Dirty Kanza Round 2

The 200 mile Dirty Kanza gravel race in Emporia Kansas claims to be the World’s Premier Gravel event as 3000 participants race across some rolling farmland in the middle of America.  It was my 2nd year in a row down here and this year the course went North instead of south out of Emporia. The course was a big improvement as we snaked around the farmlands and grasslands of Kansas over a bunch of rolling hills and through some pretty gnarly terrain. X USA  mountain bike Olympian Jeremiah Bishop said it was comparable to the terrain they race down in South Africa at the Cape Epic each year, only they take mountain bikes for that one instead of skinny curly bar bikes!

My weekend started Thursday afternoon with a pit stop at Velo +, Kansas City’s local Kona dealer, to prep my Kona Libre gravel bike for the weekend and drop the supplies needed for the 2 feed zones at the DK. Walking into the shop fired me up for the weekend as Marco and his crew love bikes and it radiates through the atmosphere of the shop. These guys had volunteered to be my pit crew again for the weekend and it was a big reason why I was keen to give the DK another shot.  Last year I double flatted early in the race and ended up chasing mostly solo for 11 hours of the ride, eventually coming in 14th.  This year my goal was to avoid flats so I ran some bigger 700 x 45 C tires, they were a bit heavier then what most other riders were riding but with the rough terrain I figured it would be worth it.

Friday morning was spent relaxing with my buddy Ingvar and the Lauf crew from Iceland as they had generously taken me in for the weekend at there accommodation.  The afternoon was spent pre-riding a bit of the course, getting my new Libre to feel right as I was only able to get 1 ride on it before the race and registering down at the large Expo downtown.  After a big bowl of Quinoa it was off to bed early as race day would start with a 4am wakeup and 6 am departure!

The first 25 miles of the race started out pretty neutral as we all eased into the long day ahead but soon we hit a gauntlet of rough and rutted out roads.    Here the chaos began as riders started crashing and flatting all over the place.  There was a lot of sketchy riding going, especially from those riders sporting aero bars,  so I hopped on the wheel of Geoff Kabush as he had some smooth lines and generally finds a way to end up at the front of races. Unfortunately he soon flatted the road looking tire he was running, so I followed another guy, who crashed hard into a mud puddle, and then another guy bounced off me as he went down in a rut.  Eventually we hit some smoother gravel roads again with the lead group having gone from around 500 to 50 riders.  From here we hit some rolling hills and by the time we rolled into the first  feed zone at kilometer 100 we were down to just 17 riders in the lead group.  My pit crew was awesome with Marco from Velo Plus and Jordan from Kona getting me in and out of there in 30 seconds, just in time to catch back onto the group as it was charging and no one was waiting around. 

On deck next was 130 km to the 2nd feed zone through a series of short steep climbs and some pretty bad roads. It had rained a pile this spring causing a lot of sharp rocks to be exposed and some big ruts out there.  The biggest challenge though was the competition as it was way deeper then any year before with 5-6 World Pro tour Roadies leading the charge.   Our lead group had four of these guys in it, last years # 1 &2 from the race, 2 x USA Marathon champ Payson Macelveen, eventual winner Colin Strickland a few other guys.  I certainly wasn’t one of the bigger fish in this group but I was feeling good and the Kona Libre was rolling along great. 

 Around kilometer 160 the lead group had dwindled to 10 riders and the pace seemed to be slowing down a bit after a few peppery surges from the World Tour guys. On one of the longer climbs, Colin Strickland upped the tempo with just myself and another rider following.  Cresting the top I saw we had a decent gap, rolled around Colin, and told him “let’s go”.  He looked back at the chase group and responded that he didn’t like the split, and sat up to wait for them.  I did the same and we continued on.  5 miles later Colin would go off the front again, this time no one followed.  We all looked at the World tour guys to take up the chase but nothing was happening so I went to the front and started pulling through with 4 or 5 other guys.  Soon Colins gap had grown to 20-30 seconds and finally the rest of the group started to respond as we started a decent paceline.  Sitting 2nd wheel rolling on a smoother section of road my front tire randomly sprung a leak.   It was a  quick fix quickly sealing it and Co2’ing back up, but then it went again, this 2nd stop was the killer as the lead group was rolling hard now chasing Colin and I didn’t have the legs to close a 30 second gap on that much firepower.  Settling into a diesel mode I was still in good shape for a solid result as I knew a bunch of the guys ahead would eventually blow up and have mechanicals themselves and that I could move up a few spots from my current position of 9th.

