The Road to Kanza

FIVE ATHLETES. 200 MILES. HOW WILL THEY DO?

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A new rider wanting to push herself.
A returning champion feeling the need to show the world she can, again.
A tarmac-loving roadie attempting the unknown.
A cross-country mountain biker expressing himself in a new arena.
The Queen of Pain returning to a format she’s had to learn to embrace.
 
These are the stories of five athletes, all pushing themselves in similar and dissimilar ways on their Roads to Kanza.

 

Dirty Kanza

A full day of pedaling across the unforgiving Flint Hills of east-central Kansas makes for an extremely difficult challenge, no matter who the rider — which is exactly why the Dirty Kanza 200 exists. It’s rugged, it’s remote, and it’s uniquely rewarding.

Founded in 2006 by local gravel grinders Jim Cummins and Joel Dyke, the 200-mile (322km) Dirty Kanza is a self-supported test of mind, body, and equipment across the rolling gravel roads and tall grass prairies once home to the Kanza Nation tribe.

Bike and tire selection is critical at DK200. Gravel-specific bikes are, of course, preferred, though hardtail mountain bikes, fat bikes, and cyclocross race bikes are commonly used.

Roadbed consistency varies from crushed and graded limestone, to fist-size gravel, to dirt two-track. Flint, or chert, is what the original inhabitants of the region used to make arrowheads and axes; it can easily slice its way through a bike tire.

No matter what bike or tire a rider selects, each participant will need to bring several inner tubes, a patch kit, and a reliable hand pump. Riders may receive assistance from their personal support crews at official checkpoints only; receiving outside support at any point other than official checkpoints, or from anyone outside of a personal support crew, will result in immediate disqualification.

In addition to the roadbed and length of the route — category winners can expect to race for 12 hours — high winds can play a factor. And though the Kansas prairies are not widely viewed as a climber’s paradise, elevation gain is also a factor at DK200; finishers will tackle 10,000 feet (over 3,000m) of climbing on the day.

All put together, the distinct challenge of the DK200 has made it a pioneer in the growing trend of gravel-grinder events. The first event, in 2006, had 34 participants; over 2,000 are expected this year, and the race takes place this weekend.
 

Five Athletes. 200 Miles. How Will They Do?

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, it only made sense for us to follow and introduce a few select athletes and share their stories in the lead up to this epic race coming this weekend.

“I just go out and try stuff. No pressure. Just learn.”

Read the full interview here.

KRISTIN TAYLOR: INTO THE UNKNOWN

Hailing from Emporia, Kansas, Kristin learned of Dirty Kanza and decided she’d register. Who wouldn’t want to show their hometown some love and join the biggest gravel race in the country? Besides, it was a great excuse to visit some family while she was at it.

The kicker? Kristin had just recently participated in her first organized ride, ever. The 50km Old Man Winter Rally took place in early February in Northern Colorado, a far cry from the 200 miles of rolling hills and gravel roads that the Dirty Kanza would throw at her. No doubt, this would be not only a training adventure for Kristin, but also a one-day endurance monster. A test of her physical ability, for sure, as well as a test of her Midwest mettle.

Why did you pick Dirty Kanza?

KRISTIN: It’s in my hometown. I still have family there. I thought I’d ask my brother to be my support for the day. And I needed a goal. I figured doing the 100-mile version of the Dirty Kanza would be perfect. But during the registration process things got messed up and I couldn’t add the 100 to my cart. So I decided to sign up for whatever was left and give it a crack. So, I ended up in the 200. Now, I’ll just make 200 my goal and just do whatever I can do.

What’s your mental approach going to be for the Dirty Kanza?

KRISTIN: A good friend told me, “You just gotta go do it. You can’t have ‘No’ in your heart. So, that’s my approach. I can’t have “No” in my heart.

Read the full interview here.

Zack Allison: The 200-Mile Criterium

Zack Allison has his sights set on winning the Dirty Kanza 200, a race he compares to a long criterium. We caught up with him during training to talk preparation and his motivation as he heads down the ‘Road to Kanza’.

“I think the biggest advice is have a plan. In a super broad sense, have a plan for eating, have a plan for equipment failure, have a plan for pacing. ”

Read the full interview here.

Why ride the Dirty Kanza?

ZACK: Kanza is definitely a bucket list race for me. I like long events, really getting out there in the middle of nowhere, where you have to push yourself to get back or meet your goal. I also like gravel riding – mixed terrain keeps it all interesting. On top of all that I like tinkering with equipment and choices. I’m a decent wrench so I actually like picking equipment for technical events and putting it all together to conquer the course.

What’s one piece of wisdom you can share about riding in an all-day event?

