Two Californians were crowned king and queen of Kanza on Saturday: Ted King of Mill Valley won the men's field with a time of 11 hours, 50 minutes, and last year's champ, Amanda Nauman of Laguna Hills, easily defended her title with a 13 hour, 11 minute ride.
King described a tale of two courses, an easy first 100 miles with tail wind and a punishing second 100 with a stiff headwind and temperatures in mid-80s. Previous winner Brian Jensen and defending champ Yuri Hauswald did not finish.
At 6 a.m. Saturday, 1,098 cyclists from 44 states and 10 countries pedaled off from the historic Granada Theatre on a 200-mile endurance race through remote tallgrass prairie rangeland.
They came to test their mettle and their machines at the Dirty Kanza 200, which top cyclists call the most grueling gravel race in the world. The terrain through the Flint Hills is remote and rugged, the roads strewn with fist-sized rocks made of flint that can lacerate tires.
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This year marks the 11th running of the event, which continues to grow in popularity, selling out in a record-shattering 2 hours in January.
Expected to be at the front of the pack this year were the defending men’s and women’s champions, Hauswald and Nauman. Other top competitors include Neil Shirley, Ted King, Tim Johnson, Rusty Folger, Lyne Bessette, Kristen Legan and Andrea Cohen.
Last year’s race was a chilly mud fest, with even the top riders having to carry their bikes for miles through ankle deep soggy clay. But this year, conditions are near ideal, according to organizer Jim Cummins: mild temperatures (for Kansas) in the low 80s, somewhat humid and less wind than usual.
Recent rains followed by a couple of hot days packed the roads.
The course, which changes every year, resembles a giant figure eight, with three checkpoints where riders are allowed to meet up with support crews. Otherwise, support crews are banned from the course, except to pick up riders quitting the race. The first checkpoint is in Madison, the second in Eureka, the third back in Madison.
Difficult features awaited riders on each of the four course legs. On Leg 1, the Verdigris River crossing will be deep after recent heavy rains.
Leg 2 sends riders down a steep descent from Texaco Hill followed by a deceptively long climb up Teterville Hill, followed by another S-curve ascent organizers call “the b----”.
A low water crossing at Rocky Ford south of Neal, Kan., awaited on Leg 3.
A crowd of cowbell-ringing spectators lining the finish chute down Emporia’s main street greet the riders who make it to the end. Throughout the day, Commercial Street in downtown Emporia is one big party, with outdoor food and beverage vendors, games and music. But the main event is the riders.
Last year, the street party, made possible by sponsors and volunteers, continued until well after midnight.
In addition to the 200-mile field, 666 cyclists are competing in a “half-pint” 100-mile course, and 300 will ride the 50-mile “fun run.” The first 100-mile finishers are expected back in town as early as noon.