Our partner in podcasting, The Gravel Ride Podcast, sits down this week with professional gravel racer, podcaster and adventurer, Payson McElveen. We learn about his path to the sport, his drive for adventure and his plans for the Life Time Grand Prix and the rest of the races on his calendar.
Automatic Transcription by The Gravel Ride (please excuse all errors)
[00:00:00] Craig Dalton: Hello, and welcome to the gravel ride podcast, where we go deep on the sport of gravel cycling through in-depth interviews with product designers, event organizers and athletes.
I’m your host, Craig Dalton, a lifelong cyclist who discovered gravel cycling back in 2016 and made all the mistakes you don’t need to make. I approach each episode as a beginner down, unlock all the knowledge you need to become a great gravel cyclist.
This week on the podcast. We welcome Payson McElveen. As you may know, is a gravel racer, a mountain bike racer. A podcaster, a red bull athlete, and all around adventurer. I’ve wanted to have Pason on the podcast for quite some time. I’m an avid listener of his podcast, but moreover, I’m a fan. And that probably comes through in this episode.
Payson. Welcome to the show.
[00:04:11] Payson McElveen: Thank you happy to be here.
[00:04:13] Craig Dalton: Yeah, it’s good to finally get you on. I feel like I’ve been wanting to get you on since back in 2019 and the mid south gravel race.
[00:04:21] Payson McElveen: Yeah. Yeah, that was that wasn’t my first foray into gravel, but one of the first
[00:04:28] Craig Dalton: Yeah. And I think it was one of those moments that it was, you know, there was very much a different style between you and Pete when racing in those adverse conditions, all the mud and whatnot, and how you
[00:04:38] Payson McElveen: Oh, 2020. Yeah.
[00:04:40] Craig Dalton: 20, 20. Yeah. So babying the bike and.
[00:04:44] Payson McElveen: yeah.
[00:04:45] Craig Dalton: being a little bit rougher on the bike and you know, both you guys smashed into pedals and I, it’s funny, cause I’d heard you interviewed after the fact about that race and I’ll refer to the listener back to some coverage there, but you were being, you were very conscious of what mud could have done to your bike.
And that was clear in the way you were taking care of it. And I had that thought while I was watching the coverage, like that’s smart, dipping it in the water, clearing it out, just being conscious of what is going to do the driver.
[00:05:12] Payson McElveen: Yeah. Yeah, that was a boy. That was, I mean, gravel racing is always a dynamic thing and I feel like to varying degrees, just
emission of damage control even on dry days. But Yeah.
That was such a dynamic damn. Early on even. I mean, I thought my race was over 20 miles in when literally right as I think it was Pete might have been summer hill, actually Danny Summerhill was just absolutely on a mission early in that race too.
But someone putting in a attack around mile 20 kind of first narrow section, and literally at the same moment, I got a big stick jammed in my rear wheel and had to stop. Pull it out. And yeah.
because that selection was made and I ended up in like the third or fourth group that wasn’t moving as quickly right off the bat.
I think I had like a minute and a half deficit to to the lead group of P call and, you know, all the usual suspects. And it was pretty convinced that the day was over at that point. But also over the years, I’ve learned. Gravel racing or not kind of, regardless of the style bike racing when you don’t give up good things tend to happen, no matter how dire it seems.
And I was fortunate enough to ride back into the first chase group with my teammate at the time Dennis van Wenden, who spent many years on the world tour with Rabobank and Belkin and Israel startup nation, bunch of good teams. And. During that day, there wasn’t a whole lot of drafting that was going on.
Cause the surface was so slow and there was so much mud and you were just kind of weaving around picking your line, but it was really pivotal to have him to kind of join forces with him there. Because he really quieted me down mentally and he was like, Hey man, if you want to try to get back into this race, you need to do it gradually.
Like don’t panic, chase, you know, A minute gap. We could probably bring back and 25, 30 minutes, but if you do it over the course of an hour more you know, you can stay below threshold and that’ll really pay dividends late. So long story short, I was really grateful to have his kind of Sage wisdom and sure enough, we got back into the group right before the aid station there at mile 50 ish.
And I was surprised we got back. Pete and Collin and everybody else was even more surprised to see us come out of the mud from behind. But yeah, that was a member of that was a memorable day and in a weird way, I think getting having that setback so early on almost kind of calibrated my mind for the survival contest that it was going to be all day so that when the shit really hit the fan there and the last 30 miles, I was kind of already mentally prepared to roll with the punches.
[00:07:52] Craig Dalton: Yeah, I think there’s some good points there. I’ll, you know, it’s always interesting to me talking to elite level athletes and, you know, with most of my listeners, presumably being like myself, mid-pack racers, the same rules apply, right. Should always breaks down for everybody. And you can have a really bad moment in one of these long gravel events and come back as long as you do the right things, right.
If you’re. If you haven’t eaten enough, you haven’t drinking drank enough. You just got to get back on top of it and the day will come around and more likely than not the field in front of you is going to experience the same problems. Just a generic initially to yourself.
