Saturday, June 09, 2018

The Dirty Kanza Report: Final Thoughts

Myself on the left, MG, and our host, Joe on the right.
The DK weekend is gone and the report on it comes to a close with my final thoughts on a few things. First, I need to thank my host in Emporia, Joe Reed for his outstanding hospitality and kindness in letting MG and I stay there.

My goals this year did not involve myself riding a bicycle. In fact, I didn't even take a bicycle or gear to ride one. I was focused on the "All Things Gravel" expo and crewing for MG, whatever that might mean. I took it to mean that I would be like a Trans Iowa support person- doing absolutely nothing unless called upon to rescue my rider. That is what I did, for the most part, and fortunately I didn't need to rescue him!

In terms of  the expo, I thought it was an impressive first effort, and I think it has potential for the future. If what I heard from Jim Cummings is any indication, I would bet that the expo will be even bigger next year and the dates will likely move to Thursday-Friday at least. Saturday was a tough go for the expo since all the hoopla moves to Commercial Street and the expo isn't there.

The expo was jokingly called "The Sea Otter Of Gravel", but think about that comparison for a minute. It is entirely plausible that this could be a Sea Otter-like event, with several days of expo showings and gravel races across several days as well. Who says the DK 200 and 100 have to be on the same days? The DKXL figures into it as well. Gravel demos could be held by shuttling folks outside of town to actually try bicycles on actual gravel roads. Rides that are non-competitive could happen. I really don't see why it couldn't happen. Well, except that Emporia is pretty much maxed out to capacity as far as housing outsiders that weekend goes.

MG before he took off on the DKXL. Image by Joe Reed
The DKXL was a success, I think, but who knows what will become of it. It is my personal opinion that it could be a totally different event, a different flavor, than the current DK events. I spoke with many people in Emporia including Jay Petervary, MG, and a few others about what they thought this event might become. It was clear that the format was well liked, but tweaks would need to be made.

Having been the director of a similar event, my take is this- The DKXL will likely not be an event with the same challenges as Trans Iowa in terms of decision making and navigation. There were no checkpoint cut off times since there were no checkpoints. Only a finish cut off was stipulated, (which wasn't really held to, by the way), and with a course choice limited by fewer roads, you cannot present a different course year to year. So, you have challenges in regard to cheating which don't exist in an event like Trans Iowa.

The biggest of these is support, of course. My take is that riders should not get to have their own support people. It would be too easy for someone to tryst with a rider in the night, only to give them mental and material encouragement to go ahead and finish. I would ban any of that and as an organizer, I would provide the support/rescue service via the Jeep club already volunteering for the event. Once a rider calls in for support, they are done. No going back, no encouraging words to motivate a rider. You get in the Jeep and you are done.

Secondly I would position observation people in key points and have them move randomly so as to discourage meet ups with outside support and to simply observe riders in the field. This could double as social media connections for outside consumption and for safety sake in cases where bad weather might become a concern.

Again- these are simply my opinions. Ultimately I think it would be best if the DKXL did not become, as Jay Petervary put it, "just a longer DK200".

In my opinion, you shouldn't get one of these if you finish outside the time limit
There was controversy after the main event which centered around the DK200 woman's overall first place finisher. Look- it's a big deal race. I'm not saying anything wrong was done, but would someone bend rules, or press into grey areas to win the DK200 if they could? Yes. Absolutely they would. DK200 winners often parlay their status as the "King and Queen of the Dirty Kanza" into money making opportunities. It is lucrative in terms of future sponsorships, product endorsements, and on and on. Of course controversial things will become part of winning these events, especially something billed as the "World's Premier Gravel Grinder".

Ultimately I think this issue with drafting and who does it is a responsibility of the promoters to look at intensely. The promoters need to decide what, if anything, could be changed in the future to clear up grey areas or if it even is a problem to be dealt with at all. And that is that.

Similarly an issue with the use of aerobars came up. It is my understanding that there was a crash caused due to aerobar use this year and it was a concern to many. Should they be allowed? I will say that aero bars have been a part of gravel road riding and racing since the beginning. I will also say that typically the gravel race family tends to be good at self-policing issues on the roads. Where you get a breakdown in this is when you bring in people unfamiliar with the genre, people looking to push boundaries at the expense of others, potentially becoming a danger, and where skills to ride with aerobars on rough grounds are minimal to non-existent. The DK200 is a very unique animal in the circles of gravel grinding now days. It doesn't really have any analogue in gravel racing with the possible exception of Barry-Roubaix, and even then, the terrain and consequences of a good result are entirely different.

