When you set a late May race goal in early December, it almost doesn’t seem real. It’s easy to commit to something when it’s but a speck on the horizon. Let’s just say that things got VERY real at this year’s Dirty Kanza 200-considered by many to be the toughest one day gravel race in the United States-REAL quick.
We hit the first patch of prairie peanut butter mud at around mile 10 of the Dirty Kanza 200, and it just decimated the field. Riders bowling pinned through the rutted guck, bikes becoming immoveable, heavy objects. Some riders were lucky and somehow punched their way through, but most weren’t as lucky. And the even unluckier ones lost rear derailleurs and hangers, their day over before the hostilities even really began.
I knew that this pit of despair was going to smack us in the face with a hard dose of prairie pain, and it still caught me out and brought my bike to a gritty stand still, rear stays completely plugged. My stomach sank, and tightened at the thought of having to struggle this hard, this early in the race. My resolve became not so steely for a moment, but then I remembered why I was racing and that there was no such thing as quitting.
It wasn’t until I stumbled out of the sloppy slog through a really long, and vicious, mud pit around mile 85/90 that I realized I might have a good shot at the podium. I remember looking down on the mud snowshoe-esque boots I was wearing, as I stumbled between the ruts, and thinking that this was f#$!ing ridiculous. I’d been in “robot mode” until this point, plodding my way along in the top ten and getting really lucky that I hadn’t suffered a flat or even worse fate.
When I exited the last aid station in Cottonwood Falls at mile 150, I’m glad no one told me that I was 22 minutes down on Michael Sencenbaugh, the rider who’d been leading the race for MOST of the day, because it probably would’ve crushed my soul a bit, and undermined my resolve. For the record, I was plenty happy riding to 2nd place. Having my two previous years derailed by flat tires, I was riding high that I’d been mechanical free all day. And for full disclosure, I was not the fastest or strongest rider out there by any stretch of the imagination. When I caught Sencenbaugh with just two miles to go, and confirmed that he was indeed the leader, my first thought was “F#$@!!, it’s going to come down to a sprint. This is going to really, REALLY hurt!”
To have a 200 mile race settled in a drag race down the main boulevard lined with thousands of family, friends, locals, and my wife (who had flown out and surprised me), was an electrifying experience, and one that I will cherish forever. Chapeau to Michael for an amazing ride and for fighting till the bitter end. To take the win at the #decadeofdirty Dirty Kanza, which saw the race’s worst course conditions in its ten year history, is a true honor, and I’ve been humbled by the outpouring of love from the cycling community. This race is hard. It’s definitely the pinnacle of my race career so far, but life can be harder. In a way, you’re trying to honor that out there on the bike.