All the preparation. All the training. The Road to Kanza had come to an end in Emporia, Kansas. The race was set to begin.
With the sun offering just enough early morning light, Amanda, Menso, Zack and Kristin lined up for the 200. Rebecca lined up for the 100. The dusty proving ground lay before them. And they rolled. Passing Emporia’s majestic Granada Theater, they cruised down the street and out of sight, soon to hit the 200 miles of sharp, flint-filled gravel roads. This is how it went:
REBECCA RUSCH, THE QUEEN: ROLLED FAST, ROLLED HARD.
Sometimes, life gets in the way. And in Rebecca Rusch’s case, in a good way. Her film tour for Blood Road has met with great success, but with that great success has come significant demands on her time, especially her training time. With her travel schedule, she just hasn’t had the kind of time and dedication someone needs to run the DK 200 and feel competitive. So what did she do instead? She opted for the DK 100. Oh, so only 100 miles of gravel? For many of us, 100 miles is no small feat. For Rebecca, she took it all in stride saying before the race, “I finally get to go ride my bike!”
Pushing hard from the start, Rebecca’s ride went about as well as 100 miles on dusty Kansas gravel can go. She finished up just at around 5 hours and 15 minutes. After the finish, she was asked how it went.
She said, “It went really well. I came in second overall. I really wanted to catch that guy. I really wanted to beat him.” Reminded this meant that she was the first woman overall, she smiled. “Yeah, I know. It was great. But I was only 20 or 30 seconds behind that guy. I was pushing hard.” A true competitor, no doubt.
Even more telling was what she did afterward. Sneaking out to get out of her cycling clothes, she returned to the finish line where she spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out and congratulating riders as they came in. She offered hugs, smiles, high fives and all sorts of congratulatory remarks to riders of all shapes and sizes who rolled across the line after 100 miles and then after 200 miles.
KRISTIN TAYLOR, THE NEWBIE: IT WAS GREAT, UNTIL IT WASN’T.
A few words from the night before:
The picture that came through the text message told it all. An army green gravel bike coated in mud. The text read, “I’m out. Can’t drag this any more miles.”
Sometimes, things go smoothly. In fact, they may even be moving along better than you had expected. You make it 100 miles in. You’re optimistic. You feel good. And then, Mother Nature decides to unleash on you. After 119 miles, two of the last of them with her dragging, carrying and pushing her mud covered bike, Kristin Taylor made the tough decision to call it a day.
When we caught up with her, the frustration showed on her face and carried through her entire demeanor. She had thought she would finish. And then she couldn’t. And not for any reason other than bad luck. This is what she said, “At Checkpoint 2, I was feeling really good. An overall average pace that I was really comfortable with. There was a little bit of headwind but nothing crazy. It didn’t register that it was going to be a problem until I started seeing people pulling over to put rain coats on. And I didn’t bring one. I knew I had to keep going.
The gravel, like gravel, gravel roads just got kind of like wet. I was splashing through little streams. It got kind of soupy and deep but I could keep going. And then I turned off onto Road 0 and then it turned into cookie dough. My bike was so coated that I was clawing, scraping, doing anything I could to get the mud off with my hands. I got it cleaned, rolled my bike forward a couple more rotations and it wouldn’t roll anymore. So I started carrying it. First on my shoulder, and then I curled my arms under the top tube and carried and dragged it that way until I got to 110 which must’ve been another mile or two. At this point it dawned on me that I probably would miss the cutoff for checkpoint three. The weather was socked in. It wasn’t moving anywhere. I was soaked through and freezing. It looked like it would be 2-3 miles to the next intersection. And I tried. I got a little way in and it turned into cookie dough again. I went back and forth. Should I keep pushing on? Should I cash it in and get a beer? I wasn’t angry. Just doubting myself. But I knew the right decision was to call my brother and pull out.”
KRISTIN REFLECTS AFTER THE RACE
MENSO de JONG: INTO A DEEP, DARK PLACE.
A few words from the night before:
With second place in sight as he entered the chute to the finish line, Menso de Jong sat up, slapped a few high fives and watched as Jake Wells, in one final effort, passed him. Spending nearly 11 hours in the lead group and watching as one rider after another cracked, Menso crossed the finish line third – shredded, cooked, fileted. He was done. Off the bike, this giant of a man wobbled, needing to find a place to lay down which turned out to be a piece of Emporia sidewalk where he remained for over an hour after. He had worn holes in his socks where his big toes had rubbed all day long.
