There was a lot of drama surrounding last year’s Dirty Kanza 200. I didn’t feel that I needed to contribute to it, so I quietly accepted my performance and moved on. However, I do regret not writing a detailed play-by-play of the race because it’s easy to forget the real highs and lows on a day as long as the Dirty Kanza. Thus, here’s my attempt to recount June 3, 2017.
Chapters are by checkpoints, or legs, to make it easier to visualize.
If you only want to know what happened in the last leg, skip ahead now.
If you want the CliffsNotes version, watch the 60 second recap.
It was 6 a.m. The atmosphere in downtown Emporia was electric. I was thrilled to get the party started. I had the perfect preparation, post-hand surgery and had zero doubts about winning. My #RoadtoKanza had been flawless.
The countdown began.
After a neutral roll-out down Emporia’s iconic Commercial Street, the usual frisky business commenced as soon as we hit the gravel. When we turned on to Road D just before the first climb, I noticed the sunrise coming up over the horizon. It was breathtaking. There were pink and orange colors in the sky that left me with a moment of, “Wow, this is going to be a beautiful day.” I saved that screenshot to my memory bank. Then, I put my head back in the race. Kanza has a special way of taking your head out of the race from time to time with its beautiful rolling flint hills.
About an hour in, with the sun now overhead, the lead group was aggressive through a series of creek and mud crossings that put me in the red trying to close gaps created by more cautious racers. As I chased, the course turned a corner and I saw the culprit of my split sidewall from last year – a cattle guard framed with a deadly concrete edge. I was careful this time, and made it over without incident. But just as Kanza is beautiful, it is also treacherous, especially to tires, and a few turns later, on a lesser-traveled private road with much more razor-sharp gravel, I felt a squishy sensation beneath me.
I was genuinely in denial that I needed to stop and get off my bike so early in the day to fix a puncture. I asked the guy riding next to me if my rear tire looked flat (Of course it’s low, Amanda, you keep bouncing off the rim, duh…). With disappointment, he said, “Yeah, sorry.” I took a deep breath, came to a stop, and readied myself for an even longer day, when suddenly I heard yelling just ahead of me. I looked up and saw my teammate, Matt Freeman, tumbling over another rider who had gone down, both riders and bikes bouncing off the Kansas flint. They looked mostly okay so, I went about my business of fixing my puncture. All this in the first 15 of 206 miles…
I was not alone. My fellow CTS athlete, James Smith, had also flatted in the same spot as me. Luckily for me, the Orange Seal in my tires had sealed the puncture, so all I had to do was use my hand pump to re-inflate my tire to a level that seemed “good enough.” I jumped back on, wished James good luck, and then promptly received a little encouragement of my own from Josh Patterson of Bike Radar, who asked if all systems were a go, as we got rolling again. A lot of Dirty Kanza is all about the friendships you have out on the prairie. Unfortunately, I would not see my friend James again that day. He ended up with four punctures in total.
Between miles 20-32-ish, we rode over a handful of cattle guards and private roads. I found myself with a group of gentlemen who descended and climbed this gnarly stretch of the course at a perfect comfort level for me. Thinking back at how hard I had been riding, just to dangle off the back of the front group, perhaps I would have made a stupid mistake through this section, too gassed to focus on riding cautiously over the tire-biting rocks and rails of this section. Who knows? Maybe the early puncture was a blessing disguise.
As the early miles ticked down, I saw a distressing amount of people pulled over fixing flats. Lady Luck wasn’t kind to many, including last year’s champion, Ted King, two-time runner-up, Michael Sencenbaugh, four-time champ, Dan Hughes, and there’s my teammate Matt Freeman, again; this time with his feet on the ground at least, but stopped fixing his own flat.
Kanza is extremely different every year, but there I was, in the exact same position as last year – chasing from mile 22 to the finish. I continued to rally the troops for as much coordinated pulling in our little group which amassed more bodies and more carried speed as we caught one rider after another, victims of the blistering pace of the front group. When we reached the smooth asphalt that signaled our proximity to the town of Madison, the first checkpoint and SAG stop, I was anxious to get a report from the CTS pit crew on exactly how far back I was from the leading ladies.
