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Day in the life: Katie Kantzes

Gravel racer Katie Kantzes works in medical research at the University of Texas, and has spent the past few months studying the spread of COVID-19. Kantzes is doubtful that mass-participant races can continue unchanged in 2020.

For the past two months, we have reached out to pro riders and other personalities from the sport to get a glimpse into their lives during the shutdown in our Day in the Life series. Now, with a potential race season on the horizon, we’re asking about their fitness and forward planning.

Gravel newcomer Katie Kantzes was slated to make a splash on the U.S. elite gravel scene this spring as the new addition to the Meteor-Allied gravel program operated by Colin Strickland. Kantzes is a fixture in the Texas pro road racing scene, and she was excited to move into the gravel scene full-time.

And then, like all bicycle racers, Kantzes watched as her racing program was torpedoed by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Kantzes has an informed perspective on the pandemic and its impact on cycling. She has a master’s degree in the field of Epidemiology, and she works full-time for the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas. Her recent work project was to interview recently recovered COVID-19 patients about their experiences with the virus.

Location: Austin, Texas

What does your new racing schedule look like?

I’m still doing [Dirty Kanza] in mid-September, but I’m still not 100 percent convinced that will happen, given the current situation, with flu season on the horizon. I also have BWR, the Spirit World 100, and then a few local Texas races in November like Castell Grind. I’m also hoping to do my DIY Dirty Kanza tomorrow, so that will be 200 miles on my road bike.

What race are you most excited to do once the season starts again?

Dirty Kanza because of its history. I’ve never done it before, and the only thing I’ve done close to that distance is The Mid South, and that was really hard. I’m really new to all of this, but the sense of community at The Mid South was really crazy, and it was one of the last races we did. I’m cautiously optimistic. I’m paying really close attention to what I hear at work. We talk a lot about the pandemic and we’re keeping an eye on the numbers. If it gets to September and the number of cases hasn’t stabilized, then I hate to say it, but I don’t know if I’ll go to any of the races.


Kantzes has raced Zwift during the shutdown. Photo: Katie Kantzes

From what you’ve seen in COVID-19 cases, are you optimistic or pessimistic about the return of mass-participant events this year?

To be honest I’d lean toward pessimistic of us seeing races held the way you and I know them: mass-start, everybody touching each other and breathing on each other, etc. The problem is what happens with these “super-spreader” events. They seem to be one of the main ways that the virus spreads, and one person can impact a lot.

I’d want to see more widespread testing because at least one-third of the folks are going to be asymptomatic, so that is an element of it. We need better treatment of it, and then the vaccine. I have a different situation because my partner, Paul, has a compromised immune system. So I have to be extra careful.

What have you learned about COVID-19 from your research?

Part of my job recently was to call recently-recovered patients and learn from them what they needed from the community, and what would help them stay at home and not go outside. Do they need food delivery? Do they need medical care coming to them? It was eye-opening to me because there was such a range of ages of the people. There was someone in our local racing community who got it — not from a bike race but from work — but his wife and infant child got it. Once my next project starts up again I’ll probably be doing some contract tracing. You find a case and then reach out to all of their contacts lie their household or the grocery store they had close contact with and figure out who could be at a risk of infection.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic shifted your view toward cycling?

I spent a lot of time leading up to this year very driven and focused, and a lot of my mind space was occupied by training and eating and figuring out what my next step in cycling was going to be. With [COVID-19] it really forced me to take a hard look at what was important to me, and how I could help others. With everything in the United States it’s been a total reality check, and honestly pedaling my bike has not been the most important thing. I’m hoping to work toward using whatever platform I might have for change.

Kantzes with her boyfriend, Paul. Photo: Katie Kantzes

What part of your fitness is missing?

The top-end. You cannot have it all at once, except for a very small part of the year, you can’t fire on all cylinders for month after month. I think it’s something I can come back with after a few inducing efforts. I just haven’t been doing a lot of that right now.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I used to have to ride before work, and I have to be in the office at 7:30, so I’d be riding at the ass-crack of dawn. I still ride early, but it’s more relaxed because I work from home now. It’s nice that I have the luxury of a longer breakfast. Usually, I’d be hauling ass out the door to go to work. Now, I can cook my oatmeal on the stove, which sounds simple, but it’s something I enjoy. We’re all working from home — unless you are actually in the hospital — so lots of Zoom meetings. The scientific community is putting out lots of webinars each week, and there are a few on the actual science of what is going on, so I’ll listen to those fairly often. Then, my project should start soon now that elective surgeries are permitted. Other than that I spend the day in meetings and then relaxing with Paul. And I’m always baking soothing too, and use it as an excuse to see people from a distance to bake a cake so I can drop it off.