My Dirty Kanza Experience

Chase the Chaise Lounge....relief and almost home
We didn’t come all this way for you not to finish ! …. the words of  ‘Butt & Sun Cream Enforcer`,  as I collapsed in a heap in the shade, wrapped in a iced towel, forcing cold coke down my throat.

There may be a bit mud and rain…ah sure not a bother, I am from Ireland, can handle a bit of that. Did a CX season and a 200km audax in minus 3 degrees. Can handle a bit of pain.
There may be a bit of distance and mind stuff…ah sure not a bother. I did a 350km audax. If your mind can handle that, all will be well.
You have to have the right equipment…the flinthills are notorious…ah sure not a bother, buy a new bike, get the best wheels, tyres and puncture protection.

They forgot to mention the heat…because it has never been so hot and I literally melted, along with the rest of the field.

For the uninformed, the Dirty Kanza is the premium gravel race in the world. Not that means anything as it is a minority sport at the moment, where I was the only competitor from Ireland. It is a huge growth area in the USA with pro teams sending riders to compete and with the large bicycle company's developing gravel specific bikes, wheels and group sets.

 The race is a mass start event, 325km long with 3380m of climbing over the supposedly flat natural tall grass prairie of the flintstone hills in Kansas. There are 3000 competitors with 1100 starting the main event.
Due to the nature and remoteness of the event, it is compulsory to have a support crew. The support crew is only allowed to make contact with their rider at 2 checkpoints (Alma 103km and Council Grove 244km).  As the race rules say in bold “Do not call us. We will not come rescue you”. My support crew was Butt & Sun Cream Enforcer, New York Cabbie and New York Comedian. They seem to get the hang of it after the 2nd checkpoint.

The race started in Emporia at 6h00 in the cool of the morning. It felt grand to be lining up behind a couple of big name pro's like Peter Stetina of Trek Segafrado and Taylor Phinney, Alex Howes and Lachlan Morton of EF Drapac. Retired pro, Ted King was also there to defend his title. The start felt like your typical Irish open race. Lots of jostling for position, riders diving up on the inside, brakes on and then sprint. And then after 20 km the first big gravel. Felt like I was back doing the 3 day Gorey crash fest again, with riders going in all directions, punctures galore and lads lying in the ditches. Managed to get through that unscathed, but by then the main peloton had split, the pro's were up the road and it was every man for himself. 

I reached the 1st checkpoint 9h30 feeling like I had just completed a 100km race. Only problem there was still 220km still to go and the temperature was still a manageable 26 degrees. New York Cabbie had parked around the block, a bit confused with the colour coded parking that the organisers had put together. I lost 10 minutes of nervous energy trying to find the crew. Filled up with water and food, fixed my only puncture and on my way again.

Between the 1st checkpoint and the  2nd checkpoint any form of racing or cycling at a meaningful pace was long gone and it had become a mental mind game to finish. Temperatures peaked at about 38 degrees, and I was unable to eat any food. The peely wally Irishman had succumbed to the elements and the rest of the day I survived on water, energy drink and gels. Cycling involved coasting downhill, struggling up the hills and sitting under the scarce trees on a regular basis to cool myself down with a bit of valuable water.

Lots of contemplation.

I eventually reached checkpoint 2 and this is where I collapsed in a heap, questioning whether I should actually carry on. Thankfully the team was by now up to speed with cold coke and moral support. The locals helped me out with ice and salt crisps as unfortunately New York Cabbie had left my anti cramp pickles in the sun, so the vinegar was pee water and the pickles indescribable. At this stage New York Comedian was bored as he had been on the road since 4.30 am. I think he was a bit confused with all the open space, fresh air and lack of tall buildings.

After my rejuvenation at the last water stop, things started going a bit better. It gradually cooled down and the last 30km was actually a bit flatter, so was able to pick up the pace until at last I reached the Chaise Lounge. From there it was almost home.

As the sun went down, on went the Garmin light which had been carried for the last 150km in the unlikely event that I would not finish in daylight. That lasted 20km after the battery died. And then next to go was the Garmin GPS. In the dark with no direction ! Jumped onto the wheel of a lad who was finishing fast and sat there for the last 10km. Those tortuous bastards making us climb the last little hill in the university campus before reaching the finish line.

Finished in Emporia at about 21h30, a bit disappointed that I had missed the “Race the Sun” medal which was my goal for the day. At the end of the day there were 871 finishers out of 1100 starters with the winner finishing in 10 hours. I finished 348th in a time of 15h26m after a torrid day in the saddle. I got the standard handshake from Jim Cummins, the founder and organiser of the race. Amazing man, as he shakes the hand of every single finisher, so that means he stands there until 3h00 in the morning. What a legend.
The team and the rest of Emporia shouting for me as I lay collapsed on the ground. Relief at last, although New York Comedian looked a bit dazed having found a couple of Emporian pubs while waiting for me.

The question is, will I be back next year ? Well, first of all I have to put my application in with the team as I could not do it without them.  And then I felt that this race got the better of me, so that needs to be rectified. Although the Dirty Reiver is also on my bucket list, so maybe that first.


The Team :
Butt & Sun Cream Enforcer : Wife
New York Cabbie : Sister
New York Comedian : Brother in Law

Gear :
Discounted wheels from www.huntbikewheels.com
Wheels : Hunt 30 Carbon Gravel Disc
Bike : Ribble CGR SL
Group set : Shimano Ultegra R8000
Tyres : WTB Riddler 45mm
Tyre Sealant : Stans No Tubes Race Sealant

Youtube videos :
Both these videos are well worth watching if you want to get a feel of what it is to experience Dirty Kanza.

  • An insight into race day by Ted King (defending champion)
  • This is number 5 in a series leading up to the race.
  • https://youtu.be/WkTx1kXdUkc

  • EF Drapac pro race team
  • Dirty Kanza was the first in a series of alternative races for the professional American team.
  • On the day they got outwitted by a gravel specialist.
  • https://youtu.be/kPODHtTdO24Dirty 

Interesting Gravel Websites
www.dirtykanza.com
www.salsacycles.com/chasethechaise/
www.dirtyreiver.co.uk

Interesting Gravel Tweeters
@GravelCyclist
@DirtyKanza200
@iamtedking



Comments

  1. I did this years DK 100 on Hunt Carbon 30 gravel disc and WTB Riddler 45s. I rode my Dean Titanium bike with Force 1. The 10-42 cassette came in handy many times. It was warm but not as humid as we often see in the Midwest that time of year.

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