[00:08:28] Payson McElveen: For sure. And I know we’re going to get into the grand Prix, but I think that’s one of the things that makes the grand Prix so fascinating, especially when combined with the pretty unusual point structure, I think it’s just going to be so topsy, turvy and tumultuous and. You know, obviously we saw two, two of the favorites, you know, most people’s picks for the overall in Keegan and Mo already take the lead.
But I would be shocked if they maintain that lead, you know, all the way through the next five rounds, just because of the nature of gravel racing. Weirdly, I think the mountain bike events will be the least least selective in a way.
[00:09:06] Craig Dalton: Yeah. Yeah. It’s going to be interesting. Well, let’s take a step back pace and I know, you know, I feel like I’ve gotten to know you through the course of your podcast, the adventure stash, but for our listeners, I want to just talk about how you got into the sport of cycling and we’ll get to how you arrived at the gravel side of things.
[00:09:24] Payson McElveen: Yeah, sounds good.
[00:09:26] Craig Dalton: Yeah. So where’d you grow up? Where, when did you start riding? What was the first kind of race experience you had and how did you sort of develop the vision that you could be a professional athlete?
[00:09:37] Payson McElveen: Yeah. So I grew up in a very small town, about 20 minutes outside of Austin, Texas. The rural Texas hill country. I’m fortunate enough to grow up on a little I don’t know, hippie farm hippie ranch with my parents. You know, we had chickens and dogs and 18 acres couldn’t see any houses from our house, which is something I, you know, in hindsight really appreciate pretty cool environment to grow up in.
And I played pretty traditional sports growing up basketball ran track and field. Well, that sort of thing. But bike, riding and racing was always a little bit of the back of my mind because my dad did it some off and on while I was growing up. And then also Lance was winning all the tours during that time.
And actually live just 15 minutes away from us. So he was a little bit of a hometown hero and all that was always front of mind. Freshman year of high school. I want to say I kind of had this recurring knee injury from playing basketball and that nudged me towards cycling a bit more. And I just started riding more and getting more interested in mountain biking in general.
And there was this really cool mountain bike film, one of the early kind of. Shred it mountain bike. Documentary’s called Rome that was playing in a bike shop and I just totally was transfixed one day. And that summer just kind of went all in. Building trails on the property and mountain biking and trying to learn more skills.
And through a little bit of, a little bit of coaxing from my dad, I decided to, to line up for a mountain bike race, a local Texas mountain bike race when I was 14. And got absolutely. But for whatever reason, just it hooked me and that fall after getting absolutely destroyed by all the local, Texas kiddos.
I just really dedicated myself to training and developing skills and came back that following spring as a 15 year old. And I don’t think I lost a race in Texas that year and it sort of solidified. This idea of putting work in and getting a significant reward. And I’m not really sure why that never clicked with other sports.
I was, you know, I guess had had a little bit of talent for basketball, maybe definitely talent for track And field, but I never dedicated myself to them from a work ethic standpoint, but for whatever reason, I was really motivated to do that for cycling and. Yeah, it just became a fan of the sport student of the sport, followed it like crazy.
You got to know the pros, the U S pros and saw the Durango was really kind of the hotbed for domestic mountain bikers. And one thing led to the other. And now here I am still chasing the dream.
[00:12:25] Craig Dalton: And did you end up going to college in Durango? Is that what I recall?
[00:12:28] Payson McElveen: Huh. Yeah. So went to Fort Lewis college. That was also a big selling point. I ended up going to Europe with the national team as a 17 year old with USA cycling. And the one of the USA cycling coaches there for that trip was Matt Shriver, who happened to be one of the coaches at Fort Lewis college at the time also.
And he sort of, you know, did a little bit of recruiting work with those of us there that. camp and a few of us actually ended up going to Fort Lewis, but yeah, boy, Durango’s incredible. I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to come here and then call it home for
[00:13:05] Craig Dalton: Yeah there, the riding and mentorship in that communities.
[00:13:10] Payson McElveen: It is. It is it’s it’s pretty incredible that the town is so small and so. Isolated in the scheme of things like it’s pretty hard to get here. It’s a long drive from anywhere and it’s a kind of pain in the ass flight from everywhere. Also. We found that out on the way home from sea Otter when it took extra, but Yeah.
I’m a small town hard to get to.
And yet it’s just this ridiculous hotbed of talent, you know, talent that’s developed here, but then also talent that moves here. And one other thing I really appreciate is it isn’t super like pro dominated. Like there’s a very healthy grassroots contingent of cyclists here that. Frankly, do not care what’s happening in pro bike racing whatsoever.
And that’s actually quite refreshing. When you spend a lot of your time at big race weekends, and you’re getting asked 25 times a day, what tire pressure you’re running, it’s really nice to come back to Durango and, you know, just go shred some single track with someone that’s wearing jorts and grab a beer afterward.
[00:14:11] Craig Dalton: I bet. When you graduated from college and decided to go pro, was there a particular style of mountain bike racing that you were, you had in your head? This is what I want to pursue.
[00:14:22] Payson McElveen: Man, this is where it gets pretty complicated. This is where it’s very hard to make the story short, but
I’ll be as succinct as I can. So moving to Durango I had my. Sites, very firmly set on world cup XCO and the Olympics. I’d had some successes of junior and making the national team each year and doing some world cups and going to, you know, selection for Pan-Am games and all that sort of thing, podiums at junior nationals, all that sort of thing.
