Words by: Amanda Nauman
Photos by: Ethan Glading and Linda Guerrette
Kaitie Keough and Ted King’s efforts were monstrous and their wins were off the charts! They were put through the Dirty Kanza fire of hell, pushed the limits and crossed the finish line first after giving it their all. I respect that immensely. New royalty has been crowned.
But Dirty Kanza is also about meeting new people, enjoying time with friends, supporting the community, “racing the sun,” completing a challenge and telling stories.
Here is my 2018 story.
Race started at lightning pace after lightning delay, rode with a legend while bike and mind stayed true; Stint in bad place followed by stint on good place, witnessing friends while riding with friends (and even adding some too!)
The long-winded story is here. Chapters are separated into legs to make it easier to visualize.
If you want the big overview of the women’s race, read Zach Schuster’s recap of the event here.
If you’re a tech nerd looking for an overview of my RLT 9 RDO setup for the day, go here.
Leg 1: Emporia to Madison
A morning lightning storm and downpour was short and sweet; just long enough to make us worry about the potential mud in the distance. The first hour of gravel after the neutral roll-out was exactly as it’s always been, save for a thankful reroute around the infamous mud pit. Already a fast start, the cattle pens near the highway and the sight of Kanza’s first of countless rolling hills ignited the front group. At the summit of the cattle pens lives a cattle guard with a tire-eating concrete edge. I slowed up just enough to roll over it safely. At that exact moment an acceleration at the front of the pack caused the day’s first big split, and I missed it. “Not a big deal, I thought to myself. It’s going to be a long day.” I was okay with playing it safe through the razor-sharp gravel and creek crossings that make up the first leg of the DK course.
A lot happens in the first leg. Kanza is infamously hard on tires, but there seemed to be a distressing amount of people pulled over fixing flats, including my coach and teammate, David Sheek. I also witnessed Amber Pierce’s terrible crash that did not derail her day but certainly marred it. The remainder of this first leg was mostly charging forward and shuffling around with those who didn’t make the lead group. My friend and fellow Carmichael Training Systems (CTS) athlete, Matthew Kutilek, and I found ourselves together and surfed though different groups to move forward.
I had forgotten about the steep red brick climb that leads us into the town of Madison where the first of three SAG stops are placed. As I ascended it, the cramps I was fighting put me at a crawl. I ended up slow-rolling into SAG 1, trying to keep my cool. I was cramping so early and was worried about just being able to finish at that point.
SAG 1 was pure madness. People everywhere. I’m still surprised I found the CTS pit crew so quickly. Dan Manco of Grimpeur Bros. Specialty Coffee was there to hand off my bottles, switch my new Orange Mud hydration pack, and send me along.
Leg 2: Madison to Eureka
I could see Kutilek off in the distance after I left SAG 1 and knew he was going to charge a little harder on this segment than I necessarily wanted to. My teammate Matt Freeman also caught and passed me after making the initial split in the front group, but not finding the CTS crew at SAG 1. He was also on the move trying to catch back on to the front of the race. I couldn’t hang with many of the people I normally do, as they frantically tried to make up ground in that leg, but there was a good mix of steady riders that I could keep up with. It made for interesting dynamics and was fun to work with different people as I paced myself. Although I felt bad about his luck with the sharp rocks, I had a blast riding with Jake Wells (last year’s runner-up), knowing he had the legs for another podium finish. Cyclocross legend Sven Nys also caught and merged with the people we were riding with near Texaco Hill, and I had a brief fan girl moment. Riding with the world champion was a highlight I’ll never forget!
Riders continued to shuffle in and around me as we approached SAG 2 and I felt good about my position. Fellow female racer, Kae Takeshita had left SAG 1 ahead of me but I caught her somewhere before the infamous climb called The Bitch that takes us to Eureka. Takeshita asked how many women were ahead and I said, “Two.” I knew Katie Keough and Alison Tetrick (last year’s Queen of Kanza) were still up the road. Not to worry. Leg three is normally where this event takes its prisoners.
We caught Road Bike Action magazine’s Jon Hornbeck with less than a mile before hitting the SAG 2 stop. A top-ten finisher in 2017, he asked us if we could take a slow pit stop. I chuckled to myself and wished for a brief moment that I could just relax and chill like that. I made the stop as quick as possible. The CTS crew was amazing and I was mentally preparing for the hardest leg of the day.
Leg 3: Eureka to Madison
I left SAG 2 with Kutilek, Wells, and James Osborne. We eventually caught Tetrick and Craig Roemer in the “soft asphalt gravel” that is only identifiable to those who have ridden through this small segment of soul-sucking earth. I remembered there were big rollers with fast descents in the first part of this leg, so I put in a few efforts to try and detach myself from Tetrick. It actually worked and I was able to get away with Osborne and Enve Composite’s Mark Currie who had latched on moments earlier. We neared mile 125 where I knew the forecasted weather was about to toss us a headwind.
Soon enough we were at the big creek crossing and the three of us paused while we assessed the water. Zach Schuster from Cyclocross Magazine was across the way and yelled, “Kaitie’s not more than five minutes ahead of you!” I was in shock. We had done some damage through the rollers and I was closing in. Just when that positive energy had settled in, we rounded a few more corners and I knew something was going terribly wrong with my body. My heart rate plummeted. The longest leg of Kanza was going to be an even longer one.
