Dirty Kanza

Last week I hopped on a jet plane to the middle of America to race one of the Worlds premier Gravel races in Emporia, Kansas. Kansas state is known for its wide open plains and prairies as it is the breadbasket of America. The Kanzans are also well known for there BBQ’ing skills as they have some prime cattle pasture land which we would get to know very well over the weekend.  It was never on my travel radar, but getting to see some random places around this World is a nice side bonus of being a bike racer, .

It was exciting heading to my first Gravel race at the 330 Kilometre Dirty Kanza as it was something new and could play right into my wheel house with the winning time being around 11 hours.  It’s been a while since I entered a race with so many question marks on my mind but it’s the unknowns that help keep racing so much fun after you’ve done it for over a decade.  This one was setting up to be a firework show with top cyclists from all over the World and all different disciplines showing up to battle it out in a format that not too many of us were familiar with.  

Waking up on race day a small thunderstorm with gusty winds came through town which added some electricity to the air.  After a 30 minute delay over 2000 cyclists were off to pedal there way through the middle of the flattish lands of America on some now muddy gravel roads.  It was a bit chaotic at the start with mud flying everywhere and a few cyclists in there aero bars making things sketchy.  Just as it started to thin out over a couple of rollers, riders started dropping like flys with flat tires.  I had put on some heavier tires to avoid this problem but it was to no avail as the flint rock was sharper then a
knives edge and tore through our tires like butter.    I sliced mine, stopped plugged it twice but it kept leaking.  The free ride was over and now I’d have to stop to put a tube in and then chase like a dog to try and get back into the race.   Seeing Cyclo cross legend Sven Nys pulling over to also fix a flat, I decided
this was the best time to pit stop as we would have some alright horsepower working together to chase back on.  Waiting a fewseconds longer for him to finish his tire we then took off to try and bring down the now 4-5 minute gap to the leaders.  Unfortunately he flatted again a minute later and I was left on my own, 20 miles in with 186 to go.  It was a depressing start to a race I’d been targeting for a while but all you can ever do is play the hand you’re dealt and get on with it.


The next 30 miles before the first feed zone was like riding through a parade as I passed fat bikers, aero guys, mountain bikes, road bikes, lots of cows and everything else imagineable. It felt like I had passed 400-500 riders as I weaved in and out of them like an obstacle course yelling “on you’re left, on your right for” for a very long time.  At the first feed I received the news I was still back in 85th position and 4+ minutes back of the lead group.  In a race like this if you’re out of the lead group for too long you are a fish out of water.  

It was a longer pit stop trying to find more Co2’s and extra tubes as I was now preparing for the worst and just hoping to get to the finish with air in my tires.   The rest of the race I chased down one rider at a time and slowly moved up the field.  Along the ditches there were many other contenders fixing flats or just having pure meltdowns.   Riding a couple hours with Canadian CX champ Michael van den Ham  was fun as he is a class act and was enjoying the ride even given his bad luck as well.  We actually could’ve had a good chase group going and caused some damage later on but some of the other contenders we caught decided to drop out which was too bad.  In a way the ride was pretty cool as the pressure of trying to fight for the win or a podium spot was long gone so I just set it into diesel mode, enjoyed the scenery and the company of the different riders as I’d go through group after group towards the front. 

At one point I caught a group of 8 riders in the top 30 and soon found myself at the front doing all the work.  One guy yelled at me to slow down which gave me a chuckle.   It’s a race buddy, you’re getting a free ride on my wheel, zip it and hold on if you can or get dropped…  Support wise I had a great team thanks to Marco and the crew @  Velo + bike shop in Kansas City which took pressure off at the feed zones.  The team at High Gear in Emporia also took some pressure off going over the bike before the race and there mechanic Dylan leant us his empty condo to call home for the weekend.

One of the main goals of the trip was to showcase Kona’s new Gravel grinder which will come out in 2019.  Thus I had a cameraman,  Anthony following along to document the race and photograph myself and the new Kona Gravel Bike.  He was good company and helped make the weekend one to remember with his chill attitude and assistance in making sure the trip went smoothly.  The bike I was riding was awesome and could certainly win that race one day.  Huge thanks to Luke Way at Balance Point Racing for dialling it in as having a proper bike fit is key for maximizing efficiency and staying comfortable on these big days.  More details to come soon on the bike..!

Terrain wise the Dirty Kanza was like riding through one giant rolling cattle pasture.  It slightly resembled Mongolia, although Mongolia is much more wild with no fence’s, nomads riding around on horses and the sense of being someplace really out here. This was alright though and most the roads were pretty smooth and gravelly with a few choppy sections mixed in.   The flint sections were a disaster as alot of us found out why they used it’s sharpness for arrow heads.  Outside of getting flinted, the hardest part was the solid head wind for the last 50 + miles of the race.  The guys with Aero bars had a big advantage but they also caused a few accidents.  In the future it would be smart to ban aero bars as it’s sketchy as hell riding with guys in there aero bars they’re trying to pass you on the loose descents.  Another dodgy part of the race were all the road crossings as most of them didn’t have any course marshals.  Trying to race the last couple miles into town, having to blow stop signs to keep the guys behind me dropped made the race feel like a saturday group ride.  


The highlight of the race were all the local farmers along the course which were cheering us on and offering water and beef jerky.   The people out in the middle of America are real down home country folks and welcomed us with wide open arms.   The final home stretch on main street was also rad as they had shut it down to vehicles and organized a giant street party.  Rolling through the cheering crowds to finish 14th capped a long 11 hour chase.   I was stoked how good the body felt and am keen to come back another year to try and battle it out for the win.  This gravel racing thing is kinda fun as it combines the Worlds of mountain bike and road bike racing into one. It is also very rough on the feet, hands and ass so it’s important to have the right bike and tire combination.  I figure 12 hours of gravel grinding beats your body up about the same as a 24 hour mountain bike race on a full suspension.    


After a 2 day recovery I settled into a 16 hour, 3 day, training block in the Rockies to use the momentum from the DK to re-build the engine for the summer of racing to come.  Racing in 2 xc races, 1 road race and 1 gavel race this past week across BC and Alberta put a decent load on the body and has helped recharge the high end.  I’ll never understand how the body bounces back stronger after these big races like Dirty Kanza, or a 24HR race but they seem to push the body into another zone about 10 days after them.  Next up is a 2.5 week training block in the Rocky Mountain towns of Canmore and Jasper as I build up for the BC Bike Race on Canadas West Coast coming up July 7-13th! 


Over and out 🙂 

Photo Credits to Anthony Smith @ www.the4color.com


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