But what I wasn’t familiar with yet obviously is most. Teenagers or not is the economics of professional cycling, especially on the dirt side, on the roadside, it’s pretty pretty cut and dried. There’s almost a league obviously, and there’s a fairly well-worn pipeline to the highest ranks of the sport.
But in mountain biking, there’s just really. Isn’t that USA cycling tries, but it’s there’s such a high barrier of entry for a kid that doesn’t live in Europe to go over to Europe, learn that style racing in a foreign land. And you know, it’s very cost prohibitive. The writing style is completely different.
It’s not a mainstream sport. So their talent pools inevitably are just so much more vast than ours because of. that there are more kids that are just interested in being high-level cyclists, where most of our, you know, kiddos are interested in being NBA players or NFL players. So it’s, I mean, it’s a well-known story that it’s very hard to break through at that level.
And then there’s the other component, which I don’t think is talked about as much, which is just you start with the handicaps of inexperience. Obviously fitness, if you’re a younger writer and then just start position. And I mean, it’s, it is. So it’s such a wild setup where you have to be so much stronger to break through and start earning results where your start position improves that just everything is stacked against you.
So I had a few what I’d call kind of flash in the pan results enough to not give up on it, but not enough to really. Make it feel like it was a foregone conclusion. So I felt very fortunate to be in college and getting exposed to other styles of cycling as collegiate cycling frequently, you know, allows for. But going into senior year, I was kind of looking down the barrel of having to make some tough decisions. Cause I was making. Money racing professionally, but it was like serious poverty line sort of situation. And you know, finishing seventh or eighth at pro XC nets as a 23 year old is cool.
But it’s not going to give you an illustrious career. And so late late summer, early fall I just started kind of. Looking outside the bounds of this very narrow lane of focus that most folks my age were focused on, which was
XCO mountain biking and the Olympics. And the other thing kind of to notice that one thing that strikes me frequently is that in mountain biking there are just fewer jobs of value in a way, if that makes sense, like on the roadside, if your
[00:17:40] Craig Dalton: Yeah.
[00:17:42] Payson McElveen: strongest on a world tour, You can still have a very fruitful position that is valued.
I mean, if there’s 400, some people in the world tour Peloton, I don’t know what the number is exactly, but if you’re 350 strongest, you’re still a very valued member. If you line up at a world cup and there’s 200 guys on the start line and you finish even 80th, like what’s the value of that? There’s
[00:18:09] Craig Dalton: Yeah.
[00:18:13] Payson McElveen: You’re the backdrop for the folks that are at the top to anyway sort of digressing, but point being, I started looking around the sport and. I’d had some offers and opportunities to try racing on the road, but culturally, it just didn’t quite jive for me. And then, you know, I started kind of looking at some of the folks that have, that had created their own paths, folks like Rebecca Rush Lil Wilcox hadn’t really rose risen to prominence yet, but those sorts of people and I thought, you know what maybe I’ll just go try.
Something a little bit more adventure oriented. Just for fun. Like I don’t know that I’m going to have the opportunity to dedicate as much time to cycling in the future as I am now. So maybe I’ll go on an adventure. And sort of around the same time weirdly, I got a message from this race promoter, Italian guy that was putting on a race in Mongolia called the Mongolia bike challenge.
And I still don’t exactly know how that came about or why he reached out to me. But sure. You know, I’ll come try, erase. And he said if I could get myself over there, he’d cover all of my expenses when I was there. And that said, you know, a flight to Mongolia, I think was like 25, 20 $600, something like that.
And I had maybe $3,500 to my name as a senior in college. And I was like, well, you know, I just have this sneaking suspicion that this style of racing might be more my cup of tea. Obviously the Xes. I’m falling out of love with that. So I drained my bank accounts flew over there, had an amazing experience.
That’s a whole other story.
[00:19:50] Craig Dalton: Yeah. It’s such an amazing country. I had the good fortune of going there and I had previously raised a couple of the trans racist and trans Rockies up in Canada and had friends who had done the. The ones that were over in Europe. And I caught wind of that Mongolia one after visiting Mongolia on a hiking trip.
And I was like, that must have been at epic.
[00:20:07] Payson McElveen: It was super epic. And you know, it was, I think it was eight days, seven, eight days, the stages where there’s one TT day, that was like an hour and 15, but most of the day. Five to four to five and a half hours. And there was some good races there. You know, Corey Wallace was there. He’d won, I think, Canadian marathon nasty year before.
And he’d won the Mongolia bike challenge the year before. There was also this Italian world cup guy there, who I’d never been able to be close to at world cup events. And then all of a sudden found myself going shoulder to shoulder with these guys and just feeling way more capable as an athlete and ended up winning that series outside magazine did a little interview and like photo epic on the wind.
And that’s I found out later kind of what put me on red bull’s radar, but that was the thing that really set the hook for me, where I thought, you know what? This was way more fun. I got to see an amazing part of the world. The media cared way more about. Like way more media interest than I’d ever received.
And I was just way better suited to it. I had no experience had barely been doing five-hour training. I’d never done a five hour training ride and yet was able to kind of rise to the occasion and do five-hour race days and back it up day after day. So after that point, I started kind of dedicating a little bit more time to to that style.
