By Josh Patterson, photos by Josh Patterson and Corey Godfrey
At the Dirty Kanza 200, the volatile Kansas weather shapes the outcome as much as the racers’ fitness and preparation. Scorching heat, soul-crushing headwinds, and high humidity often upset the best-laid plans. Last year an afternoon outbreak of severe thunderstorms forced many racers to seek shelter in barns and ditches, but this year mild temperatures and light winds created ideal conditions for 200 miles of gravel road racing.
Here’s the winning video from last year’s DK200 video contest. (Ben Thornton was not lucky enough to find refuge in a barn.)
This year unseasonably mild temperatures, light and variable winds, and rain showers several days prior—just enough to pack down the gravel—conspired to make this year’s race one that would see previous records broken.
At Friday night’s pre-race meeting many riders talked in hushed voices about who would break the 12-hour barrier, and best former 24-hour National Champion Cameron Chamber’s four-year-old record of 11 hours and 58 minutes. Would it be DK200 stalwart Dan “the diesel” Hughes, owner of Sunflower Outdoor and Bike in Lawrence, Kansas; Lincoln Nebraska’s Corey “Cornbread” Godfrey; or would the Queen of Pain, three-time World Champion Rebecca Rusch chick everyone?
The next morning more than 420 racers lined up in downtown Emporia, Kansas, for the start. It appears that 2012 will go down as the breakout year for this race. It has reached a critical mass, having made the transition from a popular regional event to one that draws participants from across the nation and beyond; riders from 38 states, Canada and Great Britain journeyed to the Flint Hills of central Kansas for this year’s race. Paying money and traveling long distances to ride 200 miles of Great Plains gravel—who would have thought?
As the depth of the field increases, so too does the pace. From the start, the in-it-to-win-it group set a tempo that left the in-it-to-survive-it riders like myself strung out over miles of rough gravel roads.
It came as quite a surprise when, two hours into the race, riders from the lead group began passing the pack fodder. The course is well marked, but navigation is still a critical element of the Dirty Kanza; in their haste the lead pack missed a turn and went several miles off course before realizing their error. Some of these racers blew past at breakneck speed, frantic to regain lead while other, more seasoned racers slowly ratcheted up the pace.
As the clock ticked towards the 12-hour mark two riders rolled onto Emporia’s main street: Dan Hughes and Rusty Folger of Golden, Colorado, crossed the finish line, arm in arm, tying for the win and setting a new course record in of in 11 hours and 56 minutes. This was Folger’s first attempt at the race, and Hughes third win.
Soon afterward Rebecca Rusch rode across the line, finishing in 12 hours and two minutes, finishing third overall and setting a new women’s course record by over an hour.
Stay tuned for a breakdown of the gear I used that didn’t, well, break down.