Payson McElveen rode into Mongolia, conquered a race and captured hearts in a foreign land.
The 2016 Fort Lewis College graduate and Iron Horse Bicycle Classic road race champion continued his strong summer mountain bike season with a grand championship victory in the six-stage Mongolia Bike Challenge on Friday.
McElveen finished in 24 hours, 4 minutes, 58 seconds to beat Italy’s Nicholas Pettina by 2:08.
“Do you tell of the miles covered? The mountains climbed? The seconds won here, lost there, as we slugged out a ridiculously tight GC battle?,” McElveen posted to Facebook after the final stage. “Or do you tell of the hundreds of thundering wild horses? The innumerable stars seen in the Mongolian night? The countless foreign languages heard, laughs shared, and friendships forged?”
The race began Aug. 20 in the town of Ulaanbataar. Before the race, McElveen had a chance to visit slums and an orphanage thanks to the More Than Sport program, which helped make his trip to Mongolia possible. The organization allows athletes traveling the globe to take part in service trips and fundraising projects to help areas in need receive food and water as well as medical care, housing and educational opportunities.
McElveen, who competes for Team RideBiker, opened the event with a win on the opening stage despite some navigation trouble. The 65-mile stage from Ulaanbataar to Geo Mandal Ger Camp featured a steady climb before a big descent near the finish. He completed the stage in 4:36, only one second ahead of Pettina, who helped McElveen find the finish line.
“Took a gamble and went solo from 20-plus miles out,” McElveen wrote. “Got some good time, then got lost. Pettina found me zig-zagging across the steppe, then did the sporting thing and didn’t contest the sprint.”
McElveen earned a 30-second time bonus on Stage 2 in another sprint on the 70-mile stage that featured 9,022 feet of climbing.
“Incredibly tough day, with some of the steepest climbs I’ve ever seen, one after the next after the next,” he said.
Stage 3 was a 72.7-mile ride that McElveen said included about 30 river and creek crossings as well as a deep view at the Genghis Khan National Park.
The fourth stage was an 80-mile ride from the Tull River to Steppe Nomad Ger Camp, and McElveen maintained his 4-minute advantage before increasing his lead a little on the 54-mile fifth stage to Century.
Stage 6 was a time trial over a 15½-mile loop, and McElveen held onto his lead to secure the championship.
The FLC alum is originally from Austin, Texas, but now calls Durango home. He is set to return back to Colorado.
“Thank you (Mongolia Bike Challenge) for having me and providing a unique platform to experience a special part of the world,” he said.