And then consequently one Pro marathon NATS the following year. And that’s, that was those two things were kind of the inflection point, I would say. So around 27.
[00:21:34] Craig Dalton: and was that, had you joined the orange seal team?
[00:21:38] Payson McElveen: So I had been on the rebranded show air team for anyone that remembers the Scott Tedros show our teams. It was called ride biker that year. And it was sort of like a collection of private tiers. It seems like there are some equivalents these days, like, I think the shoot what’s it called?
Eastern Overland. I want to say they run something similar to that. And then. As far as I can tell that new jukebox program seems to have a bit of a similar setup. So it was kind of set up that way. So I was able to start to pull together some of my own sponsors. And then once I started to get that media interest, the outside interview was kind of the biggest thing.
I was able to parlay that into better support or SEL came on board as one of my bigger sponsors, but I hadn’t that the team didn’t exist yet. And then when. NATS. That’s kind of when orange seal and track are like, Hey, what if we like made a team?
Like rather than this being a private tier thing, what if we kind of took some ownership and let you just race?
And we set up more of a team. So that’s how that worked.
[00:22:43] Craig Dalton: And you mentioned getting on red bull’s radar. When did you end up becoming a red bull athlete?
[00:22:47] Payson McElveen: Let’s see, I guess 2018, early 2018. Does that, is that right? 2018?
[00:22:56] Craig Dalton: The
[00:22:57] Payson McElveen: I can’t remember. I think
[00:22:58] Craig Dalton: timeline sounds right. And did it change your perspective of yourself as an athlete, as you got exposed to the red bull family and other red bull athletes?
[00:23:09] Payson McElveen: Oh Yeah. Enormously. I mean, it changed everything and it’s funny because when I say. Started communicating with them. At first, it was just like this childhood euphoria of, or my God. This is the most sought after prized sponsorship in adventure, sports outdoor sports. Like this is, I can’t believe they’re interested, but this is incredible.
And you start getting so fixated on the potential of it. for anyone that’s familiar with their process they’ll know that it’s not fast. So basically they were doing background on me for a year. And then for two more years, we communicated. Dated almost you could say decided to figure out how much commitment, mutual commitment there wanted to be.
Obviously I was very interested in commitment, but, and then came the phase where it looked like it was going to happen. And all of a sudden you start feeling the pressure and you start questioning. Am I worthy? What is this, what does this mean? What’s going to be asked of me, how do I need to rise to the occasion?
And I’d say even after I signed for a solid year, that was kind of my mindset. Like, oh man, need to not screw this up. I need to prove that I’m worthy. I need to do innovative things. But one thing that’s interesting is that they red bull never. Puts any pressure on you and they really drive home the fact that they want to partner with you because of who you already are and who you can become the potential that they think they see.
And they really like to bring people on board before they’ve reached. They’re their prime, their best. They want to help you be a part of that growth process. So once I was able to gradually shift my mindset and realize that this was more of an opportunity and less of an obligation, that’s where I think mentally and emotionally, I was kinda able to free up free myself up a little bit race with more race with a sense of opportunity and joy.
And then also start to kind of tap into. Creative aspect that I’ve really started to lean into over the last few years that I’ve come to realize is like very necessary just for my happiness and sense of fulfillment. And I think that’s really where there’s most significant interest came from. And it was also just great timing.
You know, they wanted someone in this endurance, mass participation sort of arena. That’s also why they brought a in, around a similar time. And so, yeah, like, like any success timing was a massive part of the opportunity as well.
[00:25:56] Craig Dalton: Yeah. I feel like in some way and correct me if I’m wrong, your relationship with red bull for a few years prior to the pandemic left you very well-suited to whether the pandemic and the lack of racing, meaning you had a wider view of yourself as an athlete and the things you could do.
[00:26:13] Payson McElveen: Yeah.
And you know, I over the years I’ve questioned kind of this all of these extracurriculars that, that I’m interested in. Whether it be the podcast or some of the films we do, or some of the, you know, crazy routes, I like to try to tackle
Question, you know, how much does that detract from more traditional racing cars like riding across Iceland three weeks before the Australis off-road isn’t, you know, stellar prep, but But by the same token, you know, I’ve really tried to zoom out over the last handful of years and think about how will I look back on this time when I’m 45, 50, 55, whatever.
And really, it kind of goes back to Mongolia, you know, T deciding to take that red pill rather than blue pill spend most of the money. I had to go on a crazy adventure halfway around the world by myself as a 23 or. With no experience, you know, I’ll never forget that experience the people I met over in Mongolia.
And ultimately I think going through life experiencing as much as the world, both interpersonally and just travel wise as you can is a good way to do it. And I’ve had many mentors over the years who have raised at the highest level, kind of. Persistently remind me that the, what they remember or the things between the actual races and to make sure that, you know, if you go to all-star Germany for the world cup, do everything you can to make sure you don’t only see the inside of your hotel room and the three kilometer race course.
So that’s kind of why. More and more ambitiously gravitated towards some of these more adventure oriented things. And ultimately from a professional standpoint, getting back to your point, it really does, you know, the way I look at it as sort of like a diversified portfolio, there are athletes that only hold one kind of stock, you know, maybe your stock is awesome.
