Top cyclocross and gravel racer Amanda Nauman faced a sprint finish after 206 miles to secure a three-peat at the Dirty Kanza gravel race, but ended up coming up just short against road pro Alison Tetrick. Cyclocross Magazine’s Andrew Yee caught up with Nauman for a quick interview to hear about her race, her dual-discipline focus and her upcoming cyclocross plans. Enjoy our Q&A below, and see our interview with 2017 Dirty Kanza winner Tetrick here.
Cyclocross Magazine: Heading into this year’s race, how confident were you in defending your title?
Amanda Nauman: I had a few setbacks, the primary one being my hand surgery in December, that caused an inkling of doubt as I worked on the training plan with Dave Sheek of Carmichael Training Systems at the beginning of 2017. It was hard to go from one of my lowest fitness levels in the past five years to peak condition for Dirty Kanza. But Dave worked his magic, I blindly stuck to the plan through highs and more lows, and in the end, I was 100% confident in my ability to win.
CXM: How much do you study start lists or follow other racers to see who’s doing what in terms of training, preparations or race results? Were you familiar with Alison Tetrick, and was she on your radar?
AN: I met Alison for the first time in Santa Ynez at the beginning of April. We were introduced there as fellow CTS athletes [who were] invited out for a course recon of the CTS Figueroa Mountain Gran Fondo, taking place in early November 2017. She mentioned to some of the coaches that she was considering Dirty Kanza, but with her road contract and schedule, I didn’t know if she was committed to it. As the Belgian Waffle Ride approached, I learned that she was gearing up for that event as a precursor to Dirty Kanza and that’s when she was officially on my radar.
The only other rider I knew about was Janel Holcomb who introduced herself to me at the Rock Cobbler in February. I think Janel is the first ex-professional road racer who is focusing on results at these longer events, in similar “retired” fashion to Ted King and Neil Shirley. They’re the first of their kind to create a lifestyle around being ambassadors for these gravel and Gran Fondo categories.
I was less concerned with those two, and more concerned with my own training and preparation this year, to be honest. The setback in January had me focused on comparing my training to the Amanda of 2016. I had a few amazing training blocks leading up to last year’s Dirty Kanza to use as motivation this year. Comparing myself to other competitors is a waste of mental energy filled with a lot of unanswered what-ifs. It was better and healthier for me to use tangible data to work towards.
“Comparing myself to other competitors is a waste of mental energy filled with a lot of unanswered what-ifs. It was better and healthier for me to use tangible data to work towards.”
CXM: Conditions change from year to year, but this year you beat your previous winning times, and broke Rebecca Rusch’s women’s record. How did your time and effort compare to your expectations? Even if second place stings, are you able to reflect on your ride with pride now?
AN: My power averages were higher and I did more work in the same amount of time as last year’s event. I came in more prepared and with more experience than last year, so my expectations were very high. That being said, losing by five seconds stung a lot. I was very disappointed and didn’t hide that emotion at the finish.
However, I’m very proud of the ride and the effort. It was everything I had in the tank, but it wasn’t enough for the final kick.
CXM: We’ve joked before the DK200 might end up being like a Tour de France climbing stage, with a favorite showing up with a number of support riders to shield her from the wind, help with mechanicals or food. As the stature of the event grows, is this slowly becoming true?
AN: Unfortunately, I do see this becoming a possibility in the years to come. Right now there is no prize money at most gravel events I’ve attended and I think it should remain that way.
If a rider wants to show up with a full team supporting his or her win, there’s nothing stopping [him or her] as it’s fully within the rules. Just as it’s fully within the rules to sit in a group and do zero work in the rotations. However, I do see both of those things being frowned upon because these events revolve around the self-supported and self-propelled nature of them. I’ve never ridden with a group of people during an event that let another rider sit in. We’re all in the sufferfest together and we’re not letting a rider hide from the wind for nothing. I believe the title and prestige of the event are still small enough that there hasn’t been a team, rider, or sponsor who has cared enough to push the limits there. We’ll see how that mentality plays out in the future and if that desire changes and more road tactics come into play though.
“Right now there is no prize money at most gravel events I’ve attended and I think it should remain that way.”
CXM: How much does Dave Sheek help you during the ride? Was there any possibility of him riding with you, waiting up during a flat and helping you bridge back up to the leaders?
AN: Someone started a rumor last year that I showed up with teammates to pull me to the win. That was 100% not the case and I have not thought of showing up to an event with people to specifically work for me. I think that’s the antithesis of gravel events and as I’ve stated before, I would hate to see it morph into just road tactics.
That being said, when I split my sidewall horribly last year, David stopped to help me boot it when he saw the Orange Seal leaking everywhere because he knew it would take me way too long to fix on my own. We worked together as a team and then with other riders on the road that day. David is good at motivating others to pick up the pace and get things working together as a group, but you will always see me doing work, taking pulls. Regardless, that was his decision last year and I ended up riding away later during the event when the heat and dehydration hit him.
