Sometimes it just takes a little nudge to get people to do extraordinary things. In the case of Jay Petervary of Idaho, all it took was an email.
A veteran of four Dirty Kanza 200s heading into 2018, Petervary got an invite to race the inaugural 350-mile DKXL last year. He said yes, as long as his wife Tracey would join him on a tandem. The two completed the ride, and at the finish, Petervary had clear thoughts about it.
“At the finish, I thought, ‘I’m never going to do that again,'” he said. “And I don’t say that often, even for multi-day, multi-week events. I’m usually pretty jazzed for what I do.”
Fast forward six months, and well, you know what happened for the seasoned endurance racer.
“I said I wasn’t going to do that again, but when the email came with a message from Jim Cummins saying, ‘You did it last year, you have first dibs if you want in,’ I was like, You know what, I want to do it solo to basically grab a different experience,” Petervary said.
Petervary was at the start of the DKXL on Friday afternoon in Emporia, and the choice proved to be a good one. Petervary controlled the pace of the 350-mile from the get-go and went solo around Mile 100 to take the title at the second-ever DKXL.
Although Petervary was cruising, the win was not without its moments of tension. There are no pit crews or checkpoints for the DKXL, and riders’ only chances to stock up on supplies are at six gas stations along the route. The biggest stretch without one occurs through Friday evening, with no stops between Mile 111 and Mile 204.
Petervary, it turns out, was going a bit too fast. “I got pinched at that 96-mile gas station,” he said. “It was supposed to open at 4 a.m., and I got there at 2:30 a.m. I kind of knew I might miss it because I was moving fast. I was like, If I beat that time, I am cruising right now, and I need to prepare to make it farther.”
“I stuffed a Red Bull and some M&Ms in my back pocket at the previous gas station, making a promise to myself not to eat it until I made that 96 miles. When I got there, I was basically out of water, so I just chugged the Red Bull and ate the candy and rode the 35 miles to the next gas station.”
Petervary’s experience also paid off when he ripped a sidewall in the last 100 miles of the race. With 5 previous Dirty Kanzas under his belt, he knew what to do. First, boot it with a gel package, then, stay calm.
“The bottom line is that fixing a flat or changing a tire should be accepted as part of the game,” Petervary said. “People will get down from that stuff, and the reality is everyone is getting flats. Don’t eff around, don’t let it mess with your brain. I’ve seen it happen to people in front of me. They flat and all of a sudden they’re just completely out of it mentally. It’s like, ‘Dude, fix it, everyone is going to flat.’ If you’re quick about it, it’s a couple minutes. Be prepared.”
Similar to Women’s DKXL winner Lael Wilcox, Petervary is an accomplished multi-day endurance racer. Although he has never won the Tour Divide Grand Depart, he set a then-record with an Individual Time Trial of 15 days, 16 hours and 4 minutes in 2012. Next up for Petervary will be some much-earned time at home in beautiful Idaho before he heads to Krygyzstan to defend his Silk Road Mountain Bike Race title.
I caught up with Petervary in between the rain and him mowing his lawn last week. You can read a transcript of our conversation below.
For more from Emporia, see all of our coverage of the 2019 Dirty Kanza.
Interview: Men’s DKXL Winner Jay Petervary
Cyclocross Magazine: What’s your background in ultra-endurance gravel, I guess we’re calling it?
Jay Petervary: I come from more of a bikepacking background, but I’ve been playing around with gravel racing for a long time too. I’ve been bikepacking since like 2006 doing long-distance cycling off-road, Tour Divide kind of stuff. Those are really just big gravel rides.
Then it wasn’t too far after that I started doing gravel races. I’d say I’ve been around since the beginnings of it, and I’m not a stranger to it by any means. The distance of 350 miles is kind of perfect for the DKXL. It’s different in a way that it’s not for true gravel racers. Two-hundred miles is long for most people, so 350 miles is a different mentality in general.