Maybe you have a bunch of shares of apple, but you know what happens if for whatever reason, apple tanks. Similarly to the stock market. You know, you want to have a diversified portfolio when we’re operating in this space that doesn’t have a league. It doesn’t have a bunch of structure. And there is a lot of room for creativity.
So, it’s a personal need, but also it’s worked out professionally as well.
[00:28:28] Craig Dalton: yeah, I think as a fan of the sport, when you’re out there doing those adventures, and obviously you do a lot of filming around these adventures. We just feel closer to you as an athlete. So when you line up at some gravel race, like we’re rooting for you because we’ve seen you struggle. Like any one of us might struggle on it.
[00:28:46] Payson McElveen: Yeah.
that’s interesting. I mean, that’s good to hear. It makes sense, you know, anytime, you know, I think about I’m, I mean, I’m a massive mainstream sports fan, so I’m always comparing. Our little cycling sport to these mainstream sports. And it’s interesting to look at something like say basketball versus football, the NFL versus the NBA and in the NFL, there’s massive athlete turnover because of injuries.
And also everyone’s wearing loads of protective equipment, you know, helmets, pads, all that sort of thing. So you very rarely do you actually see the athletes. They’re just these incredible people. Rip it around on the field, hitting each other. With basketball, you see all the writers, interesting hairstyles, writers, basketball players, interesting hairstyles, you know, the way they react to like a bad call, the way they’re talking to each other on the bench.
Usually they’re, they feel more comfortable, you know, giving more flamboyant post-game interviews. And so it feels like the. Collectively like the fan base for individual players in the NBA is so much more engaged than in the NFL. Like fans are with the exception of folks like maybe Tom Brady or like people that have been around forever.
Folks of the NFL are fans of the game, fans of teams. And on the NBA side of things frequently, they’re fans of the individuals because they feel like they know the individuals. And so I think the same can kind of be said for cycling. And interestingly, I think that. This is a whole other conversation, but I think it’s one of the reasons we’re seeing such amazing professional opportunities for folks outside the world tour.
Now, obviously the most money bar, none is still in the world tour, but there’s so much less freedom for personal expression for frankly, like having. Personality. I mean, look at guys like Laughlin that are like redefining the sport and all they had to do was get out of the world tour and do what they wanted to do.
And I think that’s really interesting and I feel fortunate to be in a part of the sport where that’s more celebrated for sure.
[00:30:48] Craig Dalton: Yeah, absolutely. So chronologically on the journey, we’re back at 2018, you’ve won your second XC marathon title. Had you started to dabble in gravel in 2018.
[00:31:04] Payson McElveen: yeah, I think that was 2018. I did Unbound. Yeah, I guess that would have been 2018 and that was a hundred percent due to sponsors requesting it. I was not interested. And I had a whole mess of mechanicals and actually didn’t finish. And I think that might be the. That might be the most recent race I haven’t finished maybe besides, well, that’s not true.
Mid south just happened, but yeah, I was, I didn’t get it in 2018. I was like, man, this is carnage. People are flatting everywhere. Why are we out here for so long? This is so
[00:31:41] Craig Dalton: It does seem like a Rite of passage to get abused by your first unmanned professional experience.
[00:31:47] Payson McElveen: Do it for sure. And Amanda Naaman loves to make fun of me about this cause like I really not publicly, but I was fairly outspoken to some people about how I just didn’t understand gravel after that experience.
And then I ended up going to mid south in 20, 19 two weeks before the white rim, fastest known time.
And I was planning to use it as like. Training effort for the white rim fastest load time. And I ended up winning that mid south race. And then I was like, oh, gravel is sweet. Everyone cares so much about this when Getting loads of interviews, like
A massive bump in social media followership, like, wait, maybe there is something to the Scrabble.
It Amanda’s always like, Yeah. The only reason you fell in love with gravel is because you were fortunate enough to win a race early on, which, you know, might be kind of true, but long story short, it was not love at first sight with gravel, but
that’s obviously since changed.
[00:32:40] Craig Dalton: And you were, are you still kind of in the sort of, I guess 20, 20 season where you still doing XC marathon style racing in conjunction with gravel 2020 is probably a bad example because that was the pandemic year. But in the, in that period, were you doing both still.
[00:32:56] Payson McElveen: Yup. Yup. Yeah. And you know, the funny thing is I still.
see myself primarily as a mountain biker and there are people who, you know, question, you know, how. I define myself as a racer at this point, but I don’t even really feel the need to define what Sal racer you are, because I’m just interested in the biggest races in the country.
The, and really, you know, at this point, it’s kind of becoming the biggest mass participation, non UCI events in the world. And it’s I look at it as a spectrum. You know, if you kind of go down the list of. How do you define these races on one end of the spectrum? You’ve got something like, you know, BWR San Diego, which in my mind is just kind of like a funky sketchy road race.
I don’t know that you’re allowed to call it a gravel race. If everyone is on road bikes with 20 eights and thirties narrower tires, then the people use a rebate. But and then on the other end of the spectrum, you have something like. I don’t know, an epic rides event or, you know, even like the Leadville 100 that really blurs the lines like is that you could for sure.
