While most question the sanity of racing a double century across unforgiving gravel roads and in unpredictable weather, a special breed of athletes end up making their way to Emporia, Kansas every year for the Dirty Kanza. We caught up with Lezyne athlete and 2017 Queen Of Kanza Alison Tetrick to see how she tackled the 206-mile gravel epic this year.
Lezyne: As a previous Queen of Kanza, what were your feelings going into the race, and what happened with the weather right before race start?
Alison: It was a dramatic day from before dawn, all the way into the finish. No one predicted the severe weather that swept through, but when I woke up at 4:30 am, I heard the tree branches falling, hail, thunder, and flash floods. It was a storm of Biblical proportions. My first concern was for my dear friends, Rebecca Rusch and Yuri Hauswald, who were racing the DKXL, a 350 mile self supported race. I was worried about them hitting the storm in middle of their race. It was a chaotic morning as I got to the start line in Emporia, Kansas. The house I was staying in was about 1.7 miles from the start, which sounds convenient when you are riding there, but let me tell you, riding back was a whole pain of its own. I had to take a break. You have to be willing to be flexible when it comes to race day, and with the storm that blew threw, it caused a 30 minute delay. The storm lasted 38 minutes (but who’s counting), but it was a wise decision by the race promoters to ensure the safety of the competitors. However, the wet conditions made for muddy roads, which definitely made me a little more cautious at the start. I sure didn’t order the mud. Every race is unique and you have to be ready to be to conquer whatever it throws at you. Of course I was a bit nervous at the start, wearing number 1, but they say heavy is the head that wears the crown… But I say, once royalty always royalty.
Lezyne: Did you have a specific strategy lined up for the race?
Alison: The plan was to go hard and finish strong. So much can happen over 206 miles on gravel, you have to roll with it and just go has hard as you can. I raced with the front group for the first half, and then the screws came loose. I will admit the rattling and cramping happened much sooner than I had anticipated. But, you still need to keep forward progress and take care of course. You have to keep pushing those pedals and just do your best.
Lezyne: Your max power for the race happened about an hour in. What was happening so early?
Alison: KABOOOM! I mean, racing with the front group of men is hard. I burned a lot of matches there, and reached even a max heart rate of 188bpm. It was worth it. I got some free speed by making that split. I then proceeded to have some bad luck and made a few miscalculated errors, but that is all in a day’s work. Anything can happen in the plains of Kansas, and I was absorbing the pain, suffering, and satisfaction.
Lezyne: How did that change your plans throughout the rest of the day?
Alison: I blame the armadillo. I was in a small group of men around mile 125 and I ran over a dead armadillo. I guess you don’t have to point out things on gravel when everything is in essence a hazard. I hit the armadillo and that flinch caused me to cramp. Again. I guess the armadillo had a worst fate than me, but I still blame it. Just as I was prepared to go from planning to win to settling for second, I had an untimely mechanical that almost threw me out of the race. Fortunately, I was able to get it fixed in time to still finish third after a significant time on the side of the road. It turns out as much as you want to write the fairy tale, sometimes you have to write the story that life has happen.
Lezyne: What do you have to say about the aptly named hill, “The Bitch”?
Alison: Cruel and unusual punishment. I was in a dark place and trying not to cramp as I passed by my dear friend, Linda, photographing the event. I couldn’t even fake a smile. I was pure suffering conquering a 20%+ gravel climb. As much as I wanted a good photo of this moment, I couldn’t even muscle a smile. It was brutal. You know when the gravel hills are so steep, you can’t have to stay seated or your slide out?
Lezyne: What were the best and worst moments of the race for you?
Alison: Did I mention the armadillo? Did I mention my first cramping at mile 75 and then hearing Simon and Garfunkle’s “Sound of Silence” as I met my familiar friend, darkness? What about the mechanical? What about the few errors I made? What about the vomit? Nah. It was all good. It was a beautiful day. I find my success in completion and doing the best I could on a hard day.
Lezyne: Now that you’re literally not in Kansas anymore, what’s next?
Alison: Is there life after the DK200? I am happy to have been home for about 7 days in a row post Kanza, and am happy to be sleeping like a queen in the king size bed I made. Wait, that’s a country song. Story of my life. I will head to USA Pro Nationals next for a USA Cycling Board of Directors meeting, then to Crusher in the Tushar, and then on to Gravel Worlds. It will be a fun summer. I am happy to take away some of my regimented schedule and just soak up the sun and rosé and of course catch up on work.
Lezyne: Should we expect to see you at Kanza 2019?
Alison: If they weren’t so damn nice in Emporia and it being like coming back to a big party and family reunion, I would say no. But, hell yes. I will be back at the DK200 (or DK206) next year. It is like going home to your people. All of our crazy is in this together. Cheers.
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