George Piepgras recently took on Dirty Kanza 200 with his dad, Colin, after they both won entries in the Saris x Skratch giveaway. After finishing 30th, George told us all about his experience and what it was like to take on gravel’s toughest race with his dad.
By: George Piepgras, Dirty Kanza 200 Finisher
I became interested in cycling when I was a little kid through my dad. My dad has been riding bikes since he was in High School. When he was 19, my dad rode his very first mountain bike solo from Amsterdam, Netherlands, around the Baltic Sea to Helsinki, Finland. He slept in a hammock in the woods every night.
Twenty years ago, he moved to the East coast and kept riding mountain bikes for fun. He has been super influential in my cycling experience. He is the person that exposed me to the racing scene that I now love so much.
Colin, George’s dad, after finishing the Dirty Kanza
In 2011, one of his friends told him to go watch the Grand Prix of Gloucester, and the next year we both started racing cyclocross. My first race was when I was 10 years old, a junior 10-14 category, and I finished second to last. After that I fell in love with the sport, and over the years went from that first season where I raced once, to doing twenty-one races in 2018.
George’s first CX bike
I started racing gravel in 2016 when I raced the Rasputitsa Spring Classic and The Vermont Overland. From then on, I have done both of those gravel races every year. This year I also did the Guilford Gravel Grinder, in addition to Dirty Kanza.
Gravel has always seemed like something that is really cool. It is new, as far as the sport goes, and combines the best parts of road and cyclocross. The pre- and post-race environment at gravel grinders reminds me of the open and friendly scene at cyclocross races. The actual racing is more like road, and some tactics come into play. And of course, some of the gravel races are just wars of attrition.
George at Cyclesmart CX
Why Dirty Kanza?
I was not even seriously considering doing the Dirty Kanza until I entered the drawing for a race entry to DK put on by Saris and Skratch. I told my dad about the raffle and he entered too, and we both won! We decided we had to do it. And with it came a lot of panic training.
I think the original appeal to race Dirty Kanza was the fact that we both won the raffle, and you simply can’t pass up an opportunity like that. The other side of the appeal to do a race like DK was simply that it is the premier gravel race in the United States with some of the best riders in the world. It is the ultimate challenge and one of the few events where you can really find your limit.
I also cannot forget my mom! My mom is an integral part of my racing and events. She came to the Dirty Kanza this year and was the support crew for the rack for both my dad and I. She also made Allen Lim’s Skratch savory rice cakes, and other food for the race, and supported both of us. Without her it would have been a real challenge to complete the race.
George at the Dirty Kanza start
The Report from Emporia
At Dirty Kanza, I finished 30th with a time of 12:11:36. This was my first time doing this race and it was brutal. This was by far the hardest race that I have ever done and probably will ever do-- until I come back next year! I made some mistakes and did some things right, but this is a race that I do not think that is possible to get perfect the first time.
This year, the course was split up into two sections with only two feed stops at mile 60 and 150, plus almost 11,000 feet of climbing over the 201.3 miles. The race started at 6:00AM on Saturday in the center of downtown Emporia, Kansas, with over 1,700 riders.
I started near the front and was able to escape some of the early mishaps that occurred with so many riders descending on to narrow roads. I suffered riding with the pack up front and was able to conserve some of my energy when we hit the first technical section of the day. It was a steep and rough descent rutted by rain and truck tires that had now dried. People were crashing or flatting in the ruts and it took some commitment to get through that section clean.
After a minute the lead group regrouped, but it had dwindled considerably and was now down to around 40 riders. As the race went on people would pull to the side of the road to fix a flat and the group continued to thin. At around mile 54, a steep climb and an attack from the front of the lead pack split the group even further.
12 hours and 11 minutes later, George is an official Dirty Kanza Finisher
I realized the folly in trying to stay up front and let myself get dropped from the group and rode into the first feed with five other riders in 39th position overall. I ate a sandwich, switched my bottles, drank a coke and rolled out of the feed stop in under 5 minutes.
The middle section was the hardest of the entire race with the most unkempt gravel roads, a few super technical sections, huge rolling hills and steep climbs. At this point the sun was out and in full force and I was starting to not feel that great. I struggled for the next few miles and then finally found a good group to ride with.
After a few hours though, I was fully cracked. I rolled into a neutral water stop to refill my bottle and then kept on going. I did this again at mile 120 at another water stop and then dragged on to the feed stop at mile 150.
By this time I was out of food and drink mix. I was dehydrated and the sun and the temperature was getting to me (my computer said it was in the low to high 90s in the middle of the day). By the time I got to the second feed I was in 52nd, completely out of it and not feeling that great. I ate some sandwiches and pickles, had another coke, took three salt tables, and shoved an ice sock down my jersey.
When I left the second feed stop, I felt better than I had when I had stopped at mile 40. I charged all the way to the finish and was able to make up 22 spots in the process sealing the top 30 riders.
Reflecting on the day, I realize that I made some big mistakes. I did not have enough food on me for the middle section of the course and did not drink enough at that time either. I am really looking forward to coming back next year and fixing those mistakes.
Overall, I had a really good race: I had a sub 13 hour time, did not flat, and did not crash. More than 550 people didn’t finish due to wrecks, mechanicals and heatstroke and I feel fortunate not to have met any of those ends. I am really excited to come back to this awesome event in beautiful, hilly Kansas next year and try and do better!
George Piepgras is a 17 year old cyclist with New England Devo primarily racing cyclocross and gravel, with road and MTB mixed in. Some notable results from 2019 are 7th at CX Nationals and 30th overall at the Dirty Kanza 200. He is a rising senior with a strong interest in the sciences at Saint John's Prep in Danvers, MA. When he is not training or studying, he works at Marblehead Cycles where he loves to sell and work on bikes. He lives in Swampscott, MA with his family, dog, and cat. You can follow him on Instagram @george_piepgras.