After 200 miles and thirteen hours battling the muddiest conditions in memory, the Dirty Kanza ended with a neck-and-neck sprint to the finish line.
First-place finisher Yuri Hauswald of Petaluma, CA, caught early leader Michael Sencenbaugh two miles before the finish, and the two battled it out the rest of the way, blazing side-by-side down the finish chute in front of the historic Granada theater as thousands of spectactors rang cowbells. Hauswald finished a half-second ahead of Sencenbaugh , of Carrolla, IA, with a time of 13:01:17.
Jess Stauffer of Selinsgrove, PA took third place.
The loudest cheers of the evening were for four-time champion and local hero Dan Hughes of Lawrence, who made up ground on the last leg to finish 6th.
An hour after Hauswald, 25-year-old Amanda Nauman of Mission Viejo, CA crossed to claim the women’s division crown with a time of 14:08:18. Kristen Legan of Boulder, CO finished second among the women, and three-time winner and reigning champion Rebecca Rusch took third.
Brutal muddy conditions took a toll on many top riders. Last year’s winner, Brian Jensen of Lawrence, a native of Denmark, failed to finish.
The 200-mile riders set off at 6 a.m., 950 spandex-clad cyclists from 45 states and 5 countries set off on a one-day, 200-mile course through the remote Flint Hills of southeast Kansas. The last finishers — the ones who didn’t abandon the race or get pulled off the course for not keeping a minimum pace — rolled back into town around 2 a.m. Sunday.
The Dirty Kanza is considered the most grueling “gravel grinder” in the world. This year marks its 10th anniversary, a “decade of dirty,” organizers call it.
Rebecca Rusch, three-time women’s champion, and this year’s third place finisher, says the Dirty Kanza is the gravel race that begat all the others, including one she started a few years ago in her home state of Idaho, “Rebecca’s Private Idaho.”
In years past, blistering heat, relentless sun on treeless range land, “gravel” that is really bone-jarring, tire-slicing crushed flint rock, sustained 30 mph winds and choking clouds of dust have brutalized even seasoned riders. The finish rate has been as low as 19 percent; the best-ever finish rate was 70 percent.
Many cyclists who have returned have done so despite vowing to never come back after their first time. They tell you the weather and terrain are only part of the punishment the course exacts. Just as daunting and psyche-shattering is the remoteness.
There are few places in the world where you can ride for 35 miles without passing a single vehicle or seeing a single home; this is one of them. The isolation is frightening. Cellphone service is iffy, and whomever you call for help may not be able to get to where you are in a car.
Passionate cyclists can’t get enough of it.
Online registration sold out in a day and a half for today’s 200-mile event and also for the 100-mile “half-pint” field of 600.
Flooding rains that have pounded the area for weeks had organizers out scouting the course in Jeeps into Saturday morning, figuring out which creek crossings were too high to send riders through and would have to be routed around.
The forecast was a gift from the weather gods: dry, overcast, relatively cool. Road conditions were another story, with water-carved ruts in the rock and mud, mud everywhere.
It was possibly the dirtiest Dirty Kanza ever.
Read the full behind-the-scenes story in next Sunday’s paper.