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Q&A: Kristi Mohn on the decision to cancel the DK

DK's marketing manager cites 'the safety of the cycling community and the Emporia community' as the reason to cancel the 2020 event.

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In a year when participatory cycling events have largely been erased from the calendar, there was still a modicum of hope that gravel’s marquee event, the DK (formerly called Dirty Kanza),  would happen on its postponed date of September 12. Nevertheless, the race team announced Tuesday that, in order to ensure the safety of the Emporia community, racers, and event staff and volunteers, the race would be canceled for 2020. We spoke with Kristi Mohn, DK marketing manager, about what went into the decision.

Kristi Mohn Dirty Kanza bike
Kristi Mohn has been an executive member of the DK team basically since the beginning. | Photo: Ben Delaney

VeloNews: What alternative scenarios had you been considering for the event?

Kristi Mohn: We’ve been meeting with the city regularly. We had looked at potentially reducing the field size. We had looked at wave starts, but that doesn’t really work for the 200-mile distance. So, we had some ideas.

Ultimately, when we saw cases start spiking again, it became clear that the best way forward for the safety of the community and volunteers and staff and riders was to put the breaks on 2020. Which is hard. It looks like things are getting worse again, and we needed to give people at least two months notice.

VN: So, it seems like there were just too many moving parts to make a successful event in 2020?

KM: The other thing is that we have to look at all of this as we plan for 2021. Now, we have time. For 2020 it didn’t seem like there was a solid alternative for the timeline that we had, which was to have the race September 12. Options kept coming off the table. They kept getting thinner and thinner.

Not only were there huge swings in cases in the country but also here in Emporia. We were looking at all of that.

Nobody wants to cancel DK. But it’s just become, ‘Ok, let’s regroup, let’s spend time on our DEI coalition, name change and figure out the best way to do this event in 2021.’

VN: Does the cancelation have anything to do with the name change?

KM: No, it was COVID-19.

But that doesn’t mean there’s some opportunity here, as well. This does give the team some opportunities in terms of the time we have, outreach we’re doing, and the connections we’re making. We get to focus on those, as well as continuing to have conversations in Emporia. We have to heal Emporia, too.

VN: So, what was the straw that broke the camel’s back?

KM: The safety of the cycling community and the Emporia community. For us, it’s absolutely both. Emporia has been a hot spot because of the industries we have here, and those are the people that are down at the finish cheering you on. All of it was going to look incredibly different if we were able to pull it off.

I keep telling people, if you want to see bike racing in 2021, wear your masks now and make your friends wear them. The better we do taking care of each other, the faster we can return to stuff like bike racing.

VN: Who helped make the final call? Did feedback from the Emporia community come into play when making the decision to cancel? 

KM: It was a collaborative effort with our Emporia team, city leaders, county leaders, and public health and safety.

The decision needed to come from the people who know more than we do, the people who are looking at trends, looking at patterns. The people that will give us the permit to close the street down or not.

I think the largest gathering right now in Kansas is 45 people. Will we be at bigger numbers in September? Maybe, but we can’t decide on September 10 whether or not we’re doing the event on the 12th. The timing of putting on something like this is just huge. Will there be another spike in cases from the fourth of July? We assume so but don’t know yet. These are things we have to consider.

VN: How much money is lost? What are the biggest costs that can’t be recouped?

KM: The financial implications are big, but with the postponement, we got super cautious with what we continued to produce, so we were able to mitigate some of it. But, there’s a lot, especially with the name change.

We stopped selling DK 2020 merchandise last Friday. All of that merchandise that’s been produced for 2020 is now on the shelf because we’ve committed to changing the name.

VN: Does the fact that Life Time owns the DK help in times like these? 

KM: The fact that we are part of the Life Time family does help because we have options available to us that we didn’t before.

This would have shut down the DK of 2018.

VN: What has the feedback been like from participants? Do you have initial numbers on deferrals vs refunds?

KM: So far, it’s mostly deferrals.

Everyone is overwhelmingly positive. It’s all heading in a good direction. People want to see this event happen in 2021, and so do we. You can see it in our cancelation notice — we’re acknowledging the fact that we’re dealing with a lot.

But, the one thing we’ve been dealing with this whole time is COVID-19. For me, one of the scariest realizations is that Mason [Mohn’s 22-year-old son] has several friends who’ve tested positive, and they’ve been totally asymptomatic. They would 100 percent be the people at the finish line cheering racers on.

Large events like this have some sort of level of responsibility. We have to take into consideration the people who might not know they’re sick who aren’t staying home. Even me, I have allergies, and now I’m wondering, ‘Should I go to work or stay home?’ I know why I’m sniffling, but still. That level of self-awareness is difficult.

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