Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The 2011 Dirty Kanza 200 -- Redemption...

Dave Foster captures an elated MG with Dallas-based gravel grinder, Steven Thompson after the finish.

Going into the Dirty Kanza 200 this year, I had a pretty significant monkey on my back. Not only had I not finished the previous edition of the DK200, I also did not finish Trans Iowa v.7 earlier this year due to a number of failures, so more than ever it was especially important for me to get this done regardless of what it took to get there. As a result, I came in very well prepared. And true to Kansas Flint Hills form, it took me every single trick in my bag to get me across that finish line. Here's to being prepared!
Dave Foster captures the start of the 2011 Dirty Kanza 200. Rolling out with more than 300 other riders is cool...
The day started off uneventful enough in front of the Grenada Theatre in downtown Emporia. Led out by three Emporia Police cruisers, more than 300 racers thundered southwest out of town. It's always an awesome feeling in the pack early on at the 'Kanza, rolling at high speed with literally hundreds of other gravel racers... Unfortunately, less than two miles into our first gravel section, 2010 race winner, and my Cycle Works/Moose's Tooth teammate, Corey Godfrey pulled off the front with a flat rear tire. Bummer dude... I knew I'd see him again though. He was riding way too strong for us not to see him again.
Cornbread captured this image from the front of the lead pack prior to his first flat of the day, less than two miles into the first gravel section. Bummer...

The "flat tire scenario" was one that would be repeated a number of times throughout the day for several top riders. Few were spared at least one flat. Dennis Grelk had at least one. I had two (both in the 46c Bontrager I was running on the front -- the 35c Schwalbe on the rear was rock solid!). Oh, and yes, I was running tubes for this race due to the wheelset I was running. But flats weren't the worst of my problems... but I'm getting ahead of myself, so, back to the race.

The ride to the first checkpoint was FAST, despite being the leg that was pretty much fully against the wind. There was so much fast pack riding that our average speed was nearly 20mph at the checkpoint. It was very cool and a lot of fun. At one point just after ascending Texaco Hill, eventual race winner Dan Hughes and I were chatting about the epic conditions we raced in during the 2008 edition of the race, and how easy it was for us to ride at 21.1mph sitting ten riders back in the line. We laughed at how fortunate we were at still being able to do this after all these years, and went back to work. For each of us, our days would end quite differently. Shortly after our conversation, Dan went to the front and quite literally blew the pack up, reducing it from 35 riders to 10-15 very quickly, and less shortly thereafter. The hammer had swung and victims were falling quickly.
 Dave Foster catches our chase group coming into checkpoint #1. That's Matt Brown immediately to my left, and Troy Krause over my left shoulder, so I was in good company.

Unfortunately I ended up being one of those victims, so that was the end of the front group riding for me, at least until after the first checkpoint, when the front group would come back together during some on-the-course confusion about the route that worked out in my favor.

Since I'd ridden many of these roads before and was paying attention to the map, I was able to make the necessary turns to stay on course and avoid the extra miles several leaders had to ride. But I was clearly not as strong as the top riders and so when the pace ramped up again, I was quickly blown out the back door and was once again on my own. No matter though, I was content with rolling at my own pace as we entered the full heat of the day, which was formidable.
MG rolling into checkpoint two, captured by Dave Foster.

In fact, the heat between checkpoints one and two was the most severe of the day. Despite being just 40 miles in length, the stretch was the only one in which I fully depleted my hydration. Pretty insane considering I had a full bladder and two full bottles when I took off from CP1. I also had my first flat tire of the event, while following Cornbread down a rocky descent that also gave him a pinch flat. But I made it, and thanks to the Dockhorn and Gammel crews (thank you so much!!) I refueled and made my way over to the local convenience store and sat with Iowa gravel vet, Mike Johnson and enjoyed some tasty gas station food for ten minutes or so. Oh, the delights of gravel grinders!! If you don't partake, you're missing out on one of the best parts of it.

With a full belly I got back onto the road toward CP3. But what's funny about the third leg was that just about everything in the first 3/4 of the leg could just as well have been forgotten due to the thunderstorm that appeared on the horizon about 15 miles from CP3. What I initially thought would bring us simple relief from the heat ended up bringing marble sized hail, torrential downpours, threatening lightning and would fundamentally change the face of the event. Competitors by the dozens immediately chose to stop racing and crawl into the safety of their support vehicles.

I was committed to not being one of those affected by the weather though. "That's why I came prepared," I thought to myself as I pulled my rain jacked and knee warmers out of my Mountainsmith bag and onto my body. But I had no idea of the depth of the adventure I was getting myself into at that point... The fun was just getting started for me.

As the hail lessened, the rain continued and we rode on, until we came upon a series of unmaintained "B" roads, which many riders were simply walking, many through the ditch. I, perhaps foolishly, rode the first of these roads, which gathered cheers from several riders, notably the father & son duo of Curt and Colin Shelman of Paceline Products, makers of Chamois Buttr. Of course I suffered my second flat tire of the day during this, so it really didn't gain me anything, but while I sat and fixed my flat, a local sherriff told me about more coming storms and how crazy we were for doing what we were doing. As I finished fixing my flat, I thanked him and continued my muddy slog.

