Culture

Enthusiast gravel racers expected DK’s cancelation

Passionate amateurs say they will continue to train through the summer and hope for an Emporia start line in 2021.

Having been to Emporia, Kansas and having also been to New Zealand, I was frankly ‘chuffed’ to meet a kiwi at the Lyon County Fairgrounds during last year’s DK. To travel all the way to the U.S. from one of the world’s most wonderful places just to go to . . . Kansas?

That’s the DK for you.

The race, and the place, left such an imprint on Bennie Black that he was willing to come back and do it all over again in 2020.

“Initially, I couldn’t wait to head back to Emporia this year,” Black told me. “But then news broke of the pandemic, and everything was developing so quickly in New York it was clear early on international travel was looking increasingly unlikely. I didn’t have a lot of time to consider my options before the New Zealand government shut down our border to all non-residents on March 19.”

Yet when it was announced in early April that the race was postponed until September 12, Black, like many other registered riders, thought that perhaps the global pandemic would settle down by then.

dirty kanza
Black chased the chaise all the way from New Zealand in 2019. Photo: Courtesy Bennie Black

Seth Friedly, a mechanical engineer from Longmont, Colorado, was happy with the postponement for a different reason: it gave him more time to train.

Friedly says that he was hesitant to sign up for the DK in years past because of its early date on the calendar. A September date would allow him to enjoy the ski season and start training when the snow melted. Friedly said that he has been using the event’s free Garmin training plan to get in shape.

“It’s very well-tailored to someone like me who has all this family stuff to do,” Friedly said. “It doesn’t have many long rides, eight-hour rides, in there. It’s mostly four to six-hour rides, and I’m still trying to follow the plan.”

Friedly was hopeful that the event would happen on September 12, although he admits he only thought there was a “10 percent chance.”

Adam Sher, a first-time DK 100 registrant from Colorado, was also unsurprised to hear of the race’s cancelation. In fact, he would be surprised if any of the races he’s registered for this year [like September’s Dakota Five-0 mountain bike race or the brand new Co2uT gravel race in October] ultimately happen.

“Anything with the numbers like Leadville or DK or SBT GRVL, I think that there’s no good way to hold those events in reality,” Sher said. “Getting that many people together, not just the racers, but all the stuff around it, so many people coming from so many parts of the world, staying in hotels, going to restaurants, it just seems like a bad idea right now.”

Friedly, who has run in the Leadville 100 trail race, said that he could understand the impact that bringing thousands of people to the small Colorado mountain town during the pandemic might have. Having never been to the DK or Emporia, he wondered if the growing body of data suggesting that being outdoors presents little risk of transmission might make the Kansas race possible. However, he ultimately agreed that the community should have the final say.

“It comes down to the town,” he said. “Does the town want it? Do they not? Are they at risk? Then, I think you respect what the town wants.”

Even if race organizers and the town of Emporia had decided to proceed with the September 12 event, Sher says it would have been hard to go, knowing that cases of infection in the U.S. continue to rise.

“My initial reaction would be to go, but the more I think about it, I might have not felt it was worth the risk,” he said. “My guess is I probably would have decided to skip it. I don’t think anything is going to change between now and when it was gonna be held that will make a difference.”

Sher has decided to defer his entry to 2021, while Friedly says he has not decided whether he is going to do likewise or request a refund. Participants have until August 7 to make the decision between deferring until 2021 or 2022, requesting a full refund minus processing fees, or donating their entry to the Life Time Foundation.

Although June 5 2021 feels like a lifetime away, many riders will roll their 2020 registration toward next year’s race. While Black requested a refund for the event months ago since he wasn’t sure he’d be able to travel for the September postponement, he’s planning on putting his name in the lottery again for 2021. Why even consider that long trip from the land of the long white cloud to the sunflower state?

“To race bikes again with my new friends, and attempt to shave a couple of hours off my first result,” Black said. “I had the time of my life last year, who wouldn’t want to repeat that?”