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Dirty Kanza, perhaps the world’s most prestigious gravel event, has been rescheduled to September 12.
The race across the Fllint Hills of Kansas was slated to take place on May 30. Organizers had previously said they would make a final decision on May 1st.
According to founder and race organizer Jim Cummins, the team at Dirty Kanza felt a responsibility to try to find a solution during the current COVID health crises. “We considered every option we could possibly imagine,” Cummmins told CyclingTips. The team landed on September 12 for a new race day. A multitude of factors went into selecting the date which is still relatively uncertain given the unknown future of the current global pandemic.
How did they land on September 12?
“Any earlier and you run into the possibility of this situation not being better and the longer you wait, then the closer you get to our 2021 event. It takes us 11 months to plan for this,” Cummins said.
Cummins assumed other promoters would agree. “Under perfect circumstances, the [gravel] calendar is already very full. It’s kinda hard to schedule any event and not conflict with other events on the calendar,” he said. Time was running out for Cummins’ team to find an alternative weekend that didn’t also conflict with other events. “There are just more events all the time. Now, condense that calendar into a four or five-month window, and it’s getting harder by the day. That’s not even to speak to the task of having to coordinate with the host city.”
The Dirty Kanza team had to find a date that would also work for community members who volunteer to support the event. Of course with thousands of cyclists on open roads organizing infrastructure was critical. For example, the route crosses two major highways that need to be closed. According to Jim, one of the main reasons the September 12 date stood out from other dates was that the town of Emporia was already scheduled to have a “major town festival” that weekend and already had vital infrastructure in place like highway closures to help take on a Dirty Kanza.
With those boxes checked, the team then looked to check for potential deal killing conflicts with other events.
As for not stepping on other gravel event’s toes? “Every date that we looked at, there was a conflict, every one,” Cummins said. That meant DK was going to step on somebody’s toes, but who? Cummins’ order of priority was straightforward. Their goal was to stay away from events with a national draw, then look to stay away from regional and local events.
It turned out there was indeed a gravel ride already scheduled for September 12 in Marrysville, Kansas called The Pony Express 120 Gravel Dash. The ride, which happens to be about 120 miles north of Emporia, is tiny in comparison but still, Cummins didn’t want to strongarm anyone. The team contacted the Pony Express race promoter, Mark Hoffman, a five-time DK finisher himself, looking for possible ways to collaborate on a win-win solution for both events. Cummins stressed that it was Hoffman who immediately offered to move his event, (to October 17) which has been held on the second weekend in September for seven years. “We’re a lot smaller so we can be flexible,” Hoffman said of the change.
Dirty Kanza, on the other hand, is not small. Cummins still shakes his head when he thinks about the size of his event. “We have more volunteers assigned to moving trash than the number of volunteers it took to run the entire event five years ago.”
Lower temps and less wind = good news for you and me, bad news for Mr Strickland.
Those of us interested in how DK’s date change will affect race dynamics, should look to the weather. Speaking to Pony Express’ Hoffman, he described September as an ideal time of year for riding in Kansas, with mid-day temperatures in the low 70’s and chilly mornings in the 40’s for race start.
That alone will be a huge difference-maker from last year’s sweltering, triple-digit heat. The other most notable factor is the wind. Last year, Colin Strickland used a breezy day to his advantage attacking near the end of the headwind section and banking on a strong tailwind that helped him to victory. Hoffman said compared to the spring, fall is generally a lot more calm in terms of wind. Not great news for Strickland, who not only handles heat well, but thrives in it. The opposite also seems to be true for his ability in cold conditions. Strickland mentioned cold temps negatively affecting his performance at both this year’s Mid-South and last year’s Oregon Trail. When asked about the change of date, Colin downplayed the significance of weather change. “The strong adapt, the stressors of the race will be there,” he told CyclingTips. “Whatever’s there, we will find a way to test each other and make it exciting. People will crack. No matter what.”
What does the date change mean for mere mortals?
According to a release from Lifetime, there are a few options. Participants can keep their current entry and participate in the rescheduled event in September, defer their current entry to the 2021 event with a waived deferral fee, or receive a refund for their 2020 entry. May 15 is the cut-off date for current participants to decide what they want to do with their entry.
Our fingers are crossed for all gravel’s promoters, sponsors, and not least participants, that the 2020 alternative racing season is merely pushed back rather than canceled altogether. While not knowing the new date will surely work, Cummins is as optimistic as he can be given the current situation. “I look forward to welcoming everyone back to Emporia hopefully in September and having an amazing family reunion,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can today to help flatten the curve and get through this as quickly as possible.”