It was about a half mile after that the face of the race would take a distinct change for me. As I ascended the next muddy climb and shifted into my 28t cog in the rear, the mud and grass hanging from my rear derailleur caused it to get pulled into the rear wheel, immediately ripping it and the derailleur hanger from the frame and bringing me to a quick stop.

Standing on a dirt road in the middle of Kansas with a now unridable bicycle in a driving thunderstorm, I ran through my inventory of tools and spare parts in an attempt to revive my Dirty Kanza dream. And fortunately I'd thrown in a Connex 10-speed quick link, which proved to be exactly what I needed to ditch the derailleur, cut the chain and turn my wounded La Cruz into a singlespeed. And so, with 50 miles left to ride, I had a 38x15 gear with an insanely tight chain, and as long as it didn't blow up, I had a bike. Now I just had to get it across the line.

After perhaps the best pep talk ever from Aaron Gammel's son, Wyatt at CP3, I hit the road with just 40 miles to go to the finish. Feeling like there was nothing that could stand in my way, I did the best I could to push the big 38x15 up to speed, and found that doing so helped me pick off racers ahead of me with relative consistency. This was the case until I came up on Curt and Colin Shelman, and we rode together until Colin flatted about 6 miles from the finish. Up to that point, we were plotting a finish together, but for whatever reason, I chose to ride ahead -- a bad move on my part as it turns out, because I quickly missed a turn at Americus and rode off course for several miles, letting Curt and Colin back around me, so I finished just behind them, in 39th place overall (of 67 finishers, 26th place open male), in 17 hours 43 minutes.
 Father and son duo, Curt and Colin Shelman finish the Dirty Kanza 200 together. Bravo gentlemen!! Photo: Dave Foster

Just a moment later, MG rolls across the line a very happy man. Photo: Dave Foster

It was one of those days where just finishing felt like winning, and you could see that on my face as I rode across the finish line. The monkey was off my back and out of the picture and balance had been restored. All was, and is, very good.

Last night, after more than a week, I finally got around to tearing my La Cruz down and giving it the thorough cleaning and rebuild it needed. After a new derailleur, hanger, chain, cables and other misc. parts, it's once again functional and I'm looking forward to riding it soon.

Thanks to Cycle Works and The Moose's Tooth of Lincoln for their support of my racing this season, and once again to the Dockhorn and Gammel crews for their checkpoint support during the race. I have been so blessed to have your support, and I just can't thank you enough. And thanks also to my beautiful wife Laura for supporting my passion for competing in events like the Dirty Kanza 200, because I know it takes a lot of sacrifice on her end to enable me to do what I love to do. Life is good indeed...

 Edit June 24... Proof for Courtney Hilton... Since you accused me of not completing the DK200 course, I feel compelled to offer up proof. Here it is, complete with the extra bonus miles ridden after missing a couple of turns, most notably at Americus during the final leg.

Edit #2... June 28 -- Courtney followed up with me in a private message and clarified his comments. Apparently he meant them not as an accusation of cheating, but more as a reflection of my position on the course when the storm hit. Saying/writing one thing and meaning quite another is something I'm familiar with, so I can't be too bummed with anyone for that. All is good. My apologies for getting defensive. Because ultimately the only one that needs to know I finished legitimately is me, and I understand that. Thanks for the reminder, Courtney.


Guitar Ted said...

Congrats MG! I am very happy to read this report. Wow! What a great accomplishment, my friend.

But tubes? I never thought I would hear that from you again.

Chad Q said...

Excellent read MG!!Sounds like it was quite the adventure. Congrats on the finish man !!

MG said...

Thanks guys,

Yeah, tubes. I cringe at the fact of it too, but it really wasn't too bad. I wanted the bike, but didn't want to need to mess with the wheels just to run those tires.

Thanks again for the kind words guys.


jamesb said...

Congrats MG. We had something in common this year, the "monkey on our back"; glad we could both shed it!!! Yay! Looking forward to being on your team this year.

MG said...

Thanks James, and congratulations to you on a fantastic ride this year at the 'Kanza! You rode up front all day, and you quietly, consistently put together a top-class performance. Good show, old pal.

And I'm super stoked we're now teammates too! We're building a great team!

Thanks again James.


Courtney said...

You missed the 4 mile b road before checkpoint 3. We were about 20 miles behind you and un able to make the 3rd checkpoint before the cut off. 2 hours and 4 miles of walking in a ditch/field. Congrats on finishing I'll be back next year for a rematch. Oh yah TUBES!!!! ouch. I had 3 punctures is my tire (2 from barb wire I walked and rolled over) and NO flats. I could even see the spots of white on the tire after rolling over it.

MG said...

Actually, Courtney, I purposely walked that section so I could be properly called a finisher. Are you accusing me of cheating?

I mean, if you wanna race we can race. Any day. Bring it.


Mandie said...

Hi, I came across your site and wasn’t able to get an email address to contact you. Would you please consider adding a link to my website on your page. Please email me back and we'll talk about it.


Mandie Hayes