Then people might think, ‘Oh, that will be good for a multi-day athlete, bikepacking-style or super-ultra stuff,’ but that’s not good either because it’s still based on a 10 miles per hour average as a cutoff and you can’t really sleep, so you have to keep moving. Three-hundred-fifty miles in one clip is a unique thing and tough to do physically.
This year was my sixth Dirty Kanza. I’ve done 4 200s and this was my 2nd DKXL. I’ve done both the XL and the 200 on a tandem with my lady. I guess you could say I’ve had some experience with it.
CXM: So you did the XL on a tandem last year?
CXM: How did that go?
JP: When I got the invite for the first XL, I was like, I’m not sure if I want to go ride 350 miles in the Flint Hills by myself. I know the exposure and what that’s all about. I was thinking about it and looked over at my wife and said, “You want to go rally this on a tandem? That could be a different experience.” She said yes, and that all happened, and when I finished, I honestly haven’t been that smoked in years. I’ve done some stuff, I would say, and for sure, I was really beat up physically. That was hard.
At the finish, I thought, ‘I’m never going to do that again.’ And I don’t say that often, even for multi-day, multi-week events. I’m usually pretty jazzed for what I do. So I said I wasn’t going to do that again, but when the email came with a message from Jim Cummins saying, “You did it last year, you have first dibs if you want in,” I was like, You know what, I want to do it solo to basically grab a different experience. I left last year thinking that it really beat me up.
To be honest, 350 miles is kind of an ideal distance for me. Everything I do I’m constantly testing myself. I thought it would be a good time to test myself at that distance in terms of my career and the races I’ve been doing. It made a lot of sense within my personal race schedule. I thought I could be pretty fit and ready for that, and I was.
CXM: It’s funny you say that because I ran into Neil Shirley right after the finish of the DK200 last year and he said, “I’m not doing the 200 next year. I’m going to do the 100 and enjoy the experience.” I saw him at the first checkpoint and was like, “Hey Neil, you said you wouldn’t be here!” He was like, “Yeah, yeah, I’m doing it.”
JP: Yeah, it was a good day for me. I’ve been traveling a bunch since February, so it’s been challenging to get things done from a training standpoint. Fortunately, I’m coming off a 1,200-kilometer bikepacking race in Italy that helped give me some fitness. It was kind of a scramble for me because I’ve been traveling so much. I was only home for 48 hours before I had to leave for DK again.
I had a bike with all fresh parts on it. I was trying to get out for 10-mile rides with my wife and geeking out on every detail because that’s the kind of guy I am. I changed my handlebar two times in those two days, going back and forth, waffling about my choice.
I love to play with parts and different setups. I really like a bigger bar for long-distance gravel rides. For 100 miles you can kind of take on that road position a bit, but when you’re grinding along for 350 miles at a good clip, it takes a different setup. The fatigue isn’t quite as heavy, but you still feel different.
In the end, I was really happy with the new gear and my choices. I was really comfortable on the bike. The geometry was super stable and really comfortable. I was running the Shimano GRX Di2 groupset, and I really loved that gearing, the 48/31t. I found I wasn’t shifting as much in my front chain ring as you might do with your standard 50/34t. It was fun to test that groupset out and the feel of it all. It’s really solid, like it’s designed for gravel.
It was a good day. It was hot at the end, but for the 350 we had a nice start at 3 o’clock on Friday. It was warm but not overly hot. It was a good temperature for efficient pedaling. Through the night I never changed or put on an extra piece of clothing, so there wasn’t any futzing around. It was a pretty clean ride, I would say.
I’m happy with it all, but it took me a few days to digest it all. I would say I was hyper-focused during the ride. I enjoy riding by myself because I can get into that head space, or whatever; hyper-focused, laser-focused. I really like to take on like warrior status and chug through the Flint Hills. I was by myself for a lot of it, just going for it. I can do that better when I’m by myself. Maybe it took about 100 miles to shake out before I was by myself.
