EMPORIA, Kansas (VN) — Last June Ted King watched in horror as his bid to repeat his 2016 Dirty Kanza 200 victory escaped in a puff of compressed air and tire sealant. King suffered multiple flat tires early in the race and spent the lion’s share of the day chasing, eventually crossing the line in 7th place, 31 minutes behind winner Mat Stephens.

Mechanical calamities are part of the game at this endurance gravel race through eastern Kansas’s Flint Hills region; tires, chains, and derailleurs often fail. King knew that he had the legs to win, if his bike survived intact.

On Saturday King bicycle and legs held strong across all 206 miles of the course. He attacked somewhere between 150-160 miles into the race and held on to win, crossing the line in Emporia after 10:44:22 of pedaling.

“This win is a bit sweeter because 2016 [victory] was such a surprise,” King said. “This was really nice after not winning last year.”

Dirty Kanza 200 Top 3

Men

  1. Ted King, 10:44:22
  2. Joshua Berry, 10:54:33
  3. Geoff Kabush, 11:04:55

Women

  1. Kaitlin Keough, 12:09:27
  2. Amanda Nauman, 12:28:20
  3. Alison Tetrick, 12:31:12

King’s move came after a day of wind, mud, and tactical cat-and-mouse along the course. The Dirty Kanza 200 sends all 2,000 or so participants off together; riders usually segment off into packs of similar speeds. At some point, the race becomes a battle of attrition, as riders peter out along the ultra-distance course.

This year the Kanza start was delayed by 30 minutes after thunderstorms drenched downtown Emporia just moments before the 6 a.m. start. The rain transformed sections of the course into a muddy quagmire, and organizers rerouted several miles worth of the course in an effort to keep riders from having to walk for miles.

A group containing 20 or so of the strongest rider separated itself 15-20 miles into the journey; present were multi-time cyclocross world champion Sven Nys, mountain biker Geoff Kabush, retired road pro Joshua Berry, as well as Stephens and several members of his Panaracer/Stan’s NoTubes team. Kabush and Stephens both flatted early and spent the morning chasing back on—Stephens traded wheels with a teammate.

Another early casualty was Nys, who suffered three flat tires. The cyclocross champion tried in vain to catch back on, eventually abandoning due to stomach issues.

“My stomach didn’t work and it’s possible that it’s the jet lag,” Nys said. “I felt that every mile I felt myself more empty, and then I throw up.”

The mechanicals and pace took its toll, and by the 100-mile mark, there were only 10 or so riders in the front group. Berry attacked out of the feed zone and opened a sizable gap; eventually, King bridged up to Berry and the two built a gap on Kabush, Stephens, and Ian Tubbs that proved to be the winning gap. Later on, Berry dropped off King’s wheel due to cramps.

King described the race as “tactical” because of the strength of the field. This year’s race welcomed newcomers Berry, Kabush, Nys, Jens Voigt, mountain biker Payson McElveen, and cyclocross rider Jamie Driscoll, among others. And the trek from the turnaround point back to Emporia featured a gusting headwind.

“The race was actually really slow in the beginning because there was so much horsepower,” King said. “Nobody wanted to twist the throttle too soon.”

A cramping Berry survived the final 30 miles of solo riding second at 10:54:33 with Kabush winning the sprint for third at 11:04:55.

“There were some dark moments out there—thank God for the last feed zone,” Kabush said. “That was the longest day on my bike in my life.”

Keough’s early gamble pays off

Kaitlin Keough put in an impressive ride to win her first Dirty Kanza title on Saturday. Photo: Will Matthews

All Dirty Kanza riders face a gamble across the 206-mile course: A strong effort early on can distance one’s competition, but it can also deplete energy stores too quickly. This gamble often shapes the dynamics of the race’s women’s competition, with the group’s strongest riders making it into the elite groups at the front of the race.

Cyclocross rider Kaitlin Keough gambled and won on Saturday. Keough put in huge efforts early in the race to make the front group and gain a huge advantage on defending champion Alison Tetrick and two-time winner Amanda Nauman.

“The only tactic I had was to try and stay with the front as long as possible and not go into the red because they just pulled me along,” Keough said. “I tried not to go into the red.”

Keough, who races on the Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com pro cyclocross team, lost contact with the first group after the first checkpoint, approximately 50 miles into the race. Her advantage on Tetrick was more than 15 minutes. Keough rode alongside her husband, Luke Keough, for the remainder of the race.

Keough paid for her early efforts, however; the pint-sized cyclocrosser suffered through stomach cramps in the back half of the race.

“I threw up three times and I peed my pants so those were pretty low moments,” Keough said. “It was brutal but it was also amazing at the same time.”

Behind Keough Tetrick and Nauman battled for the two remaining runs on the podium. Strong headwinds turned the final 40 miles into a slow speed slog back to Emporia, and Tetrick nursed a slim lead out of the final aid station. An untimely flat tire forced Tetrick off her bike with 10 miles remaining, and Nauman passed her to take second place.

“Last year was a really bummed second place and this year is a super stoked second place,” Nauman said. “It was a big mental hurdle for me to get that.”