ROAD TO KANZA: MENSO DE JONG, FROM SINGLETRACK RACING TO GRAVEL

No stranger to grinding it out in the saddle for hours on end, Menso de Jong, a member of Team Clif Bar Mountain Biking and Cyclocross, talks about getting ready on his Road to Kanza. Watch the short video and read about a ride he once did with 14k of climbing.

NINER: Why ride the Dirty Kanza?

MENSO: A few months ago, a friend asked if I was doing Kanza and I told him he was crazy. That night, my Team Clif Bar Cycling manager informed me that a plan to send some of us to Kanza was in the works. Even Leadville was fun to do once, and I love a good challenge, so I signed on the dotted line. Ask me on the first Sunday in June if it’s something I want to do again.

NINER: Up to this point, what’s the longest ride you’ve ever completed in one day?

MENSO: In 2011, I raced Philly in the last year. It was super long, but distance is really a meaningless metric. It was 162 miles covered in six hours on the nose, drafting Liquigas and High Road while eating Pop Tarts from my team car. Really not that hard, since I had no sprinter to work for and just wanted to finish. The following year, I finished a 14 day UCI HC stage race in China that had a bunch of 100-130 mile stages, again mostly drafting and eating Snickers bars. I’ve done about a dozen 8-12 hour solo mountain bike races, and more than a few all day dirt rides. Most recently in October, I did an unofficial 100 mile 21k vert mountain bike race that took almost fourteen hours, and back in December another bonkers 100 miler on my Air 9 that ended up taking 16 hours. In 2015 I took my RIP9 up possibly the biggest dirt climb in the USA, from Bishop at 4k elevation up to White Mountain, a 14er on the border with Nevada. That ride was only 64 miles, but it took about the same time as Kanza, just with 14k climbing. I’m no stranger to stupid-long adventures.

NINER: What bike will you ride?

Menso riding the RKT 9 RDO for Team Clif Bar.

MENSO: I got an original RLT9 alloy back in 2015 and put over 7,500 miles on it in two years, up, down, and across California ( http://most-excellent-adventures.com/reno-to-mendocino-a-california-odyssey/ ) . I rode that bike on pavement, dirt roads, and a lot of mountain bike trails that I had no business being on with a ‘cross bike. It became my favorite bike of all time, so I’m super excited to have recently upgraded to the carbon version. Maxxis Rambler 40c tires are a must, and I use my gravel bike for road training in the brutal winters in Santa Barbara, so I’m sticking with SRAM 2×11 even though I have 1X Eagle on my XC bikes and don’t particularly like front derailleurs. Gotta keep those tight ratios for road intervals. I just finished the build, so I’m still looking for a good beer bottle cap for the YAWD that I can stare at for 12ish hours in Kansas. What will I crave the most at the end?

NINER: What is your training plan?

MENSO: I don’t have a ton of time for huge rides, but going past 6 hours is mostly a mental and nutritional game, so I’m not too worried about that. I do have some flexibility in my grad student schedule, so I’m trying to get in at least three days a week where I ride 2-3 hours in the morning and the same in the afternoon. I’ve been racing XC mountain bike events for the last two months, so I’m not worried at all about high intensity training.

NINER: What are your hopes for finishing the Dirty Kanza?

MENSO: I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t gunning for the W. I’ve been on more than a few gravel event podiums, and these mental sufferfests are right up my alley. I’m not great at hard starts in XC races, and I’m 6’5 190#, so accelerations take a lot of energy, but gravel events are more about the diesel engine. As the announcers on Eurosport would probably say, I have the body of “a man for the classics”. If I don’t have any mechanicals or other major issues, I’ll be more than a little disappointed in myself if I don’t make the top ten.

NINER: What is your biggest challenge mentally for this event?

Menso enjoys his time off the bike too.

MENSO: Staying attentive in the first three hours without going too hard, dropping people, and then cracking and getting passed, because DK is not an XC race, nor even a 3 hour marathon XC event. I know from experience that I will have a pretty dark hour somewhere in the 7-9 hour range, but if I keep eating and push through, my body is capable of finding a second wind.

NINER: What is your biggest challenge physically?

MENSO: I have some lingering knee issues that I hope don’t flare up at mile 100. I switched the saddle over from my old alloy RLT9 before passing that frameset along to a fellow starving PhD geology student, so my bike setup is identical to what I’m accustomed to, giving me hope that my body should hold together as well as it did for 7,500 miles on the old beast.

NINER: How many organized bike events have you ridden in?

MENSO: I think I’ve been on 14 start lines so far… this year. There’s no way I could tell you how many I’ve been on in thirteen years of road, mountain, and gravel bike racing, but it’s certainly in the hundreds.

NINER: What do you eat when you’re on the bike?

MENSO: Just like in that 100-miler back in October, I will start with more solid foods, some Mojo Bars, maybe a Builder Bar, probably a homemade sweet potato burrito or two in the first six hours. After that, it will be all Shot Bloks and gels to get me to the finish. I’m the rare cyclist who doesn’t drink coffee, so that caffeine works reeeaaaally well when I need it. I’m also hoping the feed stops have cold Tecates and shots of bourbon like my favorite events do in California.

NINER: What’s one piece of wisdom you can share about riding in an all day event?

Amanda Nauman with Menso following their Rock Cobbler wins.

MENSO: Eat and drink as much as you can, as early as possible. I will have my first Mojo Bar thirty minutes in, and will eat a food item at least once every forty minutes after that. When I did the Rock Cobbler gravel event earlier this year, it blew me away that guys in the lead group were racing through feed stations. I stopped at all three of them, made sure my bottles were full and snacks filled my mouth, and then I worked my way back to the leaders. The extra three minutes total of stoppage time were well worth the efforts to catch back on. It didn’t surprise me at all that by four hours in I was going the same pace and they were dropping like flies. I won it solo in the end, out of a final group with only two other survivors after five and half hours on the bike. Om nom nom.

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CLICK TO FOLLOW THE STORIES OF OUR OTHER FOUR ATHLETES ON THEIR ROAD TO KANZA.

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