A few miles later the rear tire sprung a leak, plugging and Co’2ing it, I was back rolling again soon but it would give out a few miles later requiring another plug.  This plug would also eventually fail, and with just 1 C02 left it was time to put a tube in which is never a good thing.  From here the day unfolded into a total meltdown as the lock ring nut on the valve stem was pretty much welded on.  In 15 years of racing I’ve never failed in removing a lock ring nut.  I have some tough fingers from tree planting so many years, but they were no match!  I used rocks and my multi tool to try and loosen it but there was no way.  I have no idea why that thing would be on there so tight but given it was a new bike it was something I hadn’t even considered to check.  Thus I hopped back on my bike and started riding the rim.  It was shocking how few riders passed me as apparently our lead group had destroyed the rest of the field pretty good!  

The problem was that I was in no mans land with no farm houses or anything around except wide open fields of grass.  Out of water, biking along at 12 km/hr, I figured it would be at least 2 hours to the next feed zone which wasn’t going to end well as it was a pretty damn hot day to not be riding with water.  Eventually I rolled by a farmers house with Grandma working on her yard outside.  I asked for some pliers and she went inside to search.  She came back with a couple cold bottles of water which were like gold to me, but no pliers.  She said she would keep searching and if she found them she would come find me on the road.  

So I kept biking along on the rim, with water now so I was a bit happier but also getting a little concerned for my wheel as I wasn’t sure how tough they made road wheels these days. About 10 minutes later I heard someone honking behind me as grandma came tearing down the road waving around a pair of pliers from her window.  Hell yah! I was stoked, the pliers easily removed the lock ring nut, grandma took off, I put in a tube and then went to inflate it only to have my co’2 head blow it’s o ring and fire the co2 gas everywhere but into my tire.  Having gone through 3 Co2’s I was now out and now either had to wait for someone to come along with a co2 or pump, or remove the tube so I wouldn’t destroy it and then keep riding the rim.  With 800 or so racers behind me still I figured someone would come by soon so started walking with my bike.  This got old really quick as carbon bike shoes aren’t good for walking on gravel roads, so I opted to lay down under a shady tree and catch some zzz’s until someone came bye.  I figured restoring some energy with a nap would be better then wasting energy walking 5 km an hour towards the finish line which was still 120 + km away!  After a short little nap I heard someone finally roll bye and luckily it was my buddy Jeremiah Bishop from the Canyon team.  He was also having flat tire issues and was out of co2’s but he gave me his head, which got me a little closer to air in my tires.  A few minutes later another rider came bye with a co2 and I was finally back in business!

Stoke to be ripping along with air in my tires again I set two riders in sight and started chasing them down.  Unfortunately this was a bad move as they road off course and eventually hit a dead end and then asked me which way to go.  Arggh, looking down at the GPS I rerouted a path back on course, cursed a couple times then continued on my ride.  I eventually rolled into feedzone 2 a while later where my amazing support team was anxiously waiting.  The support I had from Velo + KC, and Jordan from Kona was probably the best support in the whole race. I felt like I had let them down but hopefully I will get another chance to redeem myself in a future Dirty Kanza as these guys deserve to have a winning rider. 

 Fully loaded with tubes, co2’s, clifbars and water it was back on course to roll in the final 100 km to the finish in downtown Emporia.  It was a bummer to be out of contention after having such a good start to the race but sometimes it’s just not your day.  The plan now was to set a steady tempo to the finish and get some good training in the legs for the races yet to come this year.  It was pretty fun passing some riders I knew, having quick visits with them then continuing on.  Eventually I caught back up to Bishop and we road most the way to the finish together which was great to have some good company.   

The best part of the day was rolling across the finish in 12 + hours and then spending the next couple hours cheering other riders on and hanging out with my support team and some other riders which I only get to see a couple times a year at different races around the World.  The atmosphere at the Dirty Kanza is 2nd to none as there are riders from all different walks of life just out there crushing it, destroying themselves and coming across the finish line with huge grins of accomplishments on there faces. It was awesome to see some of the amatuers roll across the line after some pretty epic days out on the American prairies and to see so much satisfaction in themselves for pushing through what was surely some epic adventures for many of them.  It’s races like these that keep me inspired to keep racing and I hope to get another chance to redeem myself at this race as it is now up on me 2-0.  3rd time is usually a charm so I figure this race is worth at least one more shot!

 Huge thanks to Marco, Glen, Dean and James from Velo + KC and Jordan from Kona for the great support around the race weekend.  The Kona Libre I road is a bike that can win this race one day, and with the support I had, and the strong legs, all the pieces were there to have a big result.  That will have to wait, but for now my head is full of good memories and there are no regrets as all you can do is go out there and give it your best shot with whatever you have and then let the cards lie from there.   

I would also like to shout out to Dylan for lending me his Garmin to keep me (mostly) on course this weekend and the Lauf team from Iceland for taking me into there team accommodation and treating me like one of them.  It was a killer weekend all round and I’ll be looking forward to returning to Kansas soon!

 

For now it’s off to Mexico for a couple weeks of altitude training and a 3 day race called the Race X-Cross Hidalgo. 

 

Over and out!       

 

Leave a Reply