ZACK: I think the biggest advice is have a plan. In a super broad sense, have a plan for eating, have a plan for equipment failure, have a plan for pacing. If I didn’t plan this event at all, I assure you I would start riding at a 40k time trial pace, I’d eat when I got hungry three hours in, I would not be wearing sunscreen. There’s a high likelihood that I’d die of something that would be deemed self-inflicted from lack of planning.

Some people who know me are reading this and laughing that I said the word planning. I could be known as a “fly by the seat of your pants” sort, but if you’re going to be out there all day it’s different than your epic five-hour road ride where you pass three gas stations where you bought emergency Snickers bars.

Read the full interview here.

“Quality over quantity. Everyone’s time is limited, so make the most of the time you have available to ride! Quality training rides with good intervals will be more beneficial than long, slow “junk” miles.”

Read the full interview here.

Amanda “Panda” Nauman: Through the Eyes of a Champion

Coming out of college where she competed as a NCAA swimmer, Amanda “Panda” Nauman knew she needed something to keep her active and to keep her competitive edge. She was drawn to cycling. After having spent years in the pool, cycling was something different and she realized she enjoyed it. She began competing as an amateur at Cross Country Nationals in 2013.

In the fall of that year, she competed in her first Elite UCI Cyclocross race. And in 2014 she began racing Elite UCI Cross Country season. She has now won the Dirty Kanza 200 two years in a row. It’s a race that took her over 13 hours to win last year.

You’ve won Dirty Kanza twice. What’s motivating you to go for a third?

AMANDA: The first year was one of the hardest Dirty Kanzas ever. The first hour was all mud. Derailleurs were snapping off. People were hiking their bikes. Because I ride cyclocross, people thought it was a fluke that I won because I can ride in mud. The second year I doubted myself. I was scared I wasn’t going to do well and I also felt I had something to prove. This year I’m heading into the race knowing I can do it. I’m not doing it for anyone other than me this year. I just want to win for me.

If you had one piece of advice for someone training for a long event for the first time, what would it be?

AMANDA: Quality over quantity. Everyone’s time is limited, so make the most of the time you have available to ride! Quality training rides with good intervals will be more beneficial than long, slow “junk” miles.

Read the full interview here.

“Start slow, finish fast”

Read the full interview here.

Rebecca Rusch: The Seasoned Veteran Returns

Rebecca Rusch, a three-time winner of the Dirty Kanza, sat down with us and talked about her return to Emporia, Kansas, this time to take a shot at 100 miles of gravel. Watch the video and read the interview with even more information and insight from the ‘Queen of Pain’.

Why ride the Dirty Kanza?

REBECCA: Gravel is what I consider the great equalizer for mountain bike and road cyclists. It’s the perfect middle ground meeting place and requires physical and mental skills from both types of riding. You have to be good riding in a pack, have the technical skills to navigate all types of terrain, be solid riding alone into a headwind for hours, have the mental toughness to be alone for hours on end, and the experience and smarts to know how to fuel and pace for something this long.

It’s a true test of a rider’s skill and ability, and there’s no hiding. Dirty Kanza has a way of exposing weakness and also forcing you to rise to the occasion.

What’s one piece of wisdom you can share about riding in an all-day event?

REBECCA: Start slow, finish fast.

Read the full interview here.

Menso de Jong: The Mountain Biker Takes on Gravel

No stranger to grinding it out in the saddle for hours on end, Menso de Jong talks about getting ready on his Road to Kanza.

“ I will have a pretty dark hour somewhere in the 7-9 hour range, but if I keep eating and push through, my body is capable of finding a second wind. ”

Read the full interview here.

Why ride the Dirty Kanza?

MENSO: A few months ago, a friend asked if I was doing Kanza and I told him he was crazy. That night, my Team Clif Bar Cycling manager informed me that a plan to send some of us to Kanza was in the works. Even Leadville was fun to do once, and I love a good challenge, so I signed on the dotted line. Ask me on the first Sunday in June if it’s something I want to do again.

What’s one piece of wisdom you can share about riding in an all-day event?

MENSO: Eat and drink as much as you can, as early as possible. I will have my first Mojo Bar thirty minutes in, and will eat a food item at least once every 40 minutes after that. When I did the Rock Cobbler gravel event earlier this year, it blew me away that guys in the lead group were racing through feed stations. I stopped at all three of them, made sure my bottles were full and snacks filled my mouth, and then I worked my way back to the leaders.

The extra three minutes total of stoppage time were well worth the efforts to catch back on. It didn’t surprise me at all that by four hours in I was going the same pace and they were dropping like flies. I won it solo in the end, out of a final group with only two other survivors after five and half hours on the bike.

Read the full interview here.

Good luck to all competitors at the Dirty Kanza this weekend. Ride safe and enjoy!

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