Two hundred miles of punishing flint gravel roads is not enough — at least not for the 34 brave riders signed up to race the DK XL, a new addition to Dirty Kanza’s event, which starts Friday at 4 p.m. in Emporia, Kansas.
The 350-mile race will take the riders south, through the night to the town of Eureka around mile 112 before turning north to the towns of Cottonwood Falls, Council Grove, and finally Alma at mile 287. The race returns to Emporia at that point, hopefully around the time that the 206-mile event will be wrapping up.
Although Dirty Kanza is known for its 200-mile race, the race’s executive director Jim Cummins told VeloNews that management’s original intention was actually to host a 350-mile event. In 2005, Cummins and co-founder Joel Dyke were inspired to launch their event by Iowa’s Trans-Iowa race, which is 340 miles long. As they planned their own gravel adventure, they scaled back plans to create such a long course and settled on about 200 miles.
“Ever since then, I’ve just had this gnawing thing at the back of my mind that someday I wanted to do what we first set out to do and create this 350-mile thing,” Cummins said.
So for the 13th running of their race, Cummins and his team invited 34 riders to take on DK XL — the same number of riders who participated in the original Dirty Kanza.
Rebecca Rusch, winner of Dirty Kanza 200 in 2012, 2013, and 2014 was thrilled when she got her invitation.
“My initial response was ‘Hell yeah!'” she told VeloNews. “Not a second of hesitation.”
Her friend and fellow Dirty Kanza 200 winner Yuri Hauswald, on the other hand, wasn’t quite as unequivocal.
“If Reba [Rusch] had said no, I probably would have said no,” he said. “I needed some hand-holding or a confidence boost.”
Cummins said the massive loop through the Kansas countryside will show riders all of the highlights of the area’s wealth of gravel roads, with a wide variety of terrain and some roads that rarely see more than one car per month.
“They’re gonna get to see all of our favorite roads,” Cummins said. “The 200-mile course includes some cool stuff but not all of it.”
But it won’t be all fun and gravel. Cummins feels that riding through the night on Friday into Saturday will pose a major challenge to the riders in their bid to finish the 350-miler.
“Once they get through that [night], they’ll have crossed through a pretty significant threshold and be able to finish it up,” he said.
Rusch and Hauswald agree that it will be a challenging night of riding. However, they both have experience racing 24-hour solo mountain bike races and they enjoy night riding. Rusch said it is prudent to have the night section earlier in the race.
“You’ll have the least resources because stores will be closed, and it’s dark, and people get scared and the boogieman comes out, but you’re also the freshest,” she said. “I think it’s smart that people will be doing the night at the beginning.”
For Rusch, however, the most difficult part of the race may come in the final miles.
“Personally I don’t feel like the night’s going to be the hardest part,” she added. “I feel like in any endurance event, the last 25 percent — everything is shutting down, your body is saying, ‘Stop doing this to me.’ That’s where mentally you have to be the toughest.”