Payson McElveen and Hannah Finchamp take home the hardware for men and women
The Mid South gravel race on Saturday was, in the words of those who rode it, epic. The course led riders through one hundred miles of sticky red roads in rural Oklahoma for more than six hours.
Both the men’s and women’s winners rode for Orange Seal Off-Road. Payson McElveen took the men’s trophy in 06:23 and teammate Hannah Finchamp won the women’s race in 07:49. Both persevered through mile after mile of the peanut butter mud and a chill that induced near hypothermic conditions.
As Hannah’s first full gravel race, this is one she’ll never forget.
“Towards the end was the most gnarly mud. At mile 91, I hit a climb. It wasn’t peanut butter it was clay,” Hannah described. “As I pedaled it caked all over my tires and my wheels would no longer spin. I got off and cleaned the wheels and I was determined to ride. After two pedal strokes, the wheels caked again wouldn’t turn. I thought I would just push my bike, but the wheels wouldn’t move. So, I thought I’ll just pick it up, but the mud added so much weight, I physically could not pick the bike up, so I had to squat down like I was using a squat rack and put the bike on my back.”
Payson, who won the race last year as well, said the conditions were beyond anything he had experienced before.
“This was hands down one of the most unique races I’ve done regarding conditions. Last year, I finished just under 5 hours. This year, it was 1.5 hours slower,” Payson said. “You had to earn every pedal stroke. If you let off for 2 pedal strokes, you came to complete stop.”
Hannah had done her research on the course and estimated she would need up to seven hours of nutrition. But between the cold and crazy mud, she went through her supply faster than expected.
“The mud was no joke, it pulled every single watt you had to give out of you,” Hannah said. “At hour six, I reached into my pocket and there was no food left. I told myself, okay, you are going to bonk. It’s going to be hard and it’s going to hurt, prepare yourself.”
As she crossed the finish line to victorious cheers, she couldn’t go a single step further and asked for someone to bring her a hamburger as fast as possible.
Payson said maximizing tire clearance was a key part of equipment strategy. He made the unusual choice to run a slick tire because he assumed the mud would turn any tire into a slick surface anyway.
“We are really fortunate to have the equipment we do because the Trek Checkpoint has the best tire clearance out there,” Payson said. “We were able to run relatively wide tires and I knew that if my body made it through, my bike would, too.”
He rode much of the race with new teammate Dennis van Winden who is transitioning from a pro road racing career to gravel racing this year. Van Winden powered through the course and came in sixth.
“Dennis is an absolute hammer. He is so strong,” Payson said. “There were no free miles this weekend. The entire thing was completely beyond what I’ve seen. In gravel racing, you always have to prepare for carnage. This was baptism by fire for new gravel riders.”