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The 2017 Dirty Kanza wrap-up

Two-thousand adventure seekers tackled the 200 grueling miles (322 kilometres) of dirt and gravel that make up the Dirty Kanza 200 over the weekend, spending anywhere between 10 and 20 hours in the saddle to complete the course across the Flint Hills region of Kansas.

Founded in 2006 by local gravel grinders, the DK200 is now the premier gravel race in the U.S. And with 10,000 feet (more than 3,000m) of climbing and a roadbed that varies from fist-size gravel to dirt trails, the event tests riders’ fitness, mental strength and equipment.

The Dirty Kanza ranks up there as one of the toughest, if not the toughest, gravel race on the planet. With the passion that Niner holds for this type of riding discipline, we’re pleased to share with you the brand’s athletes’ tales from the finish line.

Amanda ‘Panda’ Nauman

Crossing the finish line in second, after a sprint against overall female winner Allison Tetrick, Amanda Nauman was brought to tears. As were a few in the crowd. Unable to speak, Amanda stood, head down, trying to dry her eyes and keep it under control. She had emptied the tank – emotionally and physically – during 200 miles of dry, hot, dusty, gray gravel roads in the middle of Kansas during a race that didn’t go as she had planned or expected. Her three-peat didn’t materialize.

Here’s what Amanda had to say about her ride just after the race finished up.

“So, the game plan today was to go hard and stay with the lead group as long as possible. And last year I split my sidewall at mile 20 and today I go to mile 20, and I started riding the rim of my wheel because I burped my tire in literally the exact same spot as last year. I was just dangling off the lead group.

“So, I begrudgingly stopped, took out my hand pump, pumped it up. Orange Seal saved me. I didn’t have to tube it which saved me a ton of time but I was no longer in the lead group. So basically, the next eight hours was playing in groups, rotating, taking pulls, trying to catch Allison. And, eight hours later I did and then we spent the last three plus hours getting to the finish line together and it was crazy and not what I expected at all.

“But yeah, it was a fun day. I went a lot harder than I thought I was going to today and yeah, that’s a good thing. I’m happy.”

Amanda’s bike, the details:

Niner RLT 9 RDO, Size 47

– Niner RDO Gravel fork

– Easton EA90 SL disk carbon wheelset

– X-Lab Gorilla carbon water bottle cages

– Tubeless Tubeless Clements tires with Orange Seal tubeless setup.

– Shimano Ultegra hydraulic flat mount disc brakes with 140mm rotors – front and back

– Top tube bag – Dark Speed Works – Speedpack 483

– Shimano R785 Ultegra 11 speed Di2 shifters and hydraulic brake levers

– Easton handlebars / stem / seatpost

– Easton EC90 SL crankset with Cinch power meter

– Crank Brothers Ti Egg Beaters pedals 11

– SDG Components Circuit Mountain saddle

Menso de Jong

With second place in sight as he entered the finishing chute, Menso de Jong sat up, slapped a few high fives and watched as Jake Wells, in one final effort, passed him. Spending nearly 11 hours in the lead group and watching as one rider after another cracked, Menso crossed the finish line third – shredded, cooked, fileted. He was done.

Off the bike, this giant of a man wobbled, needing to find a place to lay down which turned out to be a piece of Emporia sidewalk where he remained for over an hour after. He had worn holes in his socks where his big toes had rubbed all day long.

As he sat on the sidewalk he said:

“That’s the hardest bike race I’ve ever done. I don’t think I need to ever do that again. Everything hurts. My eyeballs hurt at one point. I sat up and [Wells] passed me and I didn’t even care. I was done.

“That was hands down the most ridiculous bike event that I have ever done. Everything cramped at some point, even the muscles in my face. I have never gone so deep mentally in a bike ride or race.”

As he looked down at his bare feet and wiggled his toes he said, “Bye bye toenail.”

