It started slow and ended fast in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
Durango’s Payson McElveen made a late decision to enter another long gravel cycling race last week. With a good weather forecast, he went east to Oklahoma for this year’s Land Run 100, a race that began in 2013. Though the first half of the race rolled at a sluggish pace, it ended with a sprint in the final 500 yards, and McElveen proved he had the early-season legs to hold off Vermont’s Ted King and Kentucky’s Andrew Dillman. McElveen was first to the finish line in 5 hours, 4 minutes, 8 seconds. King was second only one second back, and Dillman was third in the same time as King.
“It’s always nice to get a win on the board early, especially when it’s a bigger race,” McElveen said in a phone interview with The Durango Herald. “It took some pressure off me, for sure, and took some pressure off the team as a whole. Everyone is happy.”
McElveen, 26, represented the Orange Seal Off-Road team. The two-time defending marathon mountain biking national champion was a marked man early in the race, as opposing teams made it difficult for some of the top riders to make moves and catch an early break group. Finally, near the 60-mile mark, McElveen said he was able to get away along with Dillman and King.
“The field was deeper, and the first half of the race was pretty mellow,” McElveen said. “It was kind of frustratingly slow. A few of us were marked really heavily by the other teams and weren’t able to animate the race very much. At about the halfway point, we kind of got some terrain that allowed for us to pry open a gap. It was kind of race on from there.”
The three lead riders got caught at a red traffic light with 500 yards to go. That set up the final sprint, an aspect of racing that McElveen has excelled.
“I always prefer winning solo, that’s for sure. It’s a lot less stressful,” McElveen said. “Coming to the line like that and creating an exciting finish for the fans is certainly a special thing. I actually got outsprinted by a very small margin during a training gravel race, kind of a low-key one in Texas earlier in the year. I was a little frustrated with that and maybe had a little extra motivation to not let that happen again this time.”
McElveen wasn’t the only Durango rider in the 100-mile race. Adam Gaubert finished 43rd overall in 5:38:39 and finished sixth in the men’s 40-49 age group.
The win was especially gratifying for McElveen, who battled an offseason of injuries. He tore his triceps tendon and had surgery only to re-tear the tendon New Year’s Eve, seven weeks after his initial surgery.
He spent only six days in Durango between New Year’s Day and the start of spring as he recovered and trained in California with the help from his Red Bull sponsor.
“I really leaned on Red Bull. They have some incredible physical therapy and strength training resources at their headquarters in Santa Monica,” he said. “It worked out well. I certainly prefer not to be injured, but I was really fortunate to have the support of my team, coach, Red Bull and everybody else that helped me get back to training full tilt as soon as possible.”
Much of that training has been with a record-setting project in mind. Last fall, McElveen hoped to attempt a fastest known time record on the 100-mile White Rim Trail in Moab. That project was pushed back to this spring, and he will attempt the record ride early next week with a tentative target of Wednesday. The Land Run event served as more training for the project.
There is no official FKT of the White Rim, as some consider the record to be 5 hours, 59 minutes, while others argue it is 6:18. McElveen hopes to standardize what the record attempt should look like.
“We have changed my training in accordance to the challenges that come with the White Rim project,” McElveen said. “My focus has been on that as the first major goal of the year. It’s been a long build, and I’m looking forward to the day coming to put all the hard work to use.
“Once that’s behind me, I’ll kind of refocus a bit on high-intensity training and getting back into the shorter race intensity style.”