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Howes to tackle 355km route from Colorado to Kansas

US road race champion Alex Howes (EF Pro Cycling)
US road race champion Alex Howes (EF Pro Cycling) (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

EF Pro Cycling's Alex Howes will ride 355km from his home in Colorado to Kansas on Thursday as an "ode" to the postponed Dirty Kanza gravel race, which the US road race champion finished third at in 2019, and was due to ride again this Saturday.

The Dirty Kanza was originally set to take place on May 30, and Howes was again set to race it as part of his team's 'alternative calendar', with EF's riders – and Lachlan Morton, in particular – having started the trend last season of taking part in various off-road events in tandem with the WorldTour squad's usual road programme.

Because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Dirty Kanza has been postponed to September 12.

"The timing with that all worked out well," Howes said in a press release on Wednesday. "This is sort of an ode to Kanza. I mean, I don't think it would be a stretch to say that riding the Dirty Kanza was one of the coolest events I've done. I'd even go as far as to say that it was probably the coolest thing I did last year, and one of the coolest things I've ever done. So to have that postponed is a huge bummer. So this is what we're going to try to replace it with. This is just lighting a little sparkler here for Kanza."

Howes will ride the 355 kilometres in the company of a friend, and hopes to complete the distance – on "60-70 per cent" gravel roads – in around 12 or 13 hours.

"I've got a buddy here in Colorado who is basically at the same level of training I am, which is not a high level of training at the moment," Howes explained. "The guy's a wildcat. His name is Spencer Powlison. I kind of floated this idea out there, and I'd been hemming and hawing over it for a while. Then he got wind of it, and he was, like, 'Dude, if you do that, I'm coming with you.' And I looked at his quarantine schedule, and he's up in the mountains as well and equally hermited up. So I thought, 'All right, well, let's make some plans here.'"

Other than the desire to somewhat recreate the postponed Dirty Kanza, Howes said that he's doing the ride simply because it's something he's always wanted to do.

"I think every cyclist in Colorado has, at one point or another, experienced a windy day, and it's generally blowing east," he said. "You always think, 'Man, if I just pointed east and could find a way to get a ride home, I bet I could get to Kansas in three hours.' Unfortunately, I think it's actually going to be a bit of a headwind all the way there, but we have the time, so I thought, 'You know what? Why not? I'm going to ride to Kansas.'"

In terms of that much-needed ride home, Howes has enlisted his wife to meet him at the other end.

"She's going to drive out there. She said she had to go to Target to buy some things for her school presentation, and so I was, like, 'Well, the border of Kansas and Colorado is only two-and-a-half hours past Target, so you can just swing on over if that's okay.'

"And she's into it," said Howes. "She says as long as I put a cooler in the car, she'll bring the cooler full of drinks and a change of clothes and meet me at the border."

It will also be possible to follow along online with Howes and Powlison on their journey on Thursday via the EF Pro Cycling website thanks to the Garmin Explore mapping app, as Howes will be taking a Garmin inReach Mini satellite communicator along with him.

"Part of that's for the public, and part of that's for my wife, in case she decides she wants to come get us earlier," joked Howes.

The page also details the equipment Howes will use, and the provisions he'll be taking with him, as he hopes that it won't be necessary to stop to interact with anyone else due to the ongoing risks associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

"The idea and plan at the moment, and we'll see how it pans out, is to not stop to resupply, so we're going to have all our own food, and have a water filter in case we can't find any unattended spigots out there," he explained. "I have some water crossings mapped out where we could potentially pull some stuff out, but you never know how things are out there. But, yeah, we're hoping not to see anybody. That'd be great."