Breaking down Menso’s Niner RLT 9 RDO:

Niner RLT 9 –

, Size 62

– Niner RDO Gravel fork

– ENVE 4.5 AR Disc wheels

– SRAM Rival 22 hydraulic disc brakes

– SRAM GX long cage rear der to hand an 11-36 cassette

– SRAM Rival/Stages cranks with 34/48t and 180mm length

– VP Components VX Trail pedals with about 7500 miles on them

– Selle Italia SLR seat with the same 7500 miles on it

– Niner YAWYD top cap with Newcastle Brown Ale cap

– ENVE 130mm stem

– ENVE 44cm shallow drop bar

– Maxxis Rambler 40c tires

– Lezyne bottle cages

Zack Allison

In the lead group heading towards the 100 mile mark, Zack was feeling strong. And then, for the next 50 miles, there was the flat that wouldn’t seal. At the third support zone, Zack finally let the wheel go and put on a spare to keep rolling and stop worrying about it, but it had cut his chance at the podium.

Crossing the finish line, a calm look on his face, Zack settled into the sidewalk next to teammate, Menso de Jong, and closed his eyes. When it was time to speak, he said, “Fully depleted. I’ve never been this done. Why is this even an event?” After some additional time to think about it, he continued.

“The race was about exactly how I thought it would go. A bit smoother than I thought as far as support, feeds, my stomach and my taint condition. I felt my physical condition was top notch and overall, with everything that went down, I’m satisfied with ninth overall. I could have used more water and less electrolytes. That’s just one of those experiences after six hours that I had not dealt with often enough.

“As far as the flat, that kept me out of the winning move, but that’s just part of the luck of the 200-mile event. The flat I happened to get was on the bead of the tire and wouldn’t seal all the way. It could have been way worse but just that little setback will leave you that 1% back from the top five guys. Crazy when you think about it that way.

“One rock. One rock’s destiny from all the rocks I ran over all day. One rock made the tiniest unsealable hole to give me 20 PSI max from 45PSI. And that’s enough to put you 43 minutes back from the winner.

“Riding the last six miles over the train tracks into Emporia, if you had asked me if I’d do Kanza again, I would have said ‘Hell no’. Currently, after finishing and having some time to think about it, (and after being handed a delicious Free State Beer and getting a hug from Lelan and all the support guys), I’ll say now that I would do DK200 again. I had a great time.

“The only thing I was really unprepared for was all the support and love for the DK200 that came from Emporia, its natives, and its visitors. I’ve done gravel events in the past but none with this much going on and with this much mutual understating of what it means to complete an ultra-endurance event like this.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a pro or at your first cycling event, its takes prep, planning, and suffering to complete this event. But, part of what makes it all worth it is the confirmation of your effort by the promoters, staff, and the entire town of Emporia.”

Breaking down Zack’s Niner RLT 9 RDO:

Niner RLT 9 RDO, Size 53

– Niner RDO Gravel fork

– ENVE 4.5 AR Disc wheels

– SRAM Rival 22 hydraulic disc brakes

– SRAM Rival rear der and SRAM Rival 11-32 cassette

– SRAM Rival with 36/46t and 172.5mm length

– Shimano XT pedals

– Fizik Arione

– Niner YAWYD top cap with New Belgium cap

– ENVE 120mm stem

– ENVE 44cm shallow drop bar

– Maxxis Rambler 40c tires

– Lezyne bottle cages

Kristin Taylor

The picture that came through the text message told it all. An army green gravel bike coated in mud. The text read, “I’m out. Can’t drag this any more miles.”

Sometimes, things go smoothly. In fact, they may even be moving along better than you had expected. You make it 100 miles in. You’re optimistic. You feel good. And then, Mother Nature decides to unleash on you. After 119 miles, two spent dragging, carrying and pushing her mud-covered bike, Kristin Taylor made the tough decision to call it a day.

When we caught up with her, the frustration showed on her face and carried through her entire demeanor. She had thought she would finish. And then she couldn’t. And not for any reason other than bad luck.

“At Checkpoint 2, I was feeling really good. An overall average pace that I was really comfortable with. There was a little bit of headwind but nothing crazy. It didn’t register that it was going to be a problem until I started seeing people pulling over to put rain coats on. And I didn’t bring one.

