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Stetina’s Paydirt proved it is both a race and an adventure this past weekend, with a time bonus from a tyre toss deciding the women’s overall winner. Event organiser Peter Stetina called it “fun and wild” for the pro women’s field, the only category with a cash prize at the second-year event that was filled with a who’s-who of Unbound Gravel contestants.
Sarah Sturm was the fastest on the 69-mile course at Stetina’s Paydirt in Carson City, Nevada, completing the three timed segments in 2:35:57. Heather Jackson crossed the line 16 seconds later, but then erased the deficit completely and moved into first place by a four-second margin after demonstrating accuracy in the tyre toss – where riders literally throw a bike tyre around a life-size cutout of Stetina from a distance – netting a 20-second time bonus in the Shimano Women’s Challenge.
“While I feel so bad for Sarah, these were the rules that we set ahead of time. She was disappointed, she’s a competitor. It’s just the way it happened to shake out this time. We’ll revisit how the time bonuses are allocated, but everybody was very into the shenanigans at the finish line and kept it lighthearted. I believe there is a space to have fun, and keep it competitive. Both Sarah and Heather are the utmost professionals,” Stetina told Cyclingnews.
“The underlying theme is that it is a race and an adventure. You put a number on for a reason – to go hard. But it’s not everything. There are ways to go hard and have a more fulfilling experience across the board, so the Paydirt is a result of that. I think we’ve kind of struck silver,” added Stetina with a tip to the Silver State.
Sturm could have countered for additional bonus seconds in the mechanical bull challenge, which earned a brave rider one bonus second for each second staying in the saddle. However, the results were finalised after the tyre toss, as the bucking bovine was minus his sting due to technical difficulties.
While shenanigans are a signature part of Stetina’s Paydirt, the serious side handed out a $5,000 cash purse to the top five overall women for the Shimano Women’s Challenge.
Flavia Oliveira Parks, who won the 2022 Paydirt, was third in the overall. Paydirt rookie Anna Yamauchi finished fourth while last year’s runner-up Lauren Cantwell took fifth.
“In all honesty, the biggest congrats to Sarah for such strong riding as well as all the other women. We came here to get in a hard effort in a fun, relaxed, enjoyable atmosphere ahead of Unbound and it couldn’t have been better,” Jackson posted to her social media after nailing the IRC Tire Bike toss.
The men’s field competed for bragging rights, last year’s third-placed Levi Leipheimer taking the top honours with a ride of 2:20:29. Finishing two-and-a-half minutes later was Stephen Flynn, who outsprinted Harrison Biehl by four seconds. Stetina did ride and finished 10th in the men’s 35+ category.
Stetina said operating his own race is like planning your wedding, which becomes a fulfilling experience despite the endless emails and requests from participants, juggling a new set of twins with his wife and creating re-route options for a flooding river. A late course adjustment in the opening 8 miles was put in place because of heavy snowmelt in the Pine Nut mountain range that caused the Carson River to rise to minor flood stage. There were no changes to the timed segments.
“It’s a passion project, it’s mayhem,” summarized Stetina. “Paydirt is not for me, it’s for everyone else. You’re trying to please people to the nth degree, which is what I feel like your wedding is, you know? You get to the end of it and say, ‘what just happened?’ Paydirt was such a success. It’s a breath of fresh air in the ever-more competitive gravel world.”
His second edition of Paydirt also comes just two weeks prior to Unbound Gravel, his biggest race of the calendar, “the big show”. He has been on the podium twice, second in 2019 and third in 2021, then finished eighth last year.
“That is my glaring unchecked box,” Stetina said about a win in Emporia, Kansas in the 200-mile event. “I’ve had a lot of victories, and It’s getting harder to win. I’m very motivated for it. But I also have to take a step back and realize, you know, I’m going to do my best. And I would love to put my name in the hat of contenders.”
When asked about the other contenders in two weeks’ time, Stetina was quick to mention the women’s field.
“I can say both Heather and Sarah are looking very primed and ready for Unbound. They both are very, very good right now.”