Then my body did its thing. I didn’t eat and drink as much as usual. I walk a pretty fine line in general, and I would say I was doing that the whole race. I only brought two water bottles.
CXM: Oh wow.
JP: You’d see some of the folks out there with four or five water bottles on their bikes and they’re carrying a hydration bladder. My approach is just different. There are gas stations out there, and I’m okay pushing my body. If I run out of water, it’s like, ‘Okay, I have to go without water for 35 miles or something. Whatever.’ I had to do that, for sure. I was walking a line where it’s like, ‘Okay Jay hopefully you don’t crash and everything catches up.’
With the heat, it took a bit of a toll on me, but I didn’t slow down a ton. My numbers were super consistent throughout the whole ride, which was really good for me to know. It was a good ride. Now I leave with a good taste in my mouth, and I don’t know if I’ll go back again.
CXM: That is true, you win it once and you’ve got that to your name. What kind of bike were you on?
JP: I was on a Salsa Warbird. Arguably the first gravel bike out there, and it’s still an amazing bike.
CXM: Before the race, I picked up one of your competitor’s bikes and the thing weighed like 40 or 50 pounds, but it sounds like you took more of a minimalist approach. What did you pack in addition to the two bottles?
JP: When I look at the race, there are gas stations every 50 miles, give or take, so it’s a series of 50-mile races. Then there was one segment that was like 96 miles or something like that. For that one, I grabbed an extra water bottle and threw it in my jersey pocket. It was through the night too, so that strategy ended up working.
I got pinched at that 96-mile gas station. It was supposed to open at 4 a.m., and I got there at 2:30 a.m.
CXM: Oh no man.
JP: Yeah, I kind of knew I might miss it because I was moving fast. I was like, ‘If I beat that time, I am cruising right now, and I need to prepare to make it farther.’ I stuffed a Red Bull and some M&Ms in my back pocket at the previous gas station, making a promise to myself not to eat it until I made that 96 miles. When I got there, I was basically out of water, so I just chugged the Red Bull and ate the candy and rode the 35 miles to the next gas station.
You know, I’m comfortable doing that. It was fine, and I didn’t second-guess any of the decisions I made out there. It comes from a lot of experience. I’ll be 47 in 2 weeks, and I’ve been long-distance racing since I was like 22 years old. It’s been 25 years of doing this.
My strategy worked really well. I was reading the other riders and pushing it as I needed to. Things just clicked, and I felt good.
CXM: I was following the live tracker on Friday night a bit, and you were smoking it.
JP: We were cruising man.
CXM: I think you had Jake Wells with you early on, and it looked like you went solo after that. How do you start the race? Do you ride 15 or 16 miles per hour the whole way? Is it kind of a race at the beginning? How did it play out?
JP: I was asked that before the start. I said, “Well, I’m going to go hard from the start and push the pace and see what I’m capable of.” In general, with my style of riding, I got hold a pretty big tempo, just underneath threshold-level for a really long time. I’m okay with holding that for a couple hours or more. Five hours, six hours and waiting to see how it plays out. It’s the long game, and I’m just hoping the pace is just a tick above what others are used to. If I can stay super consistent with that, maybe I’m going to ding some armor.
Honestly, I think probably dictated the fast pace from the start, but that’s racing and that’s my style. I don’t wait and let other people dictate the race if I can. It’s just always been the way I’ve approached my riding. People who race and ride with me generally know that.
CXM: Yesterday I talked to Lael Wilcox, the Women’s winner. Like you, she knows a thing or two about ultra-endurance events. She said the course this year was gnarly. What did you think of the ride?
JP: Yeah, I loved it. Honestly, I’ve been there enough that I kind of know what it is. I’m the kind of guy who thinks rougher terrain is better. The harder, the better. All that stuff is an advantage for me. Being a little tougher helps. I can be a strong cyclist, for sure, but I think I also fall into that tougher category.
