Over the last decade, Emporia, Kansas has experienced a considerable spike in its city’s regular population of roughly 25,000 people at this time of year. With five different events to choose from, DK racers flock to the world’s largest and most popular gravel race, the Garmin Dirty Kanza. This year, the charming Midwestern town welcomed over 2,700 gravel racers plus their friends, family and support crews. The scene was packed, restaurants were swamped, RV parks were overflowing, and no vacancy signs were on every corner of the town. Regardless of the overflowing capacity, everyone was welcomed and fed, and managed to find a place to sleep with a Kansas smile and open arms. During our mandatory media meeting, race director Lelan explained how Kansas has more cows than people as he was going over the race course. That made sense to me, because where else are you going to find a place where you can use 350 miles of gravel roads for race courses every two years? Lots and lots of fields, that’s how.
I have been to over 100 races as a photographer, and this was by far my favorite race in America. (It’s hard to beat Challenge Roth, Norseman, and the Tour de France.). This was a community of dirt-loving crazy athletes from all over the world meeting in what I would consider the most welcoming small town in America.
Lifetime was a new addition to the DK mix as they acquired the race last year. With Lifetime’s national reach, in terms of both sponsors and participants, this year saw fantastic growth at the expo and much more buzz from the media. While I never got to meet race founder Jim Cummins to ask him about the new partnership, his better half Kristi was a total rockstar when it came to welcoming us to the event and providing us with the event's history. Attention to the community, the race and the mission was top shelf.
The weather forecast for race predicted stormy conditions during the week before, but Saturday morning showed zero percentage of rain, with plenty of heat and humidity. Three weeks of stormy weather transitioned to very little wind, but with no clouds for shelter. Excitement was palpable at the start and the lead group went out blazing fast. The day saw plenty of crashes, flat tires, and broken spirits. Many racers fell victim to the heat and difficulty, producing the two highest DNF percentages in the race’s history. But at the end of the day, the block party finish line was as electric as one could imagine. It was like a scene out of Kona, but without all the red tape required for access.
If you love riding your bike and you want a great experience in the heartland of America, I highly recommend you put this event on your list. Sign up, book your housing, bring your friends and enjoy.
Thanks to Junior for having some fun with the camera at mile 85.
With the heat of the day reaching 93 degrees, this small creek became a watering hole for many.
Dan Huges of Lawerence, KS road most of his journey solo this year.
Kristen Legan of Boulder, CO started her ride into the sunset as she prepped for her all-nighter.
It wasn't until mile 42 that some of the packs start to break up.
With all the riders coming into the first support area, it became a challenge for rider and supporter alike to locate each other.
Former champion Ted King took his fair shares of the pulls on the day.
Male DK 200 winner Colin Strickland took his time as he moved up to the front on his way to victory.
Female DK 200 Winner Amity Rockwell never stopped at the first checkpoint.
Early morning views.
The DK is all about family, friends, and teamwork.
Shimano's new GRX took on the day’s challenge with zero issues.
Ride, eat, and rest?
After a long day in the hot sun, the evening hours welcomed some pretty views.
Father and daughter riding the DK 200 together.
LIfetime did a great job stepping up the expo game this year.
One of many Jeeps out on the course making sure everyone is safe.
It is Kansas.
Race director Lelan with his family right after the start.
Time for Beers!
Thanks for everyone at Lifetime and the DK for allowing us to come and showcase the event. Thank you to all the volunteers, and to the city of Emporia for hosting everyone.