I knew these guys were experienced warriors of gravel grinders. And being the support crew of riders of this caliber meant I needed to be on top of my game. Everyone rolled through the first checkpoint looking good. It wasn't until the halfway point that a couple of the guys started to feel the effects of the heat and early race pace. Ryan Horkey and Joe Meiser decided it was best to take a bit of a rest in the shade after 100 miles. Tim "Eki" Ek and Jason Gaikowski had rolled on through and kept on pushing the pace. A lot of riders were lost to the pit of despair known to cyclists as DNF at the halfway point. Already the heat and hills were claiming the souls and legs of would be DK finishers. And the day was just under way and only getting hotter...and hillier.
Nick was possibly the least experienced on the gravel, but not a stranger to the bike. Nick has conquered routes such as the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. I was certain that if he could handle those cobbles then he could master our flint rock. After 100 miles he was following his plan to perfection. Good hydration and steady pace. Since Nick had taken his time on the first century he was able to capitalize on the fundamental principle of a classic fable that most riders had forgotten or simply ignored. Nick was able to leave the halfway feeling pretty fresh and did so ahead of a ton of people that had come in faster than him. After all, this is a 200 mile race. There are no prizes for first to the halfway point.
Photo courtesy of Jason Boucher
I can only assume these guys were waiting on a ride. There is usually no coming back from a break of this nature.
On the third leg trouble really set in for any riders still out on course. A random thunderstorm decided it was time to roll up on the hapless racers. As only Kansas can produce the storm brought cloud to ground lightning, torrential down pour, hail, and the threat of tornadoes. Hmm...the forecast called for 10% chance of rain. At least heat would no longer be a problem. But, they faced a foe of equal tenacity, mud. I've been to the east coast, and I assure you that mud is rideable. This mud is like quick mix concrete. Attempt to pedal through it and your bike will stop dead in it's tracks and instantly weigh 50 lbs. Kansas did it's best to prevent being conquered. But, in the end Jason, Eki, Nick joined 65 total finishers that all powered through these obstacles to best the 2011 DK200. Congrats fella's!
After sending these guys home for some much needed sleep my night was not over. I had already seen Randy come home in 16th overall and 2nd in the master's a class. I nearly lost my mind when he finished I was so proud of him! Then Scott bested 200 miles of torture as well. But, at about 2:30 in the morning Jed and Garret came across the finish line. I know the feeling of beating this race and I couldn't have been happier for all of them.
In the end that's what this challenge becomes. Beating the race, not the other riders. The other guys and gals may start as your competitor, but when you're out there on the road they instantly become your life support. Often being instrumental in reaching the finish alive. Or at least crucial in enjoying the day, finishing or not. I think most people would agree that is what makes this race so amazing and special.