As gravel events have grown in North America, their popularity has bled over into the upper echelon of cyclocross racing. Amanda Nauman first dipped her toe in the gravel waters roads in 2015 when she won her first Dirty Kanza, Jake Wells is now a DK200 vet and recently, Canadian Cyclocross National Champion Michael van den Ham gave gravel a go at the Land Run 100.

The Dirty Kanza 200 field will get another big cyclocross name this year when the 2017/18 Telenet UCI World Cup runner-up Kaitie Keough toes the line in Emporia, Kansas. Shortly after Worlds, Keough announced her intentions to tackle the 206 miles of gravel roads in Eastern Kansas.

Although her longest ride ever was 136 miles, Keough has a solid training plan in place. In February, she followed Katerina Nash’s advice and threw on some skis for the 31 mile American Birkiebeiner race in her home state of Wisconsin, and in May, she will be heading to Europe with her Cylance road team for a block of racing before her June date with destiny in Kansas.

We reached out to Keough to ask her about her decision to race Dirty Kanza this year, what bike she will be riding and how she is preparing for the long day of gravel grinding. And of course, we also had to ask how the Little Badger feels about her battle of the spirit animals against Amanda Nauman’s Panda.

Q and A With Kaitie Keough About Dirty Kanza 200

Cyclocross Magazine: Why did you decide to do DK200 this year?

Kaitie Keough: Cannondale and Cylance were supportive of it, my schedule allows for it and it sounds like a nice challenge, so why not?

CXM: Part you’re most excited about? Most nervous? 

KK: I’m excited for the entire thing. My Dad and his friend Byron are going to be my support crew. Back in his day, my dad raced Paris-Brest-Paris and Boston-Montreal-Boston and Byron was his support crew for both, so I am confident that I have a very experienced support crew when it comes to long distances like this.

CXM: Have you ever done a ride that long? Close? 

KK: The longest ride I’ve ever done was 136 miles.

CXM: What bike are you going to be riding? If you’re riding your Cannondale Super X, any changes you’re going to make? 

KK: I’m going to ride my Cannondale Super X. Not planning on changing anything.

CXM: Are you planning on running tubeless tires?

KK: We aren’t sure yet. We are currently looking at and exploring all options.

CXM: Have you changed your training at all for it? 

KK: Not really. This is the time of year I’m doing base miles and long hours anyways, so it works out well.

CXM: I saw you’re headed to Europe to race some road. Is that part of your training plan?

KK: I guess so. I am going there to race with my road team, Cylance.

CXM: Have you talked to anyone for DK200 advice?

KK: I had a phone call with my fellow Cannondale athlete Ted King. He provided some helpful insight.

CXM: I saw you did the Birkie this year … did you do a lot of skiing as training after ’cross season?  

KK: Nope. I skied once before doing the Birkie. I do it just for fun. It’s during my break, so other than the Birkie, I don’t do any physical activity during my break because it’s a time when my body needs to rest and reset.

CXM: You excited about the Badger vs. Panda match-up against Amanda Nauman? 

KK: Sure!

CXM: Finally, how is the US Cup-CX garage coming along

KK: It’s coming along great! Should be finished by the middle of May.

CXM: Thanks for your time! Good luck at Dirty Kanza.

KK: Thanks.

Stay tuned for more coverage of the 2018 Dirty Kanza 200 with the Little Badger, the Panda and many more gravel stars.