It’s taken me way too long to get my thoughts together about what happened on 6/2 in Emporia, Kansas. It’s been years since I’ve done a race that totally wrecked me and also has me counting the days until I can be on that start line again. I got everything I was looking out of DK… and more. I’ve already posted a bunch about the race, did podcast (check it out here), and another interview for the Wattie Ink blog (here) about my race so I’ll keep this a brief as possible.
Everybody races and does events like this for their own reasons and with their own goals. I went to Dirty Kanza with the intention of racing… whatever that would mean on the day. I trained my ass with the sole purpose to finish as close to the front as I could on the day. I wanted to see if I had what it took to ride with the front pack for as long as I could… even if that meant burning matches that I would need later in the race. That was the experience I was looking for. I was willing to take risks and just go for it. That’s the reason why I still train and race.. for that feeling.
We got to the start line in plenty of time and I was able to get a spot right on the front (behind the pros and call ups) and happened to be right next to Jens Voight. Pretty rad. However, after a few minutes of chatting and getting nervous we were told there we would be a 30 minute delay as a thunderstorm was rolling through. The wind was whipping and rain was coming down so I huddled under an over hang with Maggie and Fi and waited it out. Soon enough the storm blew through and we were on the start line and ready to rip.
Start to Checkpoint #1 (miles 0-48):
We rolled out on the wet road and I was in a good spot but as I expected people who started behind us were making dicey moves to get close to the front before we hit the gravel and all hell broke loose. 2 miles in we made a right turn on to the gravel and the hammer was dropped. i was probably somewhere in the top 40. Not really sure. It was hard to tell because there were so many people and mud flying everywhere. I didn’t try to move up too quickly or take any chances. The guys on the front weren’t going too hard so a lot people were able to sit in the group. I eventually moved myself into the top 10-20 and floated around there for the remainder of the first leg. There were a few attacks here and there but nothing crazy. It was way too early for that. I was just playing it safe and making sure to eat, drink, and stay out of trouble.
As we approached the first checkpoint I moved closer to the front on the road section leading in. I needed to pee and wanted to roll through quickly and ahead of a lot of the other guys so I could pull over for a quick second. I rolled into the checkpoint, saw Maggie & Fi, grabbed a couple of new bottles and got out of there. Super quick and efficient.
Checkpoint 1 to Checkpoint 2 (miles 48-103):
I rolled out of the checkpoint feeling good and made a bit of mistake. I was still ahead of most of the group and pulled over to pee and then was back on it. If I would have known the course I wouldn’t have stopped there. A mile later we hit the worst mud section of the day. It was only half mile was it was super wet, thick mud which forced most to dismount and run around it. I had to stop another time to clear out some mud and that second stop dropped me off the back of the lead group. Once we turned and were back on dry gravel I was in full on chase mode to a group of 15-20. Not where I wanted to be. Luckily a few minutes later a couple of hammers (Matt Lieto and Brian Jensen) caught me. They both had aero bars and were working together to bridge back to the lead group. I happily jumped in on the effort as I felt like I was about to blow from solo effort to get back to the lead group.
As soon as we were back with the lead group the pace seemed to mellow out. I was super relieved as I really needed to recover a bit. I was still way out of my league with some of the horse power that was in the 30 man lead group but nobody was really putting in any serious attacks so I was able to sit in… but then around mile 65ish that changed. Guys started throwing moves at the front and the group would split and then come back together. I was definitely working pretty hard to stay with the group but I was committed to see how long I could hang. Around mile 71 we hit a longer, steep climbs and that widdled the group down to 15-20 or so and I was still there. Over next 15 miles I continued to hang and was feeling really good.
At mile 90 my luck changed. I was on the tail end of the group, barely hanging on, when I squared up on a big rock and cracked my front wheel. My tire went flat immediately and sealant shot out every where. Shit. I was bummed for sure but I has also been on rivet for the previous ten minutes so it was a bit of relief to step of the road and fix my tire. Luckily I was able to get a tube to stay in and in the 5 minutes I was on the side of the road NOBODY has passed…. that made me realize how fast that lead group had been moving.
After I was back on the road I wanted to take it easy on my front wheel so I just rode steady and didn’t go into any kind of chase mode. There was no way I was going to catch that group and I still had 116 miles to go! A few miles later I was caught by a strong group and I stayed with them all the way until the 2nd checkpoint at 103 miles. This stop took a bit longer. Luckily I had brought a spare wheelset. I swapped my front wheel, grabbed a fresh pack, a couple of pieces of pizza, and hit the road…. alone.