I like that style. It was a bit rough, especially after all those rains, but man, some of that stuff was so fast. When I see fast, dried-up, hard dirt, I’m going to drill it and maximize my efficiencies and power.
At the same time, there were long stretches of big, loose, sharp stones and rocks covering the road you’re trying to tip-toe over. But you don’t want to lose time in that stuff poking around. I like that because it becomes a more technical ride.
Lael was riding 2.1″s or something, so she could just plow through, but when you’re riding 38s, you have to watch your lines and be more careful. I love that kind of riding. I was already by myself, loving my ride, dictating my own power, not worried about someone else, but then you have to concentrate more on some of the rough stuff.
I ended up with three flats. There is no perfect tire for the Dirty Kanza. Every tire gets cut out there. I had a very sizable cut, and it haunted me. I had to boot it with a goo gel package and it got a little bit bigger. I ended up flatting 3 times in the last 100 miles.
I kept looking back thinking, they’re right here, they’re right here. That was part of my strategy too; I didn’t want to know anything. I didn’t have the app on my phone to see where riders were at. I obviously didn’t see anyone at the gas stations, and I had no idea what the splits were. I was running like a scared rabbit, that’s how I treated it. I think it was good for me not to know.
CXM: After attending for two years now, I think I would be wary of talking up one tire over another for Dirty Kanza because in the end, they all seem to end up with flats.
JP: Every tire gets ripped, man. It doesn’t matter. That’s why you really have to be conscious of the pressure you’re putting in your tires and let them give a little more. You don’t want to be super firm, you kind of need it to soak up the hits a bit. You need to pick your lines and know the more you ride there, the more you can read the material better. You start to understand that yeah, this is a sharp area, or this is okay.
But yeah, there’s no perfect tire for the DK. Honestly, I almost think the old-school Schwalbe Marathon-style, European touring tires that you cannot put a nail through might be the right call. We just want all that suppleness now.
The bottom line is fixing a flat or changing a tire should be accepted as part of the game. People will get down from that stuff, and the reality is everyone is getting flats. Don’t eff around, don’t let it mess with your brain. I’ve seen it happen to people in front of me. They flat and all of a sudden they’re just completely out of it mentally. It’s like, ‘Dude, fix it, everyone is going to flat.’
If you’re quick about it, it’s a couple minutes. Be prepared. Bring plugs and lightweight tubes. I brought three tubes, real tubes. Throw in a handful of plugs and some patches.
With the flats in the last 100 miles or so, I knew I needed to keep a level head. I knew Jake Wells was going pretty hard for it. Matt Acker, a previous winner, was there. All these guys were super respectable and super fast. And honestly, with 350 miles in one day, that isn’t in my wheelhouse. I’m better at the strategy over several days, while those guys are a bit sparkier than I am.
And I didn’t carry much. Like you asked me. I didn’t carry any food, I just had some Gu powder and gels and a few bars. Also a pair of sleeves and a rain jacket, so not much.
CXM: What pressure did you start at, and when you flat, how do you decide what pressure to pump them up to?
JP: I ride fat bikes on the snow a lot, so I’m super sensitive to tire pressures because it’s really a game of tire pressure in those conditions. I’m not a huge numbers guy though. People ask me, and I’m always like, “Feel feel feel feel.” I need to get on it and see how it feels. I know I did check them before I left. I was running new Teravail Rutlands that tracked awesome and cornered super well. I probably did 40, 41 psi in the rear and probably like 38, 39 psi in the front. I was pretty happy with that and was able to get loose when I needed to.
CXM: Yeah, that’s the fun part of riding, getting out there and letting the bike flat around under you.
JP: For sure. I had 3 CO2s with me and obviously blew through them and had to use the pump to top it off. When I had to put a tube in, I had to run higher pressures.