Raise the Leadville 100 on a drop bar, gobbled bike, because as Corey Wallace did last year and you’ve got everything in between. So, you know, you’ve got grind. Durose where some people are on mountain bikes. Some people are on gravel bikes, you’ve got the grasshoppers same. So I look at it as much more of a spectrum, and I think we’re just in this incredible golden age of. Grassroot grassroots is such a misnomer, but just like mass participation, non spectator, primary races. And I’m just, I’m here for all of it. It’s all.
[00:34:38] Craig Dalton: Yeah. Yeah, it’s super exciting. And I think the event organizers have just a ton of freedom of how they want. Design the race courses. You know, if I think about the difference between the LA GRA Villa event at this past weekend, which was probably 75% single track, it was the, basically the 40 K MTB course, super single track, heavy required, a pretty hefty skillset.
I know a lot of quote, unquote gravel riders were scratching their heads. After that one, thinking they were definitely under. And then the other end of the spectrum, you have something like BWR, as you mentioned, or even SBT gravel. It doesn’t require a lot of technical skillset to be competitive in those races.
So I find it fascinating. And I think that even goes down to where you ride and where you live. Like my gravel here in Marine county as the listener. Well, nose is quite a bit different than Midwest gravel. Not better, not worse, you know, just depends on what’s your company.
[00:35:36] Payson McElveen: For sure. And I mean, here in Durango, our best road rides our gravel road rides, and we’ve been riding road bikes on them for ages. When I first moved here, you know, every, so we have a Tuesday night world’s group ride, which for what it’s worth is still the hardest group I’ve ever done anywhere in the country by a lot.
But Frequently, you know, every third week or so the route that we’ll do is majority dirt and everyone’s on road bikes. And up until a couple of years ago, everyone was on 26 or 20 eights. And you know, they’re fairly smooth gravel roads, but pretty much if you ask anyone locally, our best road rides are half dirt roads.
So when this whole gravel movements start. I know I was one of many that was, we were kind of scratching our heads a little bit about, well, isn’t this just bike riding, but I understand the industry has needed to kind of define and brand things, but Yeah, it’s it’s interesting.
[00:36:30] Craig Dalton: Yeah, it’s interesting as we were talking about your career in this sort of transition, a transition, but just as melding of your love of ECC and this new level of gravel low and behold in 2022 lifetime announces the grand Prix half mountain bike races, half gravel races. How excited were you around that announcement?
[00:36:50] Payson McElveen: who very excited. Yeah I’d had some conversations with lifetime in the year or so prior kind of generally talking about structure and what events might make the most sense and all that sort of thing. But It was a little bit ambiguous about whether it was going to happen and to what degree and what it would all look like.
So when the announcement?
came out I was sort of primed for it, but I was also surprised by quite a few things. And that certainly. You know, increase the excitement too. As I read through the proposed rules and the points structure and the events they decided on and all that sort of thing.
But yeah, I mean, it feels just like an enormous opportunity and I think it feels like an enormous opportunity. Personally because of the events, obviously, but I think it’s an enormous opportunity for north American cycling as a whole, because there are so many aspects of the series that are completely different than any other series we’ve seen.
I mean, in the United States with the exception of, you know, the heyday of mountain biking in the eighties and nineties, we haven’t seen. Cycling massively successful really as a spectator sport or as a televised sport. Because there’s always been this goal of making it a spectator sport, but I don’t think in the United States, that’s really ever going to be a spectator sport.
The key in my mind is that it’s a participation sport in this country, and that’s what these huge grassroots mass participation events have really tapped into. And made them so successful. And so when you combine that with, you know, a year long points, chase, maybe all of a sudden that is the secret sauce for making it more spectator friendly, even if it’s more of this kind of modern age of spectating, where it’s very, online-based, there’s lots of social media coverage.
There’s, you know, maybe a live stream there’s, you know, Really cool. Like drive to survive, TVC series type things coming out of it. I mean that actually drive to survive as a great example. Like look what drive to survive has done for F1 in the United States virtually no one cared about F1 until that series came out.
And now, you know, people are talking about peer gasoline and Daniel, Ricardo, like, you know,
[00:39:04] Craig Dalton: Yeah.
[00:39:05] Payson McElveen: You know, Kevin Duran or Tom Brady. So, it’s a very interesting time and I just feel fortunate to kind of be reaching my peak career years right now as it’s happening.
[00:39:15] Craig Dalton: Yeah, to your point earlier, I think it just creates this great opportunity for storytelling throughout the season. And this idea of, you know, some courses are gonna be more favorable to mountain bike athletes. Others are going to be more favorable to traditional gravel athletes and just seeing how it all plays out and having the points across the season, as something as a fan that’s in the back of your mind.
I just think it’s going to be a lot of fun and great for this.
[00:39:41] Payson McElveen: Yeah.
I think so too. I really hope so. And the thing that I really hope, I think what can truly set it apart and almost guarantee its success is if they’re able to. Lean into those personal storylines, kind of like we were talking about earlier, the things that I think really makes a fan base fall in love with following a league or a sport, which is the individual stories.
