info
Expect the Big Sugar Classic to be one of the most challenging gravel courses featuring picturesque, rarely maintained, canopy-covered gravel roads with loose, rocky gravel, a few pavement sections, and a few water crossings and bridges. If you like to ride in the dirt, venture off into stunning landscapes and share an experience with fellow cyclists, Big Sugar Classic is a race reserved for you.
There are two options to choose from (1) A 100-mile gravel race with 7000 ft elevation gain in the remote and rugged highlands of the Ozark Mountains: (2) A 50-mile gravel race (Lil Sugar) located in the highlands but designed for recreational cyclists. All riders will utilize a single-loop format, and although some blacktop roads will be necessary from time to time, most of the course will be on gravel and dirt roads. Some roads receive little to no maintenance throughout the year and can be quite primitive. There are also many blind corners while traversing the course.
The 100-Mile Course
The meticulous course extends a bit beyond the conventional, reaching 104 miles with around 7,000’ of elevation gain. It loops through Southern Missouri, beginning and concluding in downtown Bentonville. The course is predominantly on gravel and dirt roads, some of which receive minimal maintenance throughout the year, and can be quite primitive. It includes two official checkpoints at Pineville, MO (mile 37) and Whistling Springs Brewery (mile 73). The race starts at 7:30 am, and awards for different categories are distributed from 2:00 pm onwards, followed by an after-party at 6:00 pm.
The 50-Mile Course
This route, though shorter, offers its share of challenges and scenic beauty. It spans 52 miles with approximately 3,500’ of elevation gain and starts at 8:30 am. It utilizes a single-loop format, and just like its longer counterpart, emphasizes self-navigation and preparation for varying conditions. There is one official checkpoint for this distance at Whistling Springs Brewery (mile 23).
Both Big Sugar Classic courses have very limited directional markings, necessitating participants to navigate for themselves with GPS units or cue sheets. Cyclists are encouraged to equip themselves with necessary gear, including cycling computers or GPS devices, red tail light, front light, sufficient water or sports drink, spare inner tubes, and an air pump or inflation system.
Support crews can aid their riders at Pineville and Whistling Springs Checkpoints. Riders receive free drinks at checkpoints and a food truck pass, with food trucks also available for support crews or spectators. The checkpoints are stocked with water, various food items, and Untapped maple products.
Be sure to check out the official 2023 Athlete Guide for all of the nitty gritty details.
Area Accommodations & Things to Do
If you’re coming in from out of town or want to stay close to the Big Sugar Classic event happenings, it’s recommended to book lodging through their Hotel Planner whether you want to stay in Bentonville or Bella Vista. There are also plenty of vacation rentals in both locations, as well as area campgrounds and unique one of a kind camping locations.
The culinary scene in Bentonville, AR, is a dynamic and diverse fusion of flavors, boasting a rich array of eateries ranging from high-end restaurants to quirky cafes, each presenting a unique blend of local and international cuisines, often with a creative twist. Here, food lovers can embark on a gastronomic journey exploring a myriad of options including upscale dining establishments serving gourmet creations, cozy bistros offering homely comfort food, and vibrant food trucks presenting a variety of delectable street eats, all reflecting the city’s culinary innovation and its deep-rooted food traditions. Don’t forget to check out some of the local favorites while you’re in town.
Bentonville, Arkansas, is a vibrant city located in the northwestern part of the state. Nestled in the Ozark Mountains, which provides a stunning backdrop for outdoor enthusiasts. The region features a diverse landscape, including wooded areas, rolling hills, and picturesque trails, making it an ideal destination for outdoor activities. Mountain biking holds a special place in Bentonville’s identity. The city has earned a reputation as a premier mountain biking destination, attracting riders from all over the world. This reputation is primarily due to the efforts of the Walton Family Foundation and the collaboration between local organizations, businesses, and the community.
Bentonville, AR, acclaimed for its flourishing arts scene and innovative culinary landscape, transforms into a spectacle of colors and adventures in October. The crisp air of fall and the myriad of outdoor experiences make Bentonville a quintessential destination for outdoor athletes seeking thrill, challenge, and the charming embrace of nature. The vibrant foliage and mild temperatures make it the perfect time for athletes to explore the renowned Oz Trails. This expansive network of mountain biking trails stretches across the spectacular Ozark Mountains, offering routes for all skill levels, from beginner-friendly to adrenaline-pumping advanced trails. Slaughter Pen Trail is a hotspot, known for its diverse terrain, from flowy segments to challenging rock gardens and jump lines, providing riders a balanced mix of thrill and scenic beauty. Coler Mountain Bike Preserve is a haven for mountain bikers, Coler offers a variety of trails ranging from serene, easy rides to technical, challenging descents, all while surrounded by the stunning fall foliage of the Ozarks.
For those who prefer the rhythm of their footsteps and the quiet whispers of the wind, Hobbs State Park offers an array of hiking trails through dense woodlands and along the shores of Beaver Lake. The rustling leaves underfoot and the kaleidoscope of fall colors make hiking here a transcendental experience.Pigeon Roost Trail is a moderately challenging trail, it takes hikers through the lush forests and offers panoramic views of Beaver Lake, making it an ideal spot for witnessing the spectacular fall colors. While Shaddox Hollow Trail provides a shorter but equally captivating hike, winding through rich woodlands and ravines, allowing hikers to immerse themselves in the serene beauty of nature.
Finally, the crystal-clear waters of Beaver Lake, surrounded by the vibrant hues of October, create a picturesque setting for kayaking adventures. Outdoor athletes can rent a kayak or bring their own and paddle through the calm waters, exploring secluded coves and the scenic shoreline. One favorite adventure is to paddle to Van Winkle Hollow, a historic site allows athletes to combine physical activity with a touch of history and exploration, all while enjoying the tranquil waters and colorful landscapes of the lake, or enjoy a sunset paddle one evening.
The Big Sugar Classic is the final stop of the Life Time Grand Prix Series which features 7 of the most iconic cycling events and the best cyclists in off-road cycling. The challenge combines mountain biking and gravel riding disciplines, and the events are held all around the country, including the Sea Otter Classic, UNBOUND Gravel, Crusher in the Tushar, Leadville Trail 100 MTB, Big Sugar Gravel, and Chequamegon MTB. These are some of the Best gravel and mountain biking events in the Southwest, California, Midwest, Colorado and the Rockies. The biggest prize purse in U.S. cycling, $250,000, is split evenly between men and women. Each series event will be streamed live and on-demand on FloBikes, part of the FloSports network.
The Big Sugar Classic festival also includes Little Sugar MTB which takes place takes place the prior weekend and is considered one of the Best Mountain Bike Events in the South Central region. The Little Sugar MTB is part of the Leadville Race Series and a qualifier for the prestigious 2024 Leadville Trail 100 MTB.
Two more premier gravel events taking place in-state are the Highlands Gravel Classic which is part of the UCI Gravel World Series, and Chinkapin Hollow organized by All Sports Productions. Multi-disciplinary cyclists will appreciate the Pedaler’s Bash and Gudrun – Northwoods MTB Festival, two of the Best Mountain Bike Events in the South Central region. Be sure to keep your eyes out for our recommended top road cycling and trail running events in Arkansas as well.