As he sat on the sidewalk after, he said, “That’s the hardest bike race I’ve ever done. I don’t think I need to ever do that again. Everything hurts. My eyeballs hurt at one point. I sat up and he passed me and I didn’t even care. I was done. That was hands down the most ridiculous bike event that I have ever done. Everything cramped at some point, even the muscles in my face. I have never gone so deep mentally in a bike ride or race.” As he looked down at his bare feet and wiggled his toes he said, “Bye bye toenail.”
MENSO REFLECTS AFTER THE RACE
AMANDA NAUMAN: THE BURP THAT TURNED INTO AN EPIC CHASE.
A few words from the night before:
The image of Amanda, seconds after she crossed the finish line in a sprint against Allison Tetrick, the overall female winner, brought tears to Amanda’s eyes, as well as a few in the crowd. Unable to speak, she stood, head down, trying to dry her eyes and keep it under control. She had emptied the tank – emotionally and physically – during 200 miles of dry, hot, dusty, gray gravel roads in the middle of Kansas during a race that didn’t go as she had planned or expected. Her three-peat didn’t materialize. Here’s what she had to say about it just after the race finished up.
“So, the game plan today was to go hard and stay with the lead group as long as possible. And last year I split my sidewall at mile 20 and today I go to mile 20, and I started riding the rim of my wheel because I burped my tire in literally the exact same spot as last year. I was just dangling off the lead group. So, I begrudgingly stopped, took out my hand pump, pumped it up. Orange Seal saved me. I didn’t have to tube it which saved me a ton of time but I was no longer in the lead group. So basically, the next 8 hours was playing in groups, rotating, taking pulls, trying to catch Allison. And, 8 hours later I did and then we spent the last 3 plus hours getting to the finish line together and it was crazy and not what I expected at all. But yeah, it was a fun day. I went a lot harder than I thought I was going to today and yeah, that’s a good thing. I’m happy.”
AMANDA REFLECTS AFTER THE RACE
ZACK ALLISON: PERSEVERANCE AND DETERMINATION.
A few words from the night before.
In the lead group heading towards the 100 mile mark, Zack was feeling strong. And then, there was the flat that wouldn’t seal for the next 50 miles. At the third support zone, Zack finally let the wheel go and put on a spare to keep rolling and stop worrying about it, but it had cut his chance at the podium. Crossing the finish line, a calm look on his face, Zack settled into the sidewalk next to teammate, Menso de Jong and closed his eyes. When it was time to speak, he said, “Fully depleted. I’ve never been this done. Why is this even an event?”
And, after some additional time to think about it, he said, “The race was about exactly how I thought it would go. A bit smoother than I thought as far as support, feeds, my stomach and my taint condition. I felt my physical condition was top notch and overall, with everything that went down, I’m satisfied with 9th overall. I could have used more water and less electrolytes. That’s just one of those experiences after 6 hours that I had not dealt with often enough. As far as the flat, that kept me out of the winning move, but that’s just part of the luck of the 200 mile event. The flat I happened to get was on the bead of the tire and wouldn’t seal all the way. It could have been way worse but just that little setback will leave you that 1% back from the top 5 guys. Crazy when you think about it that way. One rock. One rock’s destiny from all the rocks I ran over all day. One rock made the tiniest unsealable hole to give me 20 PSI max from 45PSI. And that’s enough to put you 43 minutes back from the winner.”
“Riding the last 6 miles over the train tracks into Emporia, if you had asked me if I’d do Kanza again, I would have said “Hell no”. Currently, after finishing and having some time to think about it, (and after being handed a delicious Free State Beer and getting a hug from Lelan and all the support guys) I’ll say now that I would do DK200 again. I had a great time. The only thing I was really unprepared for was all the support and love for the DK200 that came from Emporia, its natives, and its visitors. I’ve done gravel events in the past but none with this much going on and with this much mutual understating of what it means to complete an ultra-endurance event like this. It doesn’t matter if you’re a pro or at your first cycling event, its takes prep, planning, and suffering to complete this event. But, part of what makes it all worth it is the confirmation of your effort by the promoters, staff, and the entire town of Emporia.”
ZACK REFLECTS ABOUT THE RACE
Optimism. Adversity. Celebration. Frustration. If there’s anything we’ve learned about these four riders it’s that they’ve got tenacity. They’ve got grit. Will they ride again next year? Or ever again? We won’t know until that fateful day next winter when online registration opens up and people pull the trigger, or don’t.