You know, like I hope there’s all kinds of awesome coverage of Aaron Huck making this return to racing, following pregnancy, or you know, there’s so many. Incredible individual storylines that can be told. And I hope that’s really seen as an asset and taken advantage of.
[00:40:26] Craig Dalton: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I have a. You can look at like Amber and Nevin and her experience, just like sort of getting a little bit crushed, still getting in the points at , but having a really rough day out there, that’s the kind of narrative like you’re looking for somebody who’s coming way outside of their comfort zone to race this entire series.
And unsurprisingly like a mountain bike style race was super challenging for. But it’s going to be fascinating to see like how she bounces back for Unbound, which is this other radically different experience in my mind at 200 miles.
[00:41:00] Payson McElveen: For sure. Yeah. I think we’re going to learn a lot over this first year and I hope we get a couple of years at it because I think there will be lots of adjusting along the way. Lots of cool ideas and yeah, I think there’s just massive potential and I hope everyone’s able to hang in there for a few years to figure out what that potential actually.
[00:41:22] Craig Dalton: Agreed. Unfortunately, you have to drop this race due to your injury at mid south, but I’m curious, like, as you looked at the arc and the style of racing that you were going to experience in the grand Prix, does that alter how you’re training do you sort of do one thing for Otter? Morph dramatically into something else for a 200 mile Unbound, which is the next race on the calendar for the grand Prix series.
[00:41:45] Payson McElveen: Yeah. I mean, training Is definitely different. Just physiologically. I kind of gravitate towards those long slow burn events more easily anyway. So preparing for something like sea Otter, where, you know, the, I mean the average speed, I think Keegan said his average speed was like 17.8 miles an hour.
Schwamm against average speed. I did it two years and we averaged over 19 miles an hour, both times. Ironically these mountain bike events and Leadville, you know, despite all of its climbing and high elevation, that average speed is almost 17 miles an hour. So these mountain bike events are very much gravel style, mountain bike events.
It would be pretty funny. To see this field, you know, line up for something like the grand junction. Off-road where you’re lucky to crack nine and a half mile per hour, average speed. And everyone’s running one 20 bikes and two, four tires. But yeah. In terms of training those faster kind of leg speed high-end events are ones that I have to train a little bit.
I have to like tune up some speed a little bit more for, so for example, I’ll attend the Tuesday night. Group right here in Durango almost every week in the month, leading up to that sort of event I’ll get in some good motor pacing sessions still, you know, log some good five-hour rides just because that’s what helps me be at my fittest, but not worry about a six and a half, seven hour ride with Unbound.
I will notch, you know, some good six plus hour rides. And a lot of it is also just about. Practicing, like practicing your fueling practicing with the equipment you want to use doing some heat acclimation and then just doing massive amounts of sub threshold work. So, you know, I’ll do rides, you know, like a six hour ride and do three tempo, three, one hour tempo blocks in there Just like an insane amount of. KJS I’m just trying to get your body used to being efficient really. I mean, that’s kind of what it comes down to and being efficient under duress. So being efficient when it’s 90 degrees out and your stomach, maybe isn’t feeling amazing and you’re pinging off rocks and.
You know, trying to navigate a big budge. So there are some different things that I do overall training is pretty simple. You know, on the XC world cup, it training gets a lot more complicated, I think. But for these longer distance events training, actually, isn’t terribly complicated at all.
[00:44:16] Craig Dalton: Is there any one in particular that you’re super excited about?
[00:44:20] Payson McElveen: In the series
[00:44:22] Craig Dalton: Yeah.
[00:44:24] Payson McElveen: probably Leadville. I’ve been consistently good at Leadville. I’ve never had a 100% clean run at it. But I’ve been third twice, fourth last year. That’s one that I would love to win before I retire. You know, if there’s one race I could pick. Before I get too old to be competitive. I think Leadville is probably it.
It’s tricky though, because we’ve got these two guys that are just sensational, you know, generational talents and Keegan and Howard, both of them grew up at very high elevation. They’re small guys. And they just go uphill like nobody’s business and you know, they’re hard to beat. They’re definitely hard to be so. Every year, you know, I look towards Leadville. I would love to love for everything to come together for me there. But you know, all of these races are really competitive, but if I had to pick one, that’s probably the one I’m most looking forward to.
[00:45:19] Craig Dalton: Got it. And is there any room in your calendar for a pace and adventure this year?
[00:45:25] Payson McElveen: Yeah.
Good question, boy. That’s kind of the trade-off of the grand Prix, you know, it’s really consuming said, I know that I always perform better off of big training blocks. So I’ve pulled back on race days pretty significantly. So I have some really big breaks in my schedule. I’m probably going to go do this four day GB Duro style stage race in Iceland.
That is the route that We bike tour last year around the west fjords it’s 450 mile days. Give her. Which would be a fun adventure. But in terms of like, whoa here’s a crazy idea. No, one’s done yet type thing. I have a pretty significant list of those. We’ll see where they fit in.
I’m going to do another trail town for sure. I really enjoyed that project of Ben last year and the storytelling aspect of that and the big gear giveaway we got to do and kind of the. The community that we developed online there that was really successful. So I’ll do another one of those. There’s also going to be another matchstick productions film coming up, which is really good for the sport.
