On Memorial Day, just 5 days before racers will toe the line in what promises to be a damp and muddy Emporia, Dirty Kanza organizers revealed the route for the epic 200 mile gravel race. Rather than sticking with the proven successful formula, which they could have been forgiven for given the amazing growth of the event, Organizers decided to take a new direction and send racers north of town. Some of the roads might be familiar to riders who raced in 2013 and 2014, but for most they will be new.
The 201.7 mile course includes 10,500 feet of climbing, which is thankfully front loaded. It’s not the hills that will break things apart though, it’s the big chunky rocks which claimed the truck tires of organizers as they drove the route to establish it for the race. With only two checkpoints, nutrition is also going to be a big deciding factor this year.
The big decision for riders now that the course is published is what gear they’ll need to bring. If there’s one question that has been doing the rounds it’s “what tires are you running?”. Northern routes see bigger rocks which will mean riders need larger volume rubber. Punctures in the Flint Hills often come from sidewall cuts, so reinforced or robust sidewalls will be a must as well. Last year, Ted King and Katie Keough opted for Maxxis Rambler with Silk Shield. King used 700 x40 and Keough 700×38. This year, with even more aggressive terrain, those 38s are likely to stay at home as most riders opt for 40mm or larger rubber.
Most pros will be limited by their sponsor’s offering, potentially offering an advantage to tech-savvy amateurs. EF – Education first will be sending three Word Tour riders, who will presumably all be riding their Sponsor appropriate Vittoria Terreno tires, although at a max width of 38mm that might not be a comfy choice. IRC’s tubeless Boken is now available in 700×40 size that incorporates the X-Guard protection system, making the fast rolling file tread tire with aggressive side lugs for cornering a legitimate choice for Kanza racers this year. The company are supplying their pro racers, including Sage riders Jacob Rathe and Anna Grace Christiansen with a Racing Team version especially for Kanza. Ted King, will likely opt for the 700×42 Hurricane Ridge from René Herse, a tire he helped develop after their previous offerings proved plenty supple enough but not quite as robust as the flint hills require. Not every pro is riding something custom designed though, last year’s second place finisher Josh Berry is sticking with the tried and true Ramblers, in a 700×40 size.
Popular choices among the racers we spoke to include a Donnelly MSO 700×40 – which is what Donelly are suggesting for the course this year and what I’ll be running. I’m partial to a tan sidewall and I love these tires on the singletrack and rocky trails around San Diego. Another great option is the Terravail Rutland, designed to hook up in the corners but roll fast on pavement and available in a “durable” sidewall version (or a “light and supple” version for risk takers) the Terravail tire might be the surprise break out of the event given the company is a little less well known on the road scene.
There won’t be a tire to be had by the time you get to Emporia, so if you’re still on the fence about what to run, we suggest ordering it now and taking all your options with you After all, it’s a long way to Emporia from just about anywhere and it would suck to be at the start line without full confidence in your equipment.
Of course, with all that mud there are a few other considerations as well. Riders should be packing a spare derailleur hanger one in the saddle bag and one in the bike bag that you fly with has always been my advice) , a pair of “mud sticks” to clean off tires and allow for the wheels to turn in a filthy frame, and a hydration pack to drink from, because anything within firing range of those big tires is likely to get just as filthy.