Our approach into Madison included the infamous red brick road climb of death and a welcomed turn onto a grassy Madison High School playing field that reminded me of cyclocross season. Although short-lived, it was one of my favorite sections of the day. At the actual SAG stop, Ian Hylands from Niner Bikes was there with a video camera asking how I was doing and offering words of enlightenment. In that moment of chaos, I had to remember to restock my nutrition and hydration, ask for increased pressure in the rear tire (Apparently 20 PSI wasn’t ‘good enough’), get my chain lubed, give Ian a few explicit sentences on why I was a few minutes back from the leaders, and then get going. Only 158 miles left to go.
I don’t remember much besides the Texaco Hill climb of doom at the beginning of this segment. After regrouping with some stragglers following the climbs out of Madison, I needed to focus on moving back up to Janel Holcomb and Alison Tetrick. I didn’t go too hard on the climbs. I focused on the sketchy descents, and eventually I caught Holcomb. The only real problem I had during this three-hour, 56 mile leg was a loose saddlebag that I had to stop momentarily to fix. Just before getting into SAG 2 at Eureka High School, I caught my friend Matthew Kutilek. The further you get into Kanza, the more sparse the familiar faces. It’s always nice to see someone you know. Even if it’s only briefly. For the most part, leg 2 was uneventful, but fast enough that I was able to make up some precious time.
This is the leg of hell. Everyone will tell you that from mile 104.2 to 162, you start questioning why you signed up and paid money to suffer through an event like this. This stretch of nearly 60 miles without SAG support is about ten miles too long to mentally tackle.
I had left the Eureka checkpoint with a power house group of Jon Takao, Holcomb, Kutilek, Neil Shirley, Drew Friestedt, and a few other people I didn’t know by name. We rode about two hours through relatively technical terrain, at least by Dirty Kanza standards. Some riders trickled off the back of the tricky descents and punchy climbs, including Holcomb.
Around mile 132, at the end of a course re-route that took us around a river crossing too raging to ride, our group merged with Nate Whitman, Kristopher Auer, and Grady Fowler, who had almost made a wrong turn after the re-routed section. These three additions were riding strong and pushed some of our group a little too hard. I was able to stay with Whitman and company even though the group dwindled little by little.
At about mile 139 I could see the yellow Shimano shoes of my coach and teammate David Sheek in the distance. It brought a smile to my face, but I also realized that he must be suffering because there was no good reason why I should be catching him. I screamed David’s name and started to speed up when Kutilek yelled at me to calm down. No need to sprint to him when we’d catch him soon enough. Stay focused. Good call, Kutilek.
When we finally caught David he let me know that Tetrick wasn’t too far ahead. We passed teammate Jason Siegle stopped at 144 after having fixed a flat. He too let me know that Tetrick was just up the road. The next 15 miles were painful. We rolled along, I did everything I could to not give up on the chase. David proceeded to stop at 159 when his stomach issues finally caught up to him and he began to dry-heave. (Way to leave it all out on the course, coach.)
After a mini climb at 160, a nice guy at the top of the hill said Tetrick couldn’t be more than 90 seconds up. Adrenaline kicked in and everyone I was riding with sensed the buzz as we powered towards the third checkpoint and SAG stop at mile 162, which was once again in the town of Madison.
As I turned the corner and saw the timing mat in the distance, I heard someone yell, “That IS her!” Next thing I knew, race organizer LeLan Dains was jumping up and down and screaming that Tetrick was only a minute ahead of me. I thought to myself, “I got this.”
At the SAG, I threw on a full Camelbak, grabbed more food out of my bag, downed a mini Coke that Ian handed me, put two new bottles on, and got out of there as fast as I could. Heading north on Old Hwy 99, I was delightfully zoned out and kept riding straight instead of making a right. Luckily a family was outside their house on the corner and started screaming at me to turn around. When I did, I made a right instead of a left and they all started screaming at me again. Let that be a lesson in staying focused in a moment of panic.
Luckily Nate Whitman witnessed almost all of that craziness from not too far behind and said, “Come on, Amanda, this way,” as he came by me. At 172, Bob Cummins and Shaun Martin caught us before a beautiful descent through the trees. We started a little climb out of T-206, I looked up and there was Tetrick backtracking a wrong turn on Rd 83. I made a conclusion right there that I caught her because I was riding faster. I should be able to get away with a solid effort, right? We turned left on Rd 20, which happened to be the gnarliest series of rollers before the finish. I didn’t plan that, but I decided to take advantage of the terrain and try to break away. That was lesson number one in my “Tetrick is Unbreakable” class of the day.