Checkpoint 2 to Checkpoint 3 (miles 103-162)
I was totally in no man’s land. I couldn’t see anybody up the road or behind me. Some of the guys in the group I was with got out before me and I got out before a few others. I was pretty content to do my own thing though and was just riding steady… and talking to myself. A few miles later I could see a group quite a ways up the road and then soon enough I was caught by another solo rider we chatted and decided to try and catch the group ahead. This guy was hammering… and again had aerobars. We worked pretty hard to catch the group of 5 up the road and probably too hard for me. We probably should have dialed back a bit and just taken longer to catch them. We seemed to catch them just as the course turned north… and were greeted with 20+ mph block head wind. I was pretty spent from the effort to catch the group so I did my best recover a bit while still taking my turns at the front.
Around mile 130 as we were crossing the river we were caught by another group that included two canadian hammers, Cory Wallace (24 hour mountain bike world champ) & Michael van den Ham (canadian cyclocross nation champ). The pace quickly elevated and soon enough I cracked and was spit out the back… on my own again. This was the worst I had felt all day. I was sill taking in calories but was fading a bit and now with no group to work with into the wind. At mile 140 I stopped put in my headphone and pulled up a playlist I had made specifically for DK. I kept grinding and at mile 158 I rolled up on Ryan Currie (young hammer – 19 year old brother of my adrenalin project teammate Mark) and Michael van den Ham. They were stopped and getting water from a nice old guy on the side of the road. I got some water too and we teamed and worked together until the next checkpoint at mile 162. No words were being spoken but we were working well together and each doing our share at the front taking wind to the face. I rolled into the the next checkpoint feeling better and super stoked to see Maggie and Fi.
I quickly found Maggie and Fi and the rest of the Adrenalin Project crew. I was craving real food and Maggie had made me a sandwich and thankfully the guys had some beers. I took down about 3/4s of a Miller High Life tallboy… a beer had never tasted so good. I ditched my pack and rolled out feeling refreshed and ready to take on the next 44 miles.
Checkpoint 3 to Finish (miles 162-206)
I rolled out of the checkpoint ahead of the guys I rolled in with and was my own… but pretty content with it. I had my music, a happy stomach, and with the stoke that the finish line was only a few hours away. I stopped “battling” the wind and just kind of accepted it and did my best to not let it mentally destroy me.
After about 4-5 miles later I was caught again by Michael van den Ham. I was stoked to have somebody to work and suffer with. We worked well together in complete silence. Just each taking pulls and then trying to recover. it was getting pretty hot at this point and there were farm house lining the course with families out cheering on the riders. Most had bottles ICE COLD water for us. Every time we’d pass someone with water I’d grab one, take a couple of drinks, and then pour the rest all over me. It was brining me back to life. Every time I would get a bottle of ICE COLD water i’d feel better and better.
We soldiered on and around mile 185 we came upon the Salsa Cycles crew and the now famous chaise (#chasethechaise). We jumped off our bikes, got the best race photos of all time, and then got back to the grind.
With 20 miles to go I was feeling the best I had since riding with the lead group the first half of the race. We kept working together I started taking longer and stronger pulls and just wanted to get to the finish line. We passed a couple of guys with less than 10 miles to go and then with 5 miles to go I think we said the first words to each other in hours. The stoked of being almost done and knowing we were going to finish this beast was setting in. With a mile to go my partner in suffering dropped back and I hammered to the finish line. In all my years of racing I’ve never crossed a finish line with that much stoke and relief. It was all-time for sure.
I crossed the line in 12:15 which was good enough for 21st overall and 3rd in the 40-44 age group behind Geoff Kabush and Matt Lieto. I was joking around with Maggie before the race and telling her my only goal in the race to stand on the podium with Geoff Kabush. mission accomplished… even though he was an hour ahead of me! If you don’t know who Kabush is then you’ve probably never raced in the dirt. I was stoked to meet, race with, eventually get dropped by, and stand on the podium with Lieto too. For a dude like me that’s never raced at the pro level to be able to stand on any kind podium with these dudes was a rad experience.
I don’t think this blog, the interview i did, or the podcast really capture how stoked I am about my whole experience in Emporia. The race for me was totally satisfying. My hard work and training paid off and I was right where i wanted to be until my rim exploded. Who knows what could have happened???… maybe I could have went fast and finished closer to the top 10… or I could have completely exploded later in the race from trying to hang with dudes way out of my league… the latter is probably more likely. I am hoping to be back next year to find out…. with a bit more experience, hopefully a bit better fitness tailored towards the demands of the day, and with just as much stoked as I did this year.
As always I couldn’t have done this with the support of my awesome wife, Maggie.