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Reigning Mid Gravel champion Payson McElveen was the first casualty in the elite men’s field at Saturday’s Garmin Unbound Gravel presented by Craft Sportswear. He pulled to the side of the course and got off his bike in the Unbound Gravel 200 race in the opening 50 miles of the off-road endurance test in Emporia, Kansas, his chances of victory evaporated.
The US rider was seen seeking assistance to work on his back, and then he never remounted his bike to continue, with 158 miles to go. An official “abandon” had not been confirmed, but McElveen was soon out of his kit and sitting in a chair, the issue most likely connected to his recent crash from Gravel Locos.
“I’m unfortunately out of the race. No concussion symptoms which is great, but gradually had a back spasm get progressively worse until I could barely pedal,” McElveen posted to his Instagram stories.
“Not exactly sure what brought it on, but became clear that my body just wasn’t ready to race today. The opening miles were wild, and I had a ton of fun hacking through the carnage. Love races of attrition like this, so really bummed to not still be out there. But we tried!”
The Texas native had mixed expectations for his fifth try at Unbound, two top 10s since 2018. He suffered a hard crash two weeks ago at Gravel Locos. He cleared concussion protocol six days prior to Unbound, but was not sure how a long stretch off the bike would affect his performance at this off-road endurance test, 50-plus miles longer than Gravel Locos.
“Two weeks ago I had stellar form,” McElveen told Cyclingnews on Friday. “I had to take six days totally off [because of crash]. I’ve never actually been in this position. I was cleared by a concussion specialist about six days ago, basically saying there should be no residual anything at this point. It’s more a matter of how much of a dent did those days off right after the race put into fitness.”
“There’s undoubtedly going to be a little bit of rust there. And I’m just hoping that, you know, things go smoothly in those opening two or three hours that are really hectic.
“This race is so long that you can really kind of like find your way and have ups and downs within the race and still have a good race. So that’s why I still want to start, you know, two weeks is a really quick turnaround for this sort of thing. But you don’t know unless you try.”
McElveen took the start line with 113 other elite men in the Unbound 200 before the sun peeked across the prairie in Kansas, a total of 1,138 riders on the route for the full field of pros and amateurs. He was in a solo chase, four-and-a-half minutes behind a lead group of 11 leaders when Cyclingnews caught a glimpse of him off the bike.
That lead group contained Lachlan Morton, Paul Voss, Peter Stetina, Adam Roberge, Keegan Swenson, Russell Finsterwald, John Kariuki, Laurens ten Dam, Carter Anderson, Petr Vakoc and Ian Boswell.
At Gravel Locos, which was won by Roberge, McElveen had been in a lead group of 25 riders with 100 miles to go and got away with two others in the closing five miles. He then crashed out of the contest and sustained a concussion, separated shoulder and lots of cuts and bruises that landed him in hospital.
“You know, three miles from the finish line I was in a group of three, already thinking about how it was going to try to win, which is maybe one of the reasons I took my eye off the ball for a second,” he told Cyclingnews.
McElveen, a two-time podium rider from Leadville 100 MTB, will try again for a top result at Crusher in the Tushar in July as part of the Life Time Grand Prix series, his second year in the invitation-only field.
“We still have five of the Grand Prix events left so we’ve only had two. The next one after this will be the Crusher in the Tushar, which I really like. It’s at altitude, and has big long climbs, which tend to suit me.”