Continuing on the theme of getting schooled by Tetrick for the final 90 minutes of the day, I continued to make a series of terrible attempts to detach myself. After the Rd 20 effort, Martin and Whitman were able to claw back to us. The four of us rode around each other for the long stretch heading due North. The seconds ticked by as I learned more and more about Tetrick’s relentlessness. Martin and Whitman tried to get away from us so as not to interfere with the battle, but I didn’t want to lose their wheels. I bridged back up and Tetrick stayed right on my wheel. Lesson number two.
When we got to the beautiful bridge crossing, I tried another attack in a moment of nostalgia after realizing we only had ten miles remaining. A part of me thought I could hold her off for ten miles. A little power down, a quick glance back, and she was still there. Lesson number three.
At 197, the infamous train crossing appeared in the distance and I thought, “Man, it would suck if we got stopped there.” Sure enough, the red lights started flashing and the crossing arms come down. There stood the four of us at a complete stop. Quietly wondering how the hell the final nine miles were going to play out, I mentally prepared to commit to the final exam of the day being a sprint finish.
At the I-35 underpass, I made my final attack. I’ve ridden this section at least five times and I know the turns and punchy climbs. If I had a shot of getting away before the campus climb, it was going to be there because I knew what was remaining. Nate sensed my move and used it as his excuse to get away from us as well. His move stuck and the two rode away from us. I hopelessly prayed that I would stop hearing the crunch of gravel behind me from Tetrick, but she was still there. Lesson number four.
I quickly realized that I was 200 miles in to this event and praying for heroic efforts to stick against someone with a bronze medal from women’s Team Time Trial at Road World Championships. Laughable, I know.
On E 18th Ave, I decided to wait until the tunnel under I-35 to speed up before Highland St. Hill. I really tried to dig there, but Alison dug deeper and got to the top ahead of me. 42 seconds versus 49 seconds. Lesson number five in a power/weight show-and-tell. I thought it was over right there.
We rolled down the street that dissects campus and just before the Morse Rd turn left, Alison kept rolling straight looking at her GPS and missed the sign with the left arrow. In that split second I realized I knew the last few turns better than she did and went for it again down Morse. I looked back and she wasn’t giving up. We veered on to Commercial Street and I was torn between not wanting to win from her missed turn and still wanting so badly to win a second effort after the Highland Street blow-up a mere minute before. I still tried. I wanted to give it everything and have no regrets. But it wasn’t enough.
I might have failed that extra credit sprint finish to the line, but I’d like to think I passed the class. I was thoroughly schooled by Tetrick in those final couple hours, but I learned more in that time about how to race and how far I could push myself to an end goal. Yeah, I made a lot of mistakes and probably did way too much work, but it was a priceless experience with an incredibly strong woman who I’ll never forget.
0.012% of my entire time out on the gravel.
I was a little more emotional at the finish than I expected to be. I think it was when Lelan gave me a hug that I lost it. This race and these people have come to mean a lot to me over the past couple of years and when one of the biggest goals of your life slips away in front of you and all those people, it isn’t easy to smile. I was disappointed I lost such a close race after 206 miles. I was afraid I let a lot of people down.
Nevertheless, I amazed myself. I couldn’t believe I had even caught Tetrick after such a long day, let alone launch a series of pathetic attacks to try and break away. I gave everything. I was empty. And I was very proud of that effort.
First place, second place, or dead last, I would have let the emotions go at the finish after that effort, just as I’m sure many of the finishers did.
When I heard Tetrick had broken the course record by over 30 minutes I realized that meant I had too. I was 90 minutes faster than my time the previous year. I had bridged a 15-minute gap. I was Top 20 overall. Of course I was going to cry. It was a beautiful day and I never could have predicted that.
My power averages were higher and I did more work in the same amount of time as last year’s event. I was stronger, smarter and as prepared as I ever could have been.
Thank you for reading the story and following along on the final chapter of this year’s #RoadtoKanza.
I have many people to thank. Please go here to read my list of thank-you’s.
Written by Amanda “Panda” Nauman