You know, really high profile, high production value, feature, length film that typically, you know, features a lot of backflips in three sixties and in Virgin, Utah, and. endurance riding as much, but they’ve been really cool about working more of that in, so I’m looking forward to filming for that again this year, their next one.
Probably in terms of like a big crossing or, you know, massive MKT of some kind. I have a big scouting mission that I’ll be doing in the fall, but it it’ll be by far and away. The biggest one I’ve tried, not in terms of huh. Kind of distance too, but mostly just like it’s extremely audacious and not the sort of thing where I can just go in blind.
So I’m going to go in and do a lot of scouting for that and probably knock that out. Summer of 23.
[00:47:18] Craig Dalton: Well, I mean, for the listener, Payson’s always an exciting person to follow and your creativity. It’s just fun watching how your mind works and the things you want to tackle. And it’s just a lot of fun to watch what you’re doing. I know we got to get you out on a training ride, but one final question.
I just wanted to talk about your change in sponsorship this year, in terms of the bike you’re riding. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?
[00:47:39] Payson McElveen: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know. There’s a lot of drip, a lot of directions we could go there, but that was What are the scarier professional periods I’ve had thus far? I obviously had to two really great options and went back and forth between the two for months. I was very fortunate to have the support of an agent that I’ve come to lean on very significantly over the last couple of years, not sure where I’d be without him, but Yeah.
I mean, that was a, that was another sort of like red pill, blue pill moment where the logical thing would be to stay with the brand that you’ve been with for seven years and is the big juggernaut and the proven, you know, you can be a reliable cog in a big machine type sort of situation. But I’ve always had.
Kind of entrepreneurial drive. That’s really hard to ignore sometimes. And there was a whole lot of upside with joining allied and they’re doing some really industry defining things that other brands don’t have, the ability or confidence or ambition to do. You know, they’re 100% made in the U S.
Component is really incredible. And that affords all sorts of things from a quality standpoint, a product development standpoint, and just social issue, standpoint and environmental aspects standpoint things that?
felt very good. Morally in a way. But ultimately I just want it to be on the bikes that I thought I could win on.
And Allied’s bikes are just unbelievable. I mean, the quality and the care. Their process for product development and their willingness to kind of ignore industry trends in favor of just making the fastest, most badass bike possible was very intriguing and enticing. And I did go back and forth many times for awhile.
But once I finally made the decision, I just it felt like a massive relief, a huge amount of excitement. And Yeah.
in hindsight, I’d make that decision. 10 out of 10 times again,
[00:49:44] Craig Dalton: Right on presumably you’ve got both an allied echo and an allied. What’s the other one with the enable in your quiver, are you using the echo as your road bike or using one of their pure road machines?
[00:49:56] Payson McElveen: so we were, we’ve been waiting on parts for the echo. I’ve had an echo frame for a good bit. Parts just showed up last week. So I’ll be getting that echo built up. Probably over the weekend. I’ve test written one but I haven’t put huge miles on an echo yet. It’s a really, I mean, just a classic example of a brilliant idea from the incredible mind that is Sam Pikmin there, their head of product, but I’ll definitely be racing the echo at things like Steamboat where, you know, aerodynamics and weight and more of a road style bike really would pay dividends.
The ABL is just awesome. I was absolutely mind boggled by how light it was. I mean, it’s over a pound lighter than the gravel bike I was raised in the previous year, which frankly I didn’t really expect. So that’s been great. And then Yeah.
I’m also on an alpha, which is. They’re road bike, just super Zippy snappy road bike, and has a really cool, almost a little bit old school aesthetic with the level top tube that has this really cool classic look.
[00:50:56] Craig Dalton: Yeah, for sure. I’ll refer in the show notes. I’m the listener to my interview with Sam and I’ve had allied on a couple of different times, so great product, super I’m super jazzed when anybody’s making anything in the USA. And as you said, it’s just fun as an athlete. I’m sure to be able to go to the factory and see the layups and talk to them to the craftsmen that are working on the.
[00:51:17] Payson McElveen: Yeah, And just to have a lot of input, you know, just to be able to say, Hey, I’m interested in running my bike this way. Is that possible? And then go to the factory five days later and they’ve literally like machined the part already and run all the kinematics in the way. Let’s pop it in, like what
[00:51:35] Craig Dalton: let’s do it.
[00:51:36] Payson McElveen: that would have taken two years at a big bike brand.
[00:51:41] Craig Dalton: So true. So true. All right, dude. Well, I’m going to let you go. I appreciate all the time. It’s been great to finally get you on the mic and talk about your career. I’m going to be looking forward to your comeback for the, for Unbound and throughout the rest of the series. We’ll be rooting for you.
[00:51:55] Payson McElveen: awesome. Thanks Greg. It was great to finally get on and chat with you and Yeah, keep up the good work quality podcasts are hard work and few and far between. So, nice job. And yeah, keep up the good work.
[00:52:07] Craig Dalton: Thanks. I appreciate that.
[00:52:09] Payson McElveen: Cool man.
[00:52:10] Craig Dalton: Big, thanks to pay some for joining the podcast this week. I hope you enjoyed the conversation.
Until next time here’s to finding some dirt under your wheels.