Avon cyclist 2nd in renowned Dirty Kanza bike race
Avon resident Jake Wells finished second out of 828 cyclists who rode more than 200 miles on gravel during the weekend in Kansas.
Eagle County had a strong showing in the 12th annual Dirty Kanza, with locals Shaun Martin taking 16th, Adam Collins taking 28th and Daren Lacy taking 58th in the world’s premier ultra enduro gravel race. The race attracts cyclists to the town of Emporia, Kansas, and has a variety of categories including the most challenging 200-mile ride. Local Dawn Vogeler finished 6th overall in the 100-mile version of the Dirty Kanza.
It was Wells’ first time participating in the event, which started with 34 riders in 2006 and has grown into at gravel riding Mecca and will bring in an estimated $2.2 million this year according to a report by the Wichita Eagle.
Wells, a professional cyclocross racer, said the fear of the unknown was what attracted him to the event.
“Seven or eight years ago, a buddy told me about this race, and I thought, ‘Why would you do a 200 mile gravel race in Kansas?’ It just sounded brutal,” Wells said. “At that time I wasn’t in a place to understand why you would do something like that. Doing it now, it was so much better than what I expected … I just embraced the fear factor of it.”
The race has three aid stations, but other than that, riders are on their own on the rolling gravel roads of the Flint Hills area of Kansas.
“You’re going through private ranch properties, and the community really comes out and supports it,” Wells said. “The ranchers are out there in their trucks and ATVs, they’re waving at you as you go by, and if you go by any house on the course people are out there cheering you on.”
At the aid stations, riders could stop for a few minutes to retrieve a bag that should have been waiting there for them, and clean the chain on their bikes — gunky from all the gravel. The Stans NoTubes team provided Wells with mechanic Drew Esherick for his bike. In getting his bags to the aid stations, Wells got a little help from an old friend, Jeff McCool, who he knew from his college days at Missouri Southern State University.
“As far as support goes, that was huge,” Wells said. “Because you can lose a lot of time at those aid stations if you don’t have good support.”
DOWN TO THE FINAL MOMENTS
Other than the help at the aid stations, the riders’ Garmin GPS devices were their other major lifeline. Wells said himself, first place finisher Mat Stephens and third place finisher Menso de Jong found themselves sticking together at various points in the race because one of their devices batteries had died and they were relying on someone else to chart the way.
In a surprise moment for Wells, after 206 miles of racing, the fight for second place in the 2017 Dirty Kanza came down to the final seconds. Wells shared the moment with the Vail Daily:
“You get off the gravel and off the dirt for the last time, and you come to Emporia State University into the campus, and you’re about half a mile from the finish at that point. It’s pavement from there, but there is one steep climb.
“I get to that climb and I can see Menso, he’s not that far ahead of me, but I assume I am catching him because he’s on the climb and I’m on the flat. So you do the top of that climb, and you make a hard right down hill and make a couple turns into the campus, and you’re pretty much to the final straightaway to the finish. I can see Menso is right there, and I hadn’t given up, but I wasn’t really pursuing fact that I thought I could catch him.
“Then we come to the finish, and it’s all coned off and the crowds are out and I can see the finish line, and Menso is between me and the finish line. He’s kind of sitting up, he’s not really riding hard, and he hasn’t looked back to see how far I am. So I start thinking, ‘I can catch him,’ so I stand up and I put in a hard effort. He kind of sits up and takes his hands off the bars and start engaging the crowd and celebrating his finish, not being cocky, but I think he was just feeling welcomed back to town after being gone almost 11 hours. So I put in this effort and I got by him with probably 100 meters to go. I kind of glanced back and he wasn’t able to respond at all.
“I talked to him after and I told him that wasn’t really the plan — to out sprint him at the end — and he just said, ‘I was so done, I couldn’t pedal another pedal stroke, I was cooked.’ He wasn’t mad at me that I nipped him, or mad at himself for celebrating prematurely, I think he was just happy with his effort and happy that I got second.”