Kansas isn’t known as a cycling hotbed. With sinuously long strips of road snaking up the Alps, impossibly steep climbs painted through the Dolomites, and breathtaking coastal rides on either American coast, hundreds of other locations bask in the acclaim of “the best cycling destination” long before Kansas enters the conversation. Except for the first weekend in June where 2,700 riders migrate to the Sunflower State for Dirty Kanza. Now in it’s thirteenth year, what started with just 34 racers covering 200 miles across the rolling Kansas countryside is now one of the most popular gravel events nationwide. UnTapped co-founder, retired professional road cyclist and current gravel aficionado, Ted King set off to Emporia, Kansas looking for victory after falling on some tough luck in last year’s event.Â
Ted is all smiles at the start. Dirty KanzaÂ brings together an enormous mix of riders. More than 2,700Â total of all types. To his left, for example, is two-time world cyclocrossÂ champion, Sven Nys.Words by Ted King: Depending on how big you’re smiling, the final taste the winner gets at Dirty Kanza while still on course has the sweet hint of white grape juice… sprayed directly from a champagne bottle. In the (Read more...) ten to twenty hours of racing, though, the taste is much more akin to eons old dirt and Kansan prairie.Â Gravel and mixed-terrain racing is widely considered the most fun type of cycling out there. In this mass start event, riders set off on an incredible all-day adventure facing sharp Kansas Flint Hills rocks, endlessly rolling roads straight into the horizon, scorching heat, and unrelenting wind.Â Affectionally referred to as DK200, Dirty Kanza isn’t just a double-century, it’s 206 miles. With your cycling computer zeroing in on two-zero-zero, the 200 mile marker is the last place you want to be clawing for energy to muster those final six miles.
A very focused King follows 2017 winner Mat Stevens through Kansas double-track.You don’t fake your way though a successful Dirty Kanza on dumb luck. I therefore went into DKÂ with a specific plan, tactically and nutritionally. The race unfolds with an ever-shrinking front group. 2,000 eager racers quickly splinter to a group of 200, then 100, 50, 20, 10, 5, and 3. Given my career of strategic bike racing, I knew where to position myself in the first half of the race to save energy and still be in the front bunch. Once we hit check-point two, the half way point, the real racing kicks into gear. Nutritionally, I bet big on maple. There are three checkpoints that effectively divide the race into four 50 mile quarters. Your mind gets a little loopy under the cooking sun and a half dozen hours into the competition, so I followed through on my specific plan to exit each pit with pockets full of UnTapped. Specifically, three UnTapped packets — twoÂ Maple and oneÂ Coffee in the first two feeds, then two Coffee and one Maple in the final two feeds for the added boost of caffeine later in the race — plus three waffles. I’ll be honest, I love all UnTapped waffles, so there was always a tasty variety of Maple, Coffee, and Raspberry.
A fraction of Ted’s nutrition for DK. Photo: our maple loving writer and rider.The biggest change from years past came in the form of hydration. With temperatures tipping 100 degrees on the eve of racing and a swelteringly humid nearly 90 degree race day, the wide open Kansas grassland is a desperate place to be looking for a drink. At each pit stop I would fill up on two fresh bottles of Mapleaid, one each of Ginger and Lemon Tea. Additionally, I raced with a hydration pack that I actually mixed the two for a delicious Ginger-Lemon Tea concoction as recommended to me by a long time DK participant and maple lover himself. Again, for the added push of caffeine later in the race, my ratio earlier in the day leaned towards 60:40 Ginger to Lemon Tea, while later it swapped closerÂ to 75:25 Lemon Tea to Ginger. I will admit, I chugged an ice cold Coke around hour 7 exiting the final pit stop. Old habits die hard; I never have a taste for soda except in a bike race — commonplace in the European peloton. I also grabbed a handful of pickles there.
A quick change and nutritional refresh in pit 2. Photo: S. Kaplan.My favorite UnTapped story of the day came from a friend who was racing his first Dirty Kanza. He arrived absolutely depleted to the final pit stop. It was standard exhaustion exacerbated by palate fatigue. He emptied his full pockets of traditional sports bars and gels, laconically stating, “I can’t eat these any more. I just want one of those maple syrup packs.” Conveniently my pit crew and his shared the same area within the aid station and with extra UnTapped always on hand, we were happy to share. He eventually finished his day smiling and topped off by all-natural maple energy. Another maple fueled rider, Kevin, conveyed to me afterwards, âI watched my GPS like a hawk, and every half hour I took down a maple packet and would alternate to a waffle at the 90 minute mark all throughout the day. I watched other folks, obviously strong riders given where they were in course, throw in the towel between check points two and three, meanwhile I still felt adequately fueled. Best yet, at each checkpoint and everyone made the comments that I still looked great!â The race unfolded very much as expected. From an already decimated field, a furious attack around the half-way point tallied the lead group to just three. That soon whittled to only two, me and my friend Josh Berry — a recent maple convert himself. We took turns pulling for three or more hours until I had a bit more in the tank and surged ahead to victory. I’m extremely proud to set a new course record and for taking home the race winner’s belt buckle. My support crew was flawless, just like my race machine, which all matched perfectly with my nutrition on the day. Kansas, a cycling hotbed, or at least trending in that direction and a hotbed once again the first weekend of June in 2019.
Ted enjoying the refreshing taste of champagne.All photos courtesy of Linda Guerrette unless otherwise noted.
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