Local riders demonstrate growth of cycling at Dirty Kanza

photo by: Contributed photo

Charles Hughes, Henry Nelson and Will Shultz (left to right) pose for a photo at the Dirty Kanza in Emporia on June 2, 2018. All three riders finished in the top four of the freshmen/sophomore division during the first high school race of the event.

Earlier this month, there was plenty of local flavor at the top of the leaderboard in the Dirty Kanza.

Will Shultz, who will be a junior at Free State High School, won the bicycle race in Emporia with a strong performance. Shultz was joined by a trio of Lawrence riders to sweep the top four spots of the freshman/sophomore division.

In addition, Oona Nelson, of Bishop Seabury, won the girls race in the same division.

“That day felt really good,” Shultz said. “We did some longer races earlier in the season, so we felt good.”

The Dirty Kanza, which has been going on for 13 years, is a popular race that managed to feature over 2,700 riders this year. However, this summer was the first year that the event held a high school race in an effort to bring more youth to the sport of gravel racing.

Shultz made history by winning the first such race, which was a 32-mile course marked by loose gravel and high winds. Freshmen and sophomores competed in one division, while juniors and seniors competed in another.

Bishop Seabury’s Henry Nelson, who is the older brother of Oona, sealed second in the same race via a photo finish. Charles Hughes, who will be a sophomore at FSHS, placed third in his category and fourth overall. Harrison Hartzler, of Bishop Seabury, claimed fourth in the event to round out the group.

The strong showing demonstrated the sport’s importance in Lawrence, as it continues to grow in the area at the youth level. In fact, Bishop Seabury plans to add a cycling team to its athletic program this fall.

“We have quite a few people interested,” Hartzler said. “Eric Nelson, our athletic director, has been working hard to get that set up. I love it, it is pretty cool.”

But it also showed how far each rider has come since first picking up the sport.

Shultz tried racing four years ago, and ended up with a victory in his first event. He then competed in a race twice as long, ultimately running out of water before crossing the finish line. It was a good example of how drastic races can be in the sport.

“I think it humbles you,” Shultz said. “It makes you respect what the real world will throw at you. You don’t really know what is going to happen.”

Schultz has worked with a coach over the last two years, which has helped him make massive strides in the sport.

Hughes, meanwhile, does bike riding as more of a way to stay in shape. Hughes ran cross country for the Firebirds last fall, and will likely do it again this year. He also enjoys the scenery during his races.

“I like just getting outside and exploring Kansas,” Hughes said. “When you think of Kansas, you think of dull and flat. I think a lot of people don’t realize it is actually beautiful and not very flat at all.”

Hartzler also uses the sport to stay in shape, as he plays soccer for Bishop Seabury during the fall. The Dirty Kanza was the first competitive race of his career, but it is something Hartzler plans to do again in the future.

“I just have always been biking for a workout,” Hartzler said. “The course was hot and long. I had never really raced before, and never held a race pace for that long. I’ll definitely be doing this more often.”


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