Where the black top ends, the gravel begins. Don’t worry, we have a bike for that.
Written by Alison Tetrick
Not to sound too much like a pure “roadie”, but I am used to things being taken care of, such as laundry, massage, mechanical work, follow cars, and course markings. Yeah, course markings. I usually don’t have to navigate myself to the finish line. Sometimes following the leader isn’t such a bad thing. Rolling enclosures. Team vehicles. Race radio. All of these items are only luxuries of the past when it comes to the Dirty Kanza 200.
I race on the UCI World Tour team, Cylance Pro Cycling, and I have grown accustom to these amenities and the supple speed of my Cannondale Super Six Evo. Racing all over the world and being shuttled from Point A to Point B and handed a sandwich when you are hungry is nice. But there was this faint but persistent calling of a new challenge. I love racing on the road, but I wanted to try something new. Gravel grinders are a hot topic these days in the cycling world, and I didn’t want to just do any gravel race. I wanted to do THE gravel race. The Dirty Kanza.
The Dirty Kanza is a 206 mile gravel race with 9,000 feet of climbing revolving around Emporia, Kansas. Yeah, it isn’t 200 miles, and it isn’t flat. The race explores the famous Flint Hills known for dagger like rocks that you really could make something sharp out of. Oh wait, like arrowheads. Or start a fire. About that. Equipment is important.
Using the Tour of the Gila, Pan Am Championships, and the Amgen Tour of California as prep, I was locked and loaded for the Dirty Kanza. Even though none of these events were over 80 miles, I was confident in my race fitness and my equipment. I opted for the Cannondale Slate to conquer the race and utilized knowledge and advice from fellow Cannondale riders Ted King (winner in 2016) and Tim Johnson on the optimal setup.
Before I knew it, the race was on. It’s just like riding a bike, right? Except it’s on dirt and I had never ridden over 122 miles before, and I was “slated” for 206. Pun intended. I love my Slate. The first 100 miles was a blur as I focused on racing with the front group of men. I was already the first woman on course, and knew I needed to play to my strengths. The second 100 miles was an entirely different world. I was suddenly very alone. For the next 80 miles, I slogged through the terrain and had moments of literally talking out loud to myself, hallucinating, and taking a few wrong turns. Your mind is a brilliant thing to cherish, but it does tend to get a little crazy after 150 miles on the bike. With roughly 20 miles to go, the second place woman caught me, and the race reset for a tactical and mentally challenging finish. You never would think that after 206 miles, it would come down to a tight sprint to the end. But it did. I sprinted to victory and obliterated the course record of the Dirty Kanza by over 30 minutes. It was 11:40:41 on my bike, and I couldn’t have been more proud. Who sprints after 206 miles, I asked? My response, a very desperate person.
Wrong turns aside, anyone who finishes this event is a champion. The Slate was made for this, and I was lucky to be aboard a steed made for royalty as I was crowned the Queen of the Kanza.
Did I just make you want to do a gravel race? Do it! You are only racing against yourself, and that is a beautiful thing to tackle. Here is some advice from someone with not so much experience, but a lot of heart and soul in the event.
Words of Gravel Advice from the Queen (Yes, I am fully grasping this new royalty title):
· You will be alone. No matter what you think, you will have time by yourself and this is a beautiful thing to grasp and overcome. Fight to stay motivated and focused on the task at hand.
· Embrace your crazy. Your crazy will surface. I can’t promise you when, but it will come out roughly between 135-165 miles. My Grandpa, who is a cyclist and still races at 86 years old, asked me when I started talking to myself and hallucinating. He has completed several 200 mile rides, but never the Dirty Kanza. About 135 miles in I told him. That’s normal he responsed. What exactly is normal? Exactly. Embrace your crazy.
· Moving Forward. Take care of yourself. As long as you are moving forward, in whatever goal you have, you are doing good. Never forget to take care of yourself along the way.
· Survive. This was my mom’s advice, but she is an incredible athlete herself, and also used to running pit for my dad’s off-road racing such as the Baja 1000. You can go as fast as you want, but you have to survive to win. Or survive to finish.
· Have a Treat. You can’t eat race food the whole time you are doing an endurance event, and I stowed some secret treats to be enjoyed. I loved donut holes and Mother’s Frosted Circus Animals for the second half of the race. I did stash some Bourbon just in case I was having a bad day. Don’t worry, I waited to imbibe in the bourbon until the race finish. It was worth it.
· Positive Talk. It really works. Why spend that long with yourself, and many hours solo, to beat yourself down? Speak positively. Even if it is out load, to get those happy vibes flowing. At one point, I said, “We’ve got this, Alison!” Who is we, and why am I talking in 3rd person? Positive talk, even if it is because you are by yourself and completely crazy.
· Race Your Race. It is no one else’s race but your own. Race it. Never give up. Finish. If you finish, you will feel accomplished. I guarantee it.
There you have it. I spent the rest of my night and much of the early morning hours of the Kanza cheering in all the finishers, including the 200 women that completed the event. In a race against yourself, you will win. I had to return to the road this week and never knew that 90 psi would feel so stiff and speedy. I can’t wait to get back to those gravel roads; and continue to adventure into the unknown waiting for us beyond the painted lines. Cheers to racing yourself, setting goals, and being a little crazy. Join the club.