My take is that if the riders cannot seem to handle using the equipment safely in the DK200, then take it away from them. If common sense use cannot be trusted to be the norm, then take the aerobars away. This only really is a big deal in the DK, in my opinion. Others may say, "Well, you shouldn't dictate what bike I get to use!". Well, the answer to that is, do you get to use a geared bike in the single speed category? No- the type of bicycle you use in certain categories is dictated to you. So, limiting how you ride and what you ride already happens. Get over it. Besides, if not using aerobars precludes you from riding well in the DK200, I think you have something else to worry about.

Even the coffee shop changed its name to "Gravel City"
The Dirty Kanza often gets panned by a lot of gravel riders as having "jumped the shark", "selling out", or with some other pithy comment. Look......if someone was willing to give you a handful of cash every year to ride in an event you put on in your own backyard, you'd tell them no, right? Of course you wouldn't. You'd take that cash and ask for more if the people were knocking down your doors to get to ride that event. Don't even think for a minute that you wouldn't.

There are the rare people who don't care about money for things like putting on a gravel road race, but most people think those folks are insane. (Ask me how I know) The rest are in it to get by, or heck, even make a buck or two. And folks gladly pay them. So, who is selling out? You tell me. I just don't buy into that line of thinking.

And look- Emporia, Kansas isn't the paragon of a shining city on a hill by any stretch, but it is a damn site better than it was in 2006 for what the DK200 has brought to it. Now I am not going to say that gravel racing saved a city, but it did raise the bar there, and it has made a big change in how people see their fair city in central Kansas. That's pretty heady stuff. To say that the DK is a bad thing for gravel grinding is.....well, it is just plain stupid. It's changed the way the industry looks at the genre, it's changed the way professional racing looks already, and if things keep going the way that they are, it may have a hand in changing the way a lot of folks view cycling due to the event's high profile. That's a lot of cool stuff, and a ton of responsibility on a few folks at DK Promotions.

I got a glimpse of the inner workings, and I'm sure I don't get the full magnitude of what it takes to run that event. However; you'd be blind and dead if you could not see and feel how much the DK Promotions team cares about the event, the city, gravel riding, and you. You get that they care about each and everyone that comes there if you pay attention, and that isn't hard to feel if you are alive. In that sense the Dirty Kanza is very grassroots. They care about the experiences people have. They care about what you get out of the event. If "grassroots" means you cannot make a profit on your labor and care than we're all in a lot of trouble in this country. When I go to the DK, I feel we are a little bit more okay than not. They should be rewarded just for that if for nothing else.

Thanks for reading these reports on the DK200 and DKXL. I'll have a double "Minus Ten Review" on tap for next Saturday.


Rob E said...

Is drafting not allowed in gravel racing, officially? I don't particularly want to see huge team trains like in road racing but if a smaller groups of racers take turn leading in the wind, what is the harm in that? I don't particularly like to draft on gravel, especially with people I don't know, as the surface changes so much that if the lead rider doesn't give you ample warning about conditions or obstacles you're already on them before you know it.

Guitar Ted said...

@Rob E- Drafting has traditionally been "discouraged" in gravel races, but it happens all the time. Especially in smaller groups. The DK200 draft lines can be HUGE, so that is a different animal.

Robert Ellis said...

Great coverage and write ups. Enjoyed them very much. Thank you!

DT said...

Seeing the B-R reference made me remember - the rules of that race forbid aerobars, although we did see a few riders using them. I don't believe they were the cause of any crashes though.

Bill Graves said...

Great article Mark. I am in the sell-out thought group and you are right in most people would accept a lot of money to put on a race. I appreciate you pointing that out because I never thought of it that way. I will never attend DK & will continually bust my buddies chops over it but you gave me a new appreciation for Jim & his crew. Thanks for that - if you aren't learning then you are getting dumber!

Matt Morgan's. said...

Everyone drafts. Every winner and non-winner to do the DK has drafted behind someone else at some point in the day. The only thing worse than riding your bike 200 miles with someone else, is riding 200 miles alone. if it was someone other than a teammate or spouse that Katie rode with, no one would question it.

Larry Brenize said...

The aero bars probably doesn't bother me. If you see a rider that isn't safe you don't ride close to them. I probably would do DK200 OR THE 100 miler next year if the entry fee was in the $100 - $150 range. The price gouging of the hotels is another turn off for me. Not sure you can call this ride still grassroots when they have the entry fees so high along with the pricing of the support crews even though I understand the ride is so big you can't have drop bags. That in my my mind is a grass roots type if a ride.