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Dirty Kanza 2020: ‘We’re leaning more toward yes than no’

But as concerns over the coronavirus grow and recommendations for social distancing evolve, the organizers of the world's marquee gravel event know that things could change at any minute.

As of today, the Dirty Kanza on May 30 is a go.

In the rapidly changing landscape of the coronavirus pandemic, however, we’ve come to learn that today’s plan has no impact on tomorrow’s reality. The organizers of the Dirty Kanza are now holding daily meetings to stay abreast of the rapidly changing recommendations and regulations around holding events, as well as to begin brainstorming alternatives should the race need to be postponed or canceled.

“As of March 17, we plan to be all systems go in May, but we would never do that if it seemed like we were in the same dynamic or worse than now,” Michelle Duffy, Associate Marketing Director for Life Time, told VeloNews

Yesterday, the event sent an email to all those registered for Dirty Kanza Training Camp informing them that the April 2 – 5 event in Emporia would be canceled. As late as last Friday, the organization had planned to proceed with the camp, and Duffy said the team made the decision to cancel on Monday. They offered four options for participants to choose from, including a full refund for the camp and race entry as well as a deferral of the camp and race entry to 2021.

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

In terms of the main event itself, Duffy said that the Dirty Kanza team will make a decision on whether the race will be held or postponed by May 1, four weeks before the race is scheduled to occur. Before that, in the next week or so, participants will be informed of the new date should the event be postponed.

“This is both for the participants and for other gravel events so we can give them leeway if they have to postpone, as well,” Duffy said. 

The Dirty Kanza has the good fortune of financial backing from Life Time Fitness, who acquired the event in late 2018. Duffy said that this fact isn’t lost on the organizers, and they are trying to be thoughtful of other, less resourced events as they consider alternative dates for the event.

“When we’re thinking about what our options would be, we’re also keeping in mind what these smaller events’ situation is,” she said. “If we go out with something super bold because we can, would that set the precedent that other events have to as well? We know we’re industry leading, so we want to do right by participants but also for our competitor events.”

Duffy said that the organizers have been sifting through countless emails, Facebook messages, and phone calls of people inquiring about the status of the race. Their primary question is whether it’s going to happen, and many of the inquires have been from international participants wondering if they should cancel air travel, release hotel rooms, and defer their race entries. Duffy said she hoped that yesterday’s email to participants informing them of the May 1 decision date would alleviate some of the stress.

For registrants who would rather not deal with the uncertainty, the race is still honoring its regular deferral policy which is that registrants can defer their entry to the following year. 3,900 people are currently registered across all distances of the event for 2020.

Duffy said that the event is seeing some deferrals come through, but they’re not happening en masse.

“Everyone is really holding on, looking for something positive to latch on to,” she said. “It’s far enough out that it still feels possible for folks.”

The event organizers aren’t ready to abandon the possibility of a May 30 race day, either, although their optimism is guarded.

“If you were to ask us today if we thought DK was gonna happen in May, we’re leaning more toward yes than no, but it’s not by a long shot,” Duffy said. “It’s 65/35 odds today but that’s always changing.”