DIRTY KANZELLED - a ‘do it yourself’ Dirty Kanza tribute.

Posted By Erwin Sikkens On 5 June 2020

Shimano Gravel Alliance ambassador Erwin Sikkens heads out in the gravelly unknown. Is it possible to ride 200 miles in one go, on the ‘wrong’ bike, powered only by frites with mayo and the help of strangers along the route?

There are so many great gravel rides and events out there, that it’s hard to tell which one is the coolest or the best, gives the most joy or has the best afterparty. With the calendar so full of options, we need a lot of luck to have the possibility to ride all of them, get to experience them, get to fall in love with them… that is however if you can ride them at all, without some pandemic messing things up!

Some events have been rescheduled (keep your eye on the Gravel Union calendar), and others have been postponed until next year. But what to do with the mother of all gravel races, or as they’d like to call it themselves: ‘the world's premier gravel grinder’? The Dirty Kanza race was planned for May 30th, but got postponed until September 12th, leaving some riders like ex pro-peloton rider Laurens ten Dam with the pain of not being able to ride DK on May 30th. It made him come up with his personal Dirty Kanza tribute on the day of origin: #DirtyKanzelled.

#DirtyKanzelled is a DIY gravel ride tribute to the postponed Dirty Kanza ride. The idea soon developed to do this ride with many other gravel grinders, first only in the Netherlands, but soon the idea spread worldwide with riders like Peter Stetina, Wout van Aert and Levi Leipheimer joining the ranks. This DK tribute would hold to all the values of the original race as well. Riders were invited to ride a 100 or 200 mile gravel route from their homes, you’d have a maximum of 2 stops along the way, your route should have as much gravel in it as possible and of course the afterparty is mandatory, as with any great gravel event.

Since I myself am more of a ‘party pace wins the race’ kind of rider, I wasn’t even thinking of joining the event in the first place. I don’t really like riding ultra-distances and also believe I’m not really good at riding them. I however got asked by Laurens ten Dam’s right hand man Dennis to create a #DirtyKanzelled worthy gravel route in the east of the Netherlands where I live, to help and inspire people to join the event. While creating a route, I got inspired myself and with a good friend of mine joining me my fate was sealed. I was going to ride the 200 mile #DirtyKanzelled.

Following the ‘rules’ my buddy Gijs and I started our ride at 6am from my hometown of Arnhem. As I said, I don’t have any real experiences with long distances like these, so as a weapon of choice I decided to ride my endurance road race bike fitted with Shimano Ultegra groupset, disc brakes and 30mm tubeless road tyres. The 30mm tyres were to help me across most of the gravel and then the road sections would in my mind be easier to ride, as my logic at the start was that a road bike is generally speaking faster than a gravel bike.

In hindsight, I would probably not have made that mistake and would have chosen my gravel bike after all. With the right tyres, a gravel bike is not that slow at all on tarmac and definitely a lot steadier and more reliable on the gravel sections. Also, on a distance like this, speed did not play a role anyway. I’m a big fan of riding gravel on any bike, but the fact that I developed a hole in my tyre that even the latex wouldn’t fill proved my point of always bringing a gravel bike when I want to be sure of my material. Lesson learned.

After the start the first 100 km were easy, as I’ve ridden that distance so many times before. It was however after that, that the going got tough. It helped a lot knowing that we weren’t riding the event alone. The multiple flybys with other #DirtyKanzelled riders on gravel sections helped us realise we weren’t at it alone this day. We recognized them from a distance - early morning, another rider on a gravel bike with bags strapped onto it, riding otherwise abandoned gravel roads in the middle of nowhere… They just had to be fellow #DirtyKanzelled riders, and most of the time they were. Just like with the real deal, meeting riders along the way gave us a sense of not being out there all on our own, doing this thing together even though it’s always you pushing the pedals and not someone else.

Not having any experience with riding distances like these, Gijs and I went about it like we did on any other ride… stopping for a picture or two on a nice stretch of gravel, stopping some more for a nice view and stopping some more for food or just because we felt like it. It however made us reach the halfway point at 100 miles in by the time the clock had reached 3.30pm in the afternoon. We then knew we were going to be riding into the late evening and even during the night. Notorious long distance rider Robbie Ferri told me afterwards that big distances are more about not stopping than riding. Another lesson learned.

A rough patch combined with sore legs hit us at about km 160-180. By this time Gijs was thinking of dropping out and I was mentally preparing myself on riding the rest of the ride alone. Luckily it never came to that point, as a couple of kilometres further down the road a good old portion of fries with mayonnaise and a typical Dutch ‘frikandel speciaal’ did its work and gave us all the energy and fat we needed to get going again.

Although I had packed my PRO frame bag with a lot of food, bars, gels and even caffeine shots, refilling our water bottles was beginning to become an issue when we were riding in the middle of nowhere in the late evening, without any sight of any village whatsoever. We were beginning to get low on water and knew that at that point we needed to still ride on for many hours into the night to finish our ride.

If it wasn’t for #DirtyKanzelled I would have never been in this situation, but now we were all of a sudden enjoying the hospitality of a stranger’s kitchen. At 11 in the evening a local woman let us into her home, provided us with all the water and snacks we needed and even made us a couple of peanut butter sandwiches to go. The beers she offered were kindly declined as we still had to ride another 80 km at that point and needed to get going. Local hospitality, also something the original Dirty Kanza is known for!

Late evening turned into the darkness of the night, and we found ourselves getting tired, staring at the small world our headlight offered us for many hours. Our world at that point may have become small, but the sound of crispy gravel beneath our tyres still gave us joy. It wasn’t until 02.20am, a little over 20 hours from when we had departed and after riding 323 km, that we finally finished back in Arnhem. It wasn’t so much my legs or fitness that had got the better of me in the end, but the simple fact of just riding with too little sleep for too damn long.

The mandatory afterparty was short, as we were like two zombies sitting on a couch. It wasn’t the glorious combination of BBQ and beers that we had counted on when we left, and we were absolutely dead when we finished our rides, but also really proud that we did it.

In times of Covid19-related cancellations, we rode our very own 200 mile #DirtyKanzelled. My longest day on the bike both in time and distance, and one that I’ll remember for many years to come.

Thanks Laurens!

komoot link to the route - https://www.komoot.nl/tour/193436276?ref=wtd

Images by Erwin Sikkens and Gijs Ferkranus

Text by Erwin Sikkens

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