Payson McElveen overcame mud and cold conditions to win The Mid South gravel race in Oklahoma.
Finchamp and McElveen race for the Orange Seal off-road team.
McElveen crossed the line in downtown Stillwater ahead of 2019 Dirty Kanza 200 winner Colin Strickland, and former cyclocross pro Jonathan Baker. It was a solo win for McElveen, who in 2019 won the race in a three-up sprint against Ted King and Andrew Dillman.
After crossing the line McElveen said the victory carried extra weight for him.
“I’m going to try not to choke up as I say this,” McElveen told VeloNews at the finish. “I was thinking about Ben Sonntag the whole time.”
McElveen often raced against and trained with Sonntag, who was hit and killed by a driver two weekends ago while training outside of Durango.
Finchamp rides away for the win
In the women’s race, Finchamp won what was her first gravel race ever, well ahead of 2018 winner Amanda Nauman and Tibco’s Kristin Faulkner.
“It was really hard!” Finchamp said at the finish, as she gobbled down a hamburger inside the finishing chute. “I felt like I didn’t even know if I was going to finish down to the last mile.”
Finchamp is a pro mountain bike racer and a multi-time collegiate national champion. She recently joined the Orange Seal squad after racing for the Clif Bar pro team for several years.
As men and women race together, as they usually do in mass-start gravel races, it can be hard to keep track of where competitors are. Finchamp said she was told at the midway checkpoint that she was probably the first woman.
Behind, Nauman said she never felt like she was in a group all day after the first 30 minutes or so of the mass start. “It was like ones, twos, threes, from like mile seven,” Nauman said. “From like 30 minutes in, I was just thinking, this is how it’s going to be for the next seven hours. And it was.”
With heavy overnight rain and then about two hours of rain at the beginning of the race, the saturated course was greasy with deep mud, but it didn’t really stick and jam up wheels until the afternoon when it started to dry.
“The peanut buttery mud wasn’t as frequent,” Nauman said. “It was just that soul-sucking, heavy mud that is so slow to ride through, but at least it mostly fell off the bike.”
Muddy mechanicals in the men’s race
In the men’s race, McElveen was both the strongest and the luckiest rider in the closing miles of the 103-mile race. Peter Stetina made what appeared to be a decisive attack with 65 miles remaining, and emerged from a muddy hike-a-bike section with a sizable lead on Strickland and McElveen. A short time later Stetina had to dismount his bicycle after a mechanical, which allowed McElveen to catch and pass him.
“I took a wrong line, and the mud immediately ripped the rear derailleur up and around,” Stetina said. “The hanger was completely bent. I tried to fix it, but just ended up with one gear in the back. No excuses. I had a damn great time. And 100% congrats to Payson. He stayed smooth, and he was smart about when to get off the bike fast.”
McElveen, Strickland and Baker also struggled with mud gumming up their bikes.
“I had some drivetrain stuff on three separate occasions, but I started really paying attention to taking care of the bike,” McElveen said. “I almost tried to not pedal hard and I stopped shifting. It was mostly just by necessity.”
For several miles it was a three-man drag race with McElveen, Stetina, and Strickland all slogging through the mud, separated by less than a minute.
McElveen outlasted his chasers to finish by himself in downtown Stillwater.
The Mid South Results
- Payson McElveen, 6:23:05
- Colin Strickland, 6:32:29
- Jonathan Baker, 6:34:00
- Peter Stetina, 6:38:30
- Gordon Wadsworth, 6:51:48
- Dennis van Winden, 6:51:54
- Andrew Dillman, 6:55:07
- Matt Acker, 7:01:11
- John ShalekBriski, 7:09:15
- Mark Currie, 7:16:20
- Hannah Finchamp, 7:49:10
- Amanda Nauman, 8:03:03
- Kristin Faulkner, 8:11:51
- Lauren Stephens, 8:29:13
- Samantha Runnels, 8:35:01
- Amy Charity, 8:43:27
- Katie Strempke, 8:44:30
- Kae Takeshita, 8:54:06
- Megan Barr, 8:55:00
- Kelly Paduch, 8:56:41