“I knew I had to keep going. The gravel, like gravel … gravel roads just got kind of like wet. I was splashing through little streams. It got kind of soupy and deep but I could keep going. And then I turned off onto Road 0 and then it turned into cookie dough. My bike was so coated that I was clawing, scraping, doing anything I could to get the mud off with my hands.

“I got it cleaned, rolled my bike forward a couple more rotations and it wouldn’t roll anymore. So I started carrying it. First on my shoulder, and then I curled my arms under the top tube and carried and dragged it that way until I got to 110 which must’ve been another mile or two.

“At this point it dawned on me that I probably would miss the cutoff for checkpoint 3. The weather was socked in. It wasn’t moving anywhere. I was soaked through and freezing. It looked like it would be 2-3 miles to the next intersection. And I tried. I got a little way in and it turned into cookie dough again.

“I went back and forth. Should I keep pushing on? Should I cash it in and get a beer? I wasn’t angry. Just doubting myself. But I knew the right decision was to call my brother and pull out.”

Kristin’s gravel rig

Niner RLT 9 alloy

– Niner RDO Gravel Fork

– Niner alloy wheelset

– Axiom rear blinky light (To be seen, of course…)

– Shimano 105 rear derailleur, 11 speed

– Shimano cassette, 11-32 teeth

– SRAM BB-7 mechanical rear disc – 140mm rotor

– Teravail Cannonball 700C, 38C, tires set up tubeless

– Blackburn fender

– Niner alloy handlebars

– Niner alloy stem

– NiteRider Swift 350 rechargeable headlight

– SRAM BB-7 mechanical front brake – 160mm rotor

– Knog bell

– Shimano 2x crankset

– Shimano PD-M530 MTB SPD Pedals

Rebecca Rusch

Sometimes, life gets in the way. And in Rebecca Rusch’s case, in a good way. Her film tour for Blood Road has met with great success, but with that great success has come significant demands on her time, especially her training time. With her travel schedule, she just hasn’t had the kind of time and dedication someone needs to run the DK 200 and feel competitive.

So what did she do instead? She opted for the DK100. Oh, so only 100 miles of gravel? For many of us, 100 miles is no small feat. For Rebecca, she took it all in stride, saying before the race, “I finally get to go ride my bike!”

Pushing hard from the start, Rebecca’s ride went about as well as 100 miles on dusty Kansas gravel can go. She finished up at around 5 hours and 15 minutes. After the finish, she was asked how it went.

“It went really well. I came in second overall. I really wanted to catch that guy. I really wanted to beat him.” Reminded this meant she was the first woman overall, she smiled. “Yeah, I know. It was great. But I was only 20 or 30 seconds behind that guy. I was pushing hard.” A true competitor, no doubt.

Even more telling was what she did afterward. Sneaking out to get out of her cycling clothes, she returned to the finish line where she spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out congratulating riders as they came in. She offered hugs, smiles, high fives and all sorts of congratulatory remarks to riders of all shapes and sizes who rolled across the line after 100 miles and then after 200 miles.

Rebecca’s gravel rig

Niner RLT 9 RDO frame

– Niner RDO Gravel fork

– Zipp 303 Firecrest wheelset

– SRAM Force hydraulic disc brakes

– Maxxis Rambler 40c tires

– SRAM Force 1 rear derailleur

– SRAM Force crankset

– SRAM Red power meter

– Crank Brothers Ti Egg Beaters 11

– Zipp carbon handlebars

– Truvativ stem

– SRAM Force shift and brake levers

– WTB DEVA saddle

– Truvativ carbon seatpost

Five riders, all taking different roads to Kanza, all riding for different reasons. One immersing herself in the world of gravel and endurance riding for the first time in her life. Another returning as the reigning two-time champ looking to repeat.

Then there was the mountain biker, accustomed to racing on fat tires and singletrack, determined to win. And his teammate, the soft spoken roadie with a glint in his eye and the willingness to get off the asphalt and give the punishing gravel a go. And last, but never least, the Queen who really needs no words, who came ready to compete and be an ambassador for a great sport.

Five riders. Each one spending a Saturday in June kicking up Kansas dust and dealing with whatever was thrown at them.