Each year since the inaugural Dirty Kanza in 2006, approximately 50 – 55% of the riders who start this race have completed the 200 mile course. Based on that trend, our hopes were that at least 50 of the 85 riders processed during Friday night’s sign-in would successfully conquer this year’s route. That was, however, before we realized that unseasonably high temperatures would be coupled with an also stronger than normal southwest wind. That combination of heat and high winds proved to be a two-headed monster that absolutely devoured the field.
In typical fashion, Dan Hughes (2006 Winner, and 2nd place in 2007 & 2008) wasted no time in going to the front of the field. A group of a dozen or so, led by Dan, set a blistering pace and quickly distanced themselves from the rest of the pack. That group eventually got whittled down to three… Hughes, Corey Godfrey and Troy Krause. This three-some pulled in to the first checkpoint in Cottonwood Falls (Mile 61), in just 3 hours and 45 minutes. That’s just over 16 mph. Not that big a deal, you say? Keep in mind that includes a 4 mile long neutral rollout through town. Still not that big a deal? Remember that “stronger than normal” southwest wind I mentioned earlier? By some reports, it was blowing at 25 to 30mph. And this first leg was almost entirely south and west. Rounding out the Top 5 at Checkpoint One was Mike Marchand at 12 minutes back, and Gary Calton at minus 16 minutes.
From Cottonwood Falls, the course headed due west, then north toward Council Grove. Riders were surely looking forward to the long northward march, anticipating a reprieve from the brutal Kansas wind. How does that “First Rule of Cycling” go? Something like “There is always a headwind.”??? Well, that certainly proved to be the case on this day, as the winds slowly but steadily began to swing, almost as if on queue, from the southwest, to the west, to the northwest.
Seemingly undeterred from the constant blast in the face by warm, humid air, the lead three riders continued their 16.5 mph average all the way to Council Grove. Hughes and Godfrey pulled in together, with Krause just 2 minutes back. The three quickly and methodically went through their own pre-determined mid-race process of refueling and preparing for the second half of this grueling sufferfest. To the casual observer, each of the three riders may have seemed equally as strong as the other two. My assessment? Hughes was a cat playing with his catch, just waiting to bite down on their necks.
By this point, the rest of the field was quickly dwindling. Of the 85 starters, 82 reached Checkpoint One in Cottonwood Falls. However, fewer than 60 made it to the halfway point in Council Grove. Less than 50 would continue from there.
Shortly after the lead three left Council Grove to begin the northward trek to the next checkpoint in Alma, my wife and I jumped in the pickup and headed out. We were scheduled to meet our volunteer crew in Alma to setup the third checkpoint. After a brief delay (“Sorry, Officer… I thought the speed limit was 65.”)… we pulled into the town of Alma.
Based on the previous pace, expectations were for the first rider to pull into town at about 2:40 pm. The smart money was on Hughes to be that rider. We were half right. (Almost.) Hughes was the first to arrive, but at 3:43 pm. As we all began to clap and whistle in appreciation for his effort, Dan quickly waved us off. He pulled up to the tent and announced he was out. Dan had gone down hard on a rain-rutted descent on Lil’ Egypt Road. In addition to the nasty gravel road rash down the outside of his left leg, Dan had tweaked his back. He was in obvious pain. Dan somehow found the strength to pick himself up off the ground and ride to town, but had taken a short cut to town. A decision made only to put an end to his suffering as quickly as possible. It was a bitter end to the day for a tough competitor. Dan, you are a class act.
Some time after 4:00 pm, the next rider was seen coming down the street. It was Mike Marchand. Shortly thereafter, Mike was followed in by Troy Krause, then by a very weary looking Corey Godfrey. It was now Mike’s race to lose. All three riders, Marchand, Krause and Godfrey, took an extended stay in Alma. Then in an almost reluctant fashion, pulled away for the final 65 mile stretch to the finish line back in Emporia.
The pace had clearly dropped. Ten hours in the saddle, fighting a stiff wind, coupled with high temperatures and humid air is enough to crush anyone. These three were putting in a valiant effort. But there comes a point that a rider can only do so much. The conditions were also wreaking havoc on the rest of the field. Ultimately, only 23 riders would continue past the third checkpoint.
In the weeks leading up to this year’s race, talk centered on the performance put in by 2008 winner Cameron Chambers. Would anyone be able to beat, or even match, Cameron’s record time of 11 hours, 58 minutes? Clearly, Cameron’s record was safe for another year.
If the frontrunners were able to maintain the pace set during the first 100 miles, the first rider should arrive in Emporia at about 6:45 pm. Spectators and support crews began arriving to the finish line shortly before that time. They were in for a long wait.
Hours passed and things grew very quite. A cell phone rang. “Riders spotted… 10 miles out… going 20 mph.”
The finish line area was now buzzing with anticipation. Who would it be? Then, a lone rider is spotted, cruising down 18th Ave, head down, hands in the drops, chain in the big ring. It was Mike Marchand, looking like he had just finished a 30 mile workout.
In the end, of the 85 starters, only 15 riders completed the 205 mile course. The 2009 running of The Dirty Kanza 200 will certainly go down as the most difficult year in our brief 4-year history. The most sincere of “Congratulations” go out, not only to you fifteen finishers… but to all who accepted this challenge and stepped up to the starting line. You are all winners in our eyes.
1st Open Men – Mike Marchand – 14 hours, 23 minutes
2nd Open Men – Troy Krause – 14 hours, 54 minutes
3rd Open Men – Corey Godfrey – 16 hours, 32 minutes
4th Open Men – Joe Fox – 16 hours, 53 minutes
5th Open Men – Peter Krause – 17 hours, 16 minutes
6th Open Men – Tom Liebl – 17 hours, 17 minutes
1st Single Speed – Mike Beck – 19 hours, 26 minutes
Tie, 7th Open Men – Greg Bachman & Chad Minert – 19 hours, 26 minutes
9th Open Men – Steve Fuller – 20 hours, 10 minutes
Tie, 10th Open Men – Chris Van Alstyne & Jim Fobben – 20 hours, 13 minutes
2nd Single Speed – Jeff Scott – 20 hours, 13 minutes
Tie, 12th Open Men – Keith Clark & Kevin Doggett – 20 hours, 50 minutes