This year I got a puncture or burped air out in the same area as last year and was completely on my own to fix it. It’s well within the rules to receive assistance from a fellow rider, but every predicament is going to have its own unique circumstances.
David won’t help me during the ride unless the situation is dire. On the other hand, David is my biggest source of help leading up to the ride. It’s important to note that his help has gotten me to the line first on many occasions, but it’s all behind the scenes with the work on my bikes and in Trainingpeaks!
CXM: You recalled you had a tire issue in the exact same spot as last year. Was it just one really bad rock, or the general area? Did you just have to air it back up?
AN: It’s the general area. There’s a 3-mile stretch of the course that runs through private land. Because it’s not a public-access road, it’s very lightly traveled and the gravel is exceptionally sharp and jagged through there.
Yes, I rode for a few minutes, dangling off the lead group, in complete denial that I needed to stop to reinflate. Luckily Orange Seal worked its magic. I still don’t know if it was a puncture or burped air, but there was Orange Seal residue on the tire at the end of the day. I hand-pumped it back up to what I thought was a good enough level. Apparently, that was only 20psi when I got to checkpoint one in the town of Madison, meaning I probably did a little more work than I needed to for about 30 miles on that low of pressure. My brain must have been on cyclocross pressure when I was guessing the squish!
CXM: How much did you and Alison ride together during the race? Did you talk at all? Were there any attempts to get away or to avoid a sprint?
AN: I caught her with a little over 90 minutes to the finish. I tried to detach myself from her five times during that time. I said hi when I caught her, but we didn’t exchange any words after that. [See Nauman’s fourth installment of her DK200 chronicles on the Niner Bikes website for a full recap of this battle].
CXM: Alison won on a suspended Cannondale Slate, and you’ve won Dirty Reiver on the Fox 32 Step-Cast AX suspension fork, but left it off for DK200. Can you explain the decision, and were there any second thoughts since that decision as to whether it would have helped?
AN: I don’t think the Fox 32 Step-Cast AX [Adventure Cross] suspension fork would’ve been a benefit in this event. The Dirty Reiver had some extremely gnarly descents and large-diameter gravel that made the fork an advantage over the course of the day there.
I’ve won the past two years [of DK200] without any sort of cushion in the flint hills, so I wanted to stick with that feeling and go with what I know. I also knew Tetrick was awfully strong and I needed any sort of power-to-weight advantage I could get! The Fox AX fork is a course-specific tool, in my opinion, and it gets the job done very well when you need it to.
CXM: Any more big gravel events before cyclocross season?
AN: I have a lot of friends urging me to do a few more gravel events, but I haven’t decided yet. It actually depends on how many spots USA Cycling will be allotted for the American World Cups in September. I finished out last season ranked 54th after skipping Nationals for hand surgery and sent an email to Marc Gullickson last week regarding the selections. I should be selected if the UCI allows the USA to have additional spots over the top 50, like [it did] the past two years for Vegas and Iowa. However, I haven’t heard back yet. The entire rest of my year will hinge on that answer because it will dictate training and travel leading up to it.
CXM: You excel at both 11-hour races and 45-minute cyclocross races, an impressive feat. Do you think you’re better suited for one over the other? What are the difficulties in pivoting between the two?
AN: Thank you, I appreciate that.
I was a competitive swimmer from the age of six all the way through college and trained specifically as a distance swimmer in my later years. I’m really good at staring at the black line at the bottom of a pool and just going. Thus, the endurance aspect comes naturally to me for these gravel events and training.
Fast-twitch, high-intensity burst, fast feet and handling skills are seriously four of my weaknesses. But for some reason, I just love the game of cyclocross. I love the challenge. I love that I kind of suck at all those things and it’s a constant journey to improve. I was never a sprinter in the pool and it’s quite obvious whenever I start training for ‘cross season that I don’t have the most snap in the field. But, I love it! I’m certainly better suited and built for endurance, but cyclocross is a labor of love.
“I’m really good at staring at the black line at the bottom of a pool and just going. Thus, the endurance aspect comes naturally to me for these gravel events and training.”
For ’cross, the foundation miles need to come in the spring and summer because the quantity of racing in the fall is so heavy. Most of the base needs to be done in these months where I’m training for the longer gravel events, so I make it work together. There are a handful of CTS coaches who can make that sort of training plan work.
I don’t know if I’d consider myself a professional cyclocross racer or a professional adventurer at this point but I’ll continue to pivot between the two as long as I have sponsors and people willing to fund the crazy panda dreams.
Nauman writes about her DK200 experience on the Niner Bikes website here. It’s worth a read. She also thanks her many sponsors for making her ride possible:
SDG Factory Team
Orange Seal Cycling
Carmichael Training Systems
Grimpeur Bros. Specialty Coffee