The lyrical genius that was Yogi Berra connected words together like the crisp connection of a wooden bat to a leather baseball. No one comes here anymore, it’s too crowded. That’s a pearl among a sea of other poetic gems from that beloved Yankee.
Dirty Kanza began in 2006 with 34 participants. Weaving 200 miles of gravel throughout the eastern flint hills of Kansas, it’s grown to 2,200 in 2017. There’s no shortage of former pros across all disciplines who’ve somehow been convinced to get on their bikes and pedal a distance north of Milan-San Remo on roads akin to Strade Bianche. Heck, even the pre-ride shake out is complete with Tour of Flanders’esque rail crossings.
I’m just the only former pro among that group who’s been on the roster for those races and lined up at DK.
“Congratulations Ted, you’ve killed gravel.” My good friend, the beloved Jim Merithew, delivered this line flatly and with a wry smile as I returned homed from Kansas last year. I was proudly sporting the one-of-a-kind belt buckle. Handmade with inlaid flint depicting the vast Kansas horizon, plus an eponymous inscription, I wear it all the time. Jim was giving me a hard time for taking on gravel after claiming to be retired from the sport.
I really do wear it all the time. It’s bold, but not enormous and ostentatious. I wore it to Portugal this spring on an inGamba tour of the Alentejo. I don’t wear it on the bike, of course. So there we were at the traditional lunch stop with inGamba — complete with miniature sweet and savory pies, Coke, and refreshing generic lager…
…when these two Portuguese gentlemen saddled up beside us. My Portuguese is terrible so thankfully their English was top notch. “You are… ahh, Ted King, yes? You are former professional with Cannondale!” Recognized and called out as I nodded in agreement, the next line was priceless as he proudly showed me his Cannondale. “You won Dirty Kanza last year on the Slate!”
Bike racers come and go. I loved my ten year career, but it’s demanding and unrelenting to a painful degree. Retiring in 2015, I still love to ride my bike. I have long since given up intervals, a regimented diet, and formal training. It’s remarkably peaceful to now be on the other side of the white line painted on the pavement that separates a life of austerity from that of a cheering fan, beer in hand, cheering roadside.
Bike races come and go. The exponential growth of events like Kanza, however, show no sign of slowing down. Moreover, there is a long waitlist for more folks to race DK, but the infrastructure of small town Kansas is the limiting factor. The Dirty Kanza Promotions team prefers to control their rate of growth and continue to host an epic event rather than see it spiral out of their reigns.
Despite Jim’s chiding, I didn’t kill Dirty Kanza, of course. The field continues to grow in strength and depth. And while I may have put it on the map for these two dudes in Portugal bringing my European racing history to Kansas in 2016, I sure didn’t put Dirty Kanza on the map of quintessential gravel races, of course, either. The growth over the past ten years speaks for itself.
I’ve retired from traditional bike racing. Been there, done that. I now pedal my bike for belt buckles and the occasional bottle of locally brewed beer, as proven popular by the enormous movement to go off road.
Domestiquing my way through a decade in the pros, I didn’t personally win a lot of races. But the outpouring of support after taking the 2016 DK crown was enormous. The awesome folks at DK Promotions, the true OG gravel blaster Dan Hughes and his team from Sunflower, the prolific Rebecca Rusch, friends and fans from around the world — and especially the heartfelt family that is Emporia, Kansas like the legendary Linda Guerrette who took the photo below — were stoked.
I’m proud to wear number one this Saturday. Now knowing what I’m getting into, having experienced it, I realize ignorance is bliss; I’m less excited to know how depleted I’ll be Saturday afternoon.
“It ain’t the heat that gets you. It’s the humidity.” And a thousand other factors.