On June 4, more than 1,000 gravel riders from across the globe converged on the small American town of Emporia, Kansas, for a race that has positioned itself as the crown jewel of gravel racing.
As the name implies, the Dirty Kanza 200 traverses approximately 200 miles of rolling terrain through the Flint Hills region of central Kansas. (This year’s course was actually 206 miles, so competitors got their money’s worth.)
What started as a niche event 11 years ago now attracts big names who duke it not for cash payouts, but for bragging rights to the titles of the king and queen of gravel racing.
This year, former WorldTour racer Ted King decided to try his luck and came away with the win.
Many of his competitors crumbled under the oppressive midday heat and strong headwinds, including fellow Cannondale rider Tim Johnson and last year’s winner, Yuri Hauswald.
Even with his main rivals out of contention, it still wasn’t a smooth road to victory for the 33-year-old. King fought back from three flats, and unlike his days racing for Cannondale-Garmin in Europe, he was obliged to change them himself. “That was my first time changing a flat with a thru-axle,” King mused after the race.
Although the sharp flint this region is named after made short work of his tires, the rest of King’s setup performed as expected. While it might have been the engine of this recently retired — but still incredibly fast and fit — rider who won the day, the unique attributes of the Cannondale Slate aided King in ticking off many lonely miles on his solo effort to victory.
The most distinctive element of the Slate is the Lefty Oliver suspension fork. The Oliver provides a scant 30mm of travel — just enough to absorb road or trail chatter. It also features ample low-speed compression damping to minimize unwanted suspension movement when climbing out of the saddle.
“Not knowing what I was getting into, this was honestly the best bike for the job. The Lefty was super helpful. Any time it was loose I would open it up, even on flat sections,” King said of toggling the Oliver between open and locked-out modes.
On his 100-mile solo effort to the finish, he often left the fork fully open to absorb vibrations and small impacts. This allowed him to remain crouched over the front of the bike, with his forearms resting on the top of the handlebar in a gravel time trial position.
While much of this Slate was stock, modifications made specifically for the Dirty Kanza included a double-wrapping of handlebar tape, Schwalbe’s 650b x 38mm G1 gravel tires and more water storage.
King opted to use a hydration pack in addition to two bottles on the frame. “I heard that a lot of people lose bottles, so I took a Camelbak at every pit,” King said. “It was incredibly helpful.”
King’s Slate is outfitted with a SRAM Force CX1 1 drivetrain. Out back, there’s an expansive 10-42t cassette, which he paired with a 44t chainring mounted to 175mm SRAM crankarms with a Quarq power meter.
Overnight thunderstorms turned the first fives miles of the course into a quagmire, but King was able to make it through unscathed. He was particularly impressed with the ability of his Speedplay Syzr pedals to shed the thick Kansas clay.
“I’m riding more off-road these days and they did great in the mud,” King noted.
When asked if he would do it again, King was noncommittal and still in recovery mode.
“I’m going to give it some time — it was absolutely brutal,” he said. “Maybe a month from now I’ll be less sore and more stoked. That said, it’s a phenomenal event and there’s something to be said about defending a title.”
Recently retired WorldTour rider Ted King may have found his next calling as a gravel racer. King rode away with the overall win at this year’s Dirty Kanza 200
Complete bike specifications
- Frame: Cannondale Slate, size XL
- Fork: Lefty Oliver, 30mm travel
- Stem: Cannondale C1, 110mm
- Handlebar: Zipp SL, 44cm
- Brakes/shifters: SRAM Force CX1 Hydraulic Disc
- Front derailleur: N/A
- Rear derailleur: SRAM Force 1
- Cassette: SRAM X1, 10-42t
- Chain: SRAM PC-1170
- Crankset: SRAM with Quarq power meter w/44t chainring
- Pedals: Speedplay SYZR
- Front wheel: Lefty 50 hub laced to 28h Cannondale Slate alloy rim w/DT Aerolite spokes
- Read wheel: Formula 142x12mm laced to 28h Cannondale Slate alloy rim w/DT Aerolite spokes
- Front tire: Schwalbe G1, 650b x 38mm
- Rear tire: Schwalbe G1, 650b x 38mm
- Saddle: Fizik Tundra
- Seatpost: Zipp SL
- Computer: Garmin Edge 1000 w/Bar Fly mount
- Accessories: Cycliq Fly12 HD camera / light