A Divorce in the Gravel Family

The path ahead might well be rocky. (Photo, midsouthgravel.com)

Most of us learned on Fathers’ Day of Jim Cummins’ firing from the race he fathered.

Cummins helped establish the Dirty Kanza back in 2006, and he fostered the race’s explosive growth in the years that followed. In the process, he helped make Emporia, Kan., one of the gravel family’s cultural hometowns.

Cummins can take a good gardener’s share of credit for tending gravel’s growth. And he harvested a profit when he and the race’s co-owners sold the Dirty Kanza to Life Time for an undisclosed amount a couple of years ago.

Gravel racing has grown into a real beaut. (Photo, goodfruitandvegetables.com)

Life Time kept Cummins as the popular race’s public face. While Cummins has spent plenty of time in cycling’s public eye, I’ve only recently learned his personal politics were (to stick with our gardening theme) the sort that can make a cucumber blush.

He said what? (Image, Larry the Cucumber, “Veggietales”)

Cummins is free to think and say whatever the hell he wants. And Life Time is equally free to be grossed out by public expressions that run counter to its values, and sever ties with him.

The Fathers’ Day timing of the divorce sent this gravel kid’s thinking down paternal paths. While I don’t know Cummins personally, it did feel to me like gravel racing had lost one of its original dads.

Now, plenty of my gravel siblings feel differently about the loss, saying it’s not Cummins who has fallen, but his race. And they are done with DK.

For others, the divorce stirs back up previous gravel family fights. And tension over the race’s name has seeped into view again, like the tired weeping of an unclean wound.

The human battery, Alexandera Houchin of the Fond du Lac Nation, sealed the deal for me when she said, “If I ever heard of a race called ‘The Dirty Chippewa,’ I would fight, tooth and nail until it was history.” (Photo, Rugile Kaladyte)

On this point, I’m happy to report that DK’s codirectors LeLan Dains and Kristi Mohn have made it clear a new name is coming.

Bobby Wintle directs the Mid South, which underwent its own transformation of conscience early this year. “Obviously, [the race organizers at Life Time] want to do this, they’ve made that call,” Wintle told VeloNews. “Let’s give them a moment to breathe and collect themselves and move forward in a way they’re proud of. In a way that represents Emporia and how they’ll move forward.”

That’s some sound gravel-family counseling, right there. It’s advice I’ll do my best to adopt with every rider I come across for the foreseeable future in this jaw-rattling year of hurt and loss and transformation.

With our country hemorrhaging millions of jobs, I don’t celebrate Cummins’ dismissal. I say only that it’s the job of every parent to work ourselves out of our jobs—to lift up a generation that has every tool necessary to be just fine without us. And it is the sign of a job well done by the current parents of our still-young sport that we could face such fissures as these with the full certainty that—whatever comes next—the kids are all right. Gravel cycling is going to be OK.

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