CXM: I’ve got kind of philosophical question for you. You look at the field of the DKXL, and it has folks like you, Dan Hughes and Corey Godfrey in it, some of the OGs of gravel racing are doing the DKXL whereas the DK200 is a race that is effing fast now. Where do you see the future of gravel going in terms of length? More ultra events, shorter rides?
JP: In general, DK is just a very unique thing. It can never be replicated, so it allows for certain things. It allows for this ultra 350-mile thing, but I don’t think we’re going to see more of that. We’ve really already had it for a while at races like TransIowa, and those events already prove that there aren’t a lot of people showing up.
I think the long ones are a passion-driven thing. For example, there’s a 400-mile race here in my backyard in Victor, Idaho; there are these events, but people call them bikepacking events. There are races that are 300 to 500 miles long that fall into the realm of bikepacking.
Honestly, I was a little concerned when the 350-mile races started because I wondered how people would relate them to bikepacking. The rule bases are different. You can’t draft in bikepacking, but in this event you can. People who were on the line at the DKXL last year know I was pretty vocal about being clear what the rules were.
Even the word self-supported can get funny. Self-supported in bikepacking is different than it is in the DKXL. Bikepacking is something that is near and dear to me, and I think it’s important to know the history of events and how they change over time because that’s how we got to where we’re at and how we keep grassroots ethics.
In general, we’re obviously seeing gravel events popping up all over. It’s good. Ultimately, we just want to see more people in the sport and on bicycles. If gravel can help grow that in general, I think that’s great. Gravel is great because it’s accepting of everyone.
With all the events coming out, I’d say we’re starting to enter a realm of concern, but I think it will shake out. Gravel racing is coming from a grassroots level, so there are questions about if the WorldTour guys are changing it. Then there are events out there that are giving gravel racing a different personality versus what a lot of gravel racing has been known for. I think that will shake out among the race promoters and owners. What really comes out at events is the promoters’ personalities.
I think that’s good because we want to get new people in the sport, and gravel is very accepting and open for everyone. If newbies are really stoked about gravel, if they go to their first event and it has a more competitive feel and WorldTour-style focus, then I think that beginner rider is going to leave with a different taste in their mouth. I don’t think that is necessarily going to help us keep growing the sport.
CXM: You obviously tend toward one extreme, but one thing I think has been cool in covering a lot of races is seeing more and more of them offer short distances of like 25 miles, 30 miles. It seems like promoters are really doing a good job of inviting people to join the party.
JP: I think we’re in a good place right now. We’re really seeing it on the industry side too. The new [Shimano] GRX groupset is a huge thing. That’s a big development in the gravel segment. For a component company like Shimano to invest in it and do not just one grupo but go deep with a full line of stuff, I think it’s going to change bikes. I think it’s cool that there are still opportunities for the segment to grow and for people to try new stuff. I think people are still waffling between 650b and 700c, but that too will shake out over time. As a bike dork, it’s super fun.
CXM: One last question, what’s up next for you this summer?
JP: As I said, I came off a bunch of traveling since I went to Alaska in March. I’m going to stay home for a while here in Victor, Idaho. It’s in the Teton Valley. It’s a sweet area, it’s a good time of year to be here. It’s been a couple of summers since I’ve been here for a good stretch.
I’m going to do some focused training, and then my next focus is the Silk Road Mountain race in Kyrgyzstan in August. I did that last year, and it has a very close connection with me. It was the inaugural year last year, and there was a ton of press for it. I was actually the fastest person, I think I finished in about eight days. It brought back some of my original adventure racing and multi-day racing.
I’ll do some regional stuff or whatever; I can’t keep my nose too clean. But more or less, staying here in Idaho for the next eight weeks or so. Maybe work on some house stuff.
CXM: So maybe we won’t see you at DKXL next year? Maybe we will?
JP: Yeah, who knows. I’ve been doing it so long, it is kind of a reunion, so we’ll see.
CXM: Thanks for your time.
JP: You bet. Thanks man.