Dialed in for the Garmin Dirty Kanza

We prepare for a unique technical challenge

“The biggest thing is that I want the guys to be confident with the preparations and to have fun with it.” 

– Tom Hopper, EF Education First Pro Cycling mechanic and alternative race program director

In a few days, Alex HowesAlex Howes, Lachlan MortonLachlan Morton, and Taylor Phinney will face a distinctive challenge unlike any other that EF Education First has taken on so far this season. Dirty Kanza will test riders with two hundred miles on rough, remote roads, and it will require unique preparation.

“This race, I would say, is more along the lines of an adventure ride than any sort of race,” says Tom Hopper, the team’s mechanic and director for its alternative race program. Hopper has been hard at work dialing in the tech for the EF Education First trio ahead of Saturday’s roll-out, and will come to Kansas to support the team as well. “The biggest thing is that I want the guys to be confident with the preparations and to have fun with it.”

The trek through the Flint Hills of Kansas will take Howes, Morton, and Phinney over long stretches of gravel, and at various points the course will feature surfaces even less tame than that. Some sections hardly resemble road at all. Others cross right over – or through – creeks and streams.

The varied terrain calls for a versatile ride—namely, Cannondale’s cyclocross bike, the SuperX. In addition to ‘cross bike geometry and handling, the ample tire clearance will be critical to a successful day at Dirty Kanza. The EF Education First trio will be running Vittoria Terreno Dry tires at between 38 and 40 millimeters in width, running pressures between 40 and 60 PSI. Those tires will be mounted on FSA AGX gravel wheels.

“Having that large tire and trying to prevent as many flats as possible, that’s going to be the key to start,” Hopper says. Hopper expects a file tread pattern to provide optimal traction, at least with the current weather forecast, which should see a relatively dry race.

The prep for Dirty Kanza runs far deeper than bike and tire setup. Across so much tough terrain, Dirty Kanza features just two checkpoints at which riders can refuel and reload.

There will be no team car in a caravan just behind the riders waiting to lend a hand. Howes, Morton, and Phinney will have to be their own mechanics for most of the afternoon. As the Dirty Kanza manual informs participants in capital letters, YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOU. That means meticulous planning ahead of the race to dial in exactly what to bring along for the ride. 

The team will rely heavily on Garmin Edge 1030 head units since the long day out is unmarked as well. As all riders are required to carry a form of tracking device, the team will use Garmin’s inReach Mini. POC’s new Omne Air lid will keep the riders fast and safe, and Phinney, for one, plans to carry a full Silca frame pump. 

“Since the guys got back from the Tour of California, we’ve had them out on their bikes with a bunch of different Rapha frame bags,” Hopper says. “Top tube bags, the larger frame bags that go underneath the top tube, different-sized saddle bags, just trying to figure out, ‘What can I carry? What can I easily access when I’m riding?'”

Each rider’s inventory will include his preferred tools for fixing a flat or other minor mishaps, an assortment of Skratch Labs and Maurten nutrition and hydration products to stay fueled until the next checkpoint, and, of course, a paint stirrer.

It’s not the first thing you’d expect to see nestled into a bike rider’s jersey, but a little wooden stick or brush can be used to clear a frame of mud, even on-the-go, when stopping and dismounting in the muck would only make things worse.

“In some of these sections, there’s so much clay in the mud, you can get pretty stuck,” Hopper says. “If you have some kind of stick or brush where you’re able to continue riding but clear the frame where that mud is building up, that can be a lifesaver.”

When the riders do arrive at the checkpoints, Hopper will be ready to greet them, addressing any serious mechanical issues and restocking at a “buffet table” of supplies.

“The frame bags, additional food, water, everything is going to be ready to go,” Hopper says. “We’ll have everything almost like a drive-through: They’ll roll up, we’ll give them everything they ordered, and send them on their way.”

Those orders could include some unconventional nutritional options. 10 to 12 hours on the bike will require some serious fuel. Morton already knows he wants to be surprised with something delicious halfway through the race. The way he sees it, a BLT sure would be nice after three hours of eating rice cakes.

Add “finding a sandwich shop” to Hopper’s to-do list. An adventure ride indeed.

All the preparation will be put to the test soon. Howes, Morton, and Phinney will roll out from Emporia, Kansas on Saturday alongside more than two thousand other participants with one long and grueling – and hopefully fun – day ahead.