Osborne and Currie rode away from me with ease on a climb and suddenly I was by myself. I started questioning everything and the first wave of doubts crept in. I was doing everything right but my body wanted none of it. I soft-pedaled my bike, sat up to rest my arms and neck, and searched for the bag of ibuprofen I had in my back pocket. Just then, Tetrick came by me with three other guys and in an instant, I was back to third place. I was so out of it I had zero desire to chase. I felt like puking. It was too hot. My stomach was revolting. I felt like quitting.
I came to a stop and pulled over to pee. A few minutes later I stopped again to check my rear tire pressure. I was losing it so badly I had convinced myself I must be getting a slow leak. Have you ever been so over a bike ride you were looking for excuses to quit? That’s the place Dirty Kanza can put you in, and I had arrived.
The brief break seemed to help some. As I started moving again, Nate Keck, Jake Pantone, Nate Whitman and Jonny Hintze caught me from behind. I worked in this group for as long as I could, but slowly realized their pace was too blistering. Hintze and I got dropped on a climb and I let the other three ride away. I was in no position to chase again yet. Hintze asked me how many more miles to Madison and I reluctantly told him we were probably still an hour away or fifteen miles. I waited up for him to take a water bottle from a local farmer. He asked if I had an extra gel or food and I told him I had an extra Larabar he could have. He happily obliged and we kept on trucking. Suddenly I could see Keck up the road and when we absorbed him, he told me Tetrick wasn’t more than a couple minutes ahead. She rolled into SAG 3 in Madison at 9:28:11, just two minutes and change ahead of me.
I stood under the CTS tent at SAG 3 with my legs completely cramping. I downed a cup of pickle juice because it sounded good, swigged some of a Coke, grabbed the final Orange Mud hydration pack, and off I went. Dan Manco cheered me on and I was forever grateful for his caffeinated, enthusiastic existence.
Leg 4: Madison to Emporia
While I was refueling, I noticed Tetrick leave SAG 3 with Pantone so I hustled as much as possible. For miles, I chased into the headwind, and around the time I had given up hope on catching Tetrick by myself, Nate Keck rolled up on me and lifted my spirits. I had likely just spent 15 miles in the wind and was slowly losing sight of second place. It was hard to stay motivated knowing she would likely have been able to keep up with Pantone.
I let Keck know that we’d be rolling up on the Chaise Lounge soon and I wanted to stop for a photo. We took as little time as possible to dismount, pose on the chaise, and keep rolling. I later discovered I had been the first woman to stop at the Chaise Lounge and I’ll take that as a little victory on the day.
After the photo-op, Keck and I forged ahead, but after a rough rocky road section, I couldn’t hang and was separated. The efforts were catching up to me. I yelled at Keck to leave me. My cramps were creeping back and I had little motivation left in me to fight for a wheel. We were about 15 miles from the finish and Keck said he wanted to keep urging me along despite my efforts to give up. He was the voice of hope when I was dying. He rode at my pace but agreed to take off once we got to the Rocky Ford Bridge, which marks the final stretch to the finish. As we crept up the next roller, I saw a figure pulled over on the side of the road. It was Tetrick.
Passing Tetrick with a mechanical, changed my outlook for the final few miles. I now had to dig deep to stay with Nate as long as I could. We hauled through the next segment and I quietly prayed at mile 196 that the train crossing wouldn’t appear flashing in the distance like last year. Sure enough, the red lights started flashing and the crossing arms came down. If it had been a long train, Tetrick would’ve caught back on. Lady Luck dealt me a short train and we again joined up with Jake Pantone at the railroad crossing. He had been riding with Tetrick for a majority of the leg after checkpoint three, which made me realize Tetrick and I would’ve probably been together at that train crossing had she not had the mechanical. How crazy would that have been to be standing there in the same position as the previous year with two other random guys? I loved the weird twist of fate.
As the train passed, my anxiety jumped and the three of us agreed to get to the finish together. Pantone said something about it being more enjoyable with company, and I couldn’t agree more. I smiled. Our energy levels buzzed when we saw the water tower emblazoned with “EMPORIA” and I told my compatriots to leave me on Highland Hill, the last climb that leads to downtown Emporia. I needed a minute to myself to mentally prepare for a satisfying finish and a stress-free roll down my favorite small town in America. I reached for high-fives with as many people as I could on the finish straight. I wanted to cry but I held back the emotions and forced a smile as best I could.
I explained to the media, “Last year was a really bummed second place and this year is a super stoked second place. It was a big mental hurdle for me to get that.”
I want to finish at least one more Dirty Kanza 200 to become part of the 1000-mile club and receive my commemorative chalice.
Next year I’ll #raceforthechalice.
If you’re looking for an opinion from me with heaps of congratulations to Kaitie Keough and Ted King, I’d like that controversy to end and be finalized in a piece I was asked to write for CyclingTips.com. I appreciate the opportunity to share a little bit of the history and my side of the story and I thank you for celebrating the true winners and all the finishers.
I have many people to thank and they know who they are. First and foremost are the sponsors for making the journey possible:
Orange Seal Cycling
Carmichael Training Systems
Grimpeur Bros. Specialty Coffee