Payson McElveen (Orange Seal-Ridebiker) won his first pro championship in a sprint finish against pre-race favorite Howard Grotts (Specialized) in Arkadelphia, Arkansas on Sunday. Jeremiah Bishop (Topeak Ergon) was in the hunt for the win but suffered an untimely puncture in the final stages of the race and finished third to round out the podium.
This was the first visit to Arkansas for the USA Marathon Championships. Racers came away impressed with the venue at DeGray Lake Resort State Park and the quality of the trails. The twisty course was 90 per cent singletrack under a pine forest canopy and offered something for everyone; short punchy climbs along with a couple longer sustained climbs, plenty of rocks, and some fast descents.
The race began with a starting loop that was intended to make the entrance onto singletrack less of a traffic jam. That was followed by two long loops, each with three aid stations, for a total of 50 miles.
Grotts led a large group onto the initial singletrack with Bishop and defending champion Todd Wells (SRAM-TLD) close behind. But, soon after that the group split with the initial three leaders off the front.
McElveen explained what happened, "About halfway through the first lap one of the riders in our group lost the wheel in front of him and opened up a 15-20 second gap, which on this course is a lot. He wouldn't let us by, unfortunately, so Justine Lindine and I had to put in a big effort to make it back to the (lead) group.
The re-grouping happened near the end of the first lap. Six riders including Grotts, Wells, Bishop, McElveen, Lindine (APX), and Ryan Woodall all rolled together until the next big climb. At that point, Grotts, McElveen, and Bishop got away for good.
Bishop, however, was losing air in a tire and had to stop. McElveen commented, "Unfortunately, Jeremiah punctured on one of the last descents which was a bummer. I think we were going to have a real "ding dong" battle."
McElveen added, "On the last main descent before the pavement section I opened up a 10-second gap on Howard and that made him chase really hard on the road. He gave it everything up the last dirt road drag and it was quite hard holding his wheel. But, I was quite confident for the sprint."
Grotts and McElveen are training partners in Durango, Colorado so both know each other's strengths and weaknesses. Grotts explained the closing minutes of the race, "I tried to hit it on a really gradual climb but it wasn't nearly steep enough for my climbing legs. We came into the finish together but I don't really know how to sprint against a big guy like him. He just came around with a lot more power, and I'm really happy for him."
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team|
|1||Payson McElveen (Orange Seal-Ridebiker)|
|2||Howard Grotts (Specialized)|
|3||Jeremiah Bishop (Topeak Ergon)|
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