Amity Rockwell Talks Dirty Kanza, Beer, Signing Hats, pour-overs, and truckee

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Amity Rockwell rode herself into the hearts and minds of the United States gravel scene with a resounding solo victory at this year’s Dirty Kanza. To be fair, she had already proven herself on the national scene with increasing solid performances over the few short years since she began her dirt career. But DK was confirmation that she has arrived, and is here to stay.

We sat down with Amity to chat about her season, and all the other variables that fall into place in the life of a professional gravel bike racer.

Rattle off your wins and podiums on the year.
Fourth at LandRun 100, 1st – Sweetwater Grasshopper, 2nd – King Ridge Grasshopper, 1st – Dirty Kanza, 1st – Old Growth Classic.

This was a breakout year for you. Name the most important factor that contributed to that.
I know DK is a big deal, like the biggest deal. But I don’t really see this as a “breakout” year so much as the continuation of a trajectory I started a few years ago. I definitely undervalued race experience in my early days of racing and this year, witnessed experience pay off so many times. In strategy, in patience, in managing disaster, in remembering to eat and drink things, and in preparation. Also just letting myself believe that I actually belong up at the front of a race. 

You have spent the year on the Easton Overland team. Tell us about the dynamic and support within that family.
Oh jeez. I knew I was onto something good when I joined but I had no idea the lengths Easton would go to to ensure a good year for me. I haven’t had a single Easton component fail me ever in any way, and that’s not even the half of it. I built so much confidence off knowing I was riding the best stuff but also in knowing I had all these rad people who believed I could go out there and do things too, and that was invaluable. Matt Hornland flew to so many events with me and looked after every detail and then some, and then he got up and lined up to race as well the next morning. I can’t imagine having pulled off Kansas without that family to lean on. 

You are now living in Truckee California. Tell us about what a normal day looks like for you there.
Truckee has done so much for me. None of the riding here is chill, yet it’s the kind of challenge that keeps you coming back and wanting to improve. During the season I was trying for a certain number of hours per week, so most days I’d wake up and make a nice breakfast and head out— almost every time involving at least one opportunity to get very lost. I don’t really go out on the bike here without a charged phone, extra snacks, and maps downloaded. Afternoons are for recovery and emailing people to beg for things and arranging travel for races. Evenings are spent hanging out at the docks with maybe a book or some good company, making a nice meal or baking some sourdough. Now that it’s offseason, there’s less riding for training purposes and more just messing around on a mountain bike or running, or finally getting to some personal projects that I didn’t have the time for in summer. It’s certainly a slower-paced life here than my San Francisco existence but it’s a welcome change, and I have already felt it shape my riding for the better. 

You have recently taken to spending more time on the mountain bike. Why?
I should’ve started with mountain bikes to be frank. I’ve always loved how cycling is an endurance sport but about so much more than pure fitness. Mountain bikes take this concept even farther. So little of mountain biking is about putting down crazy watts; it’s about perfecting technique, scaring yourself a little bit, surmounting things that look impossible the first time. I think with road and gravel I always had the fitness and in a sense they came really naturally to me because of that. Mountain bikes challenge me like nothing else. I’m the farthest thing from a “natural” but I find few things more motivating than being bad at something and having to work for it. Plus you can get way more lost on a mountain bike. 

In your aspects of training on the bike, do you tend to lean towards serious structure or less structure and more fun? And why?
I’ve always prioritized having a nice time. I see bikes as tools for exploration first and foremost, and it was the sheer volume I was putting in as a “casual” rider that initially made me fast in races. Most of my structure comes from using Whoop (HRV analysis) to tell me how much strain I’m under and then how recovered I am and how prepared I am for more strain. This, plus a knowledge of when I have to peak, guides my decisions for how far and how fast. And then every now and then (not nearly often enough) I’ll do some hard interval efforts, always uphill. I’ve tried having a coach but I find my desire to ride is stronger when I wake up not knowing what’s in store for that day. 

What is your primary source of morning caffeination?
I make a pour-over every single morning, either v60 or Kalita. I love the ritual of it.

Beer or wine or whiskey?
I’ve never been much for hard alcohol. I will nurse a single beer for two hours and still manage to end up slightly drunk at the end. 

What was your single favorite experience of the 2019 season?
I don’t have an answer for that. It’d be easy to say Kanza, and that’s up there, but I feel like that doesn’t do justice to all the little shared moments amongst friends that had realistically very little to do with racing at all. 

You are the queen of Kanza, so everyone wants to know about it.  What was your darkest mile out of the 200 miles?
There were no truly dark times, comparatively speaking. I think that’s partially why it worked out. I just kept feeling better. I hate the rollouts at these things, as I’m never aggressive enough to maintain a good front position, so honestly the most I kicked myself in that race was probably around mile 20 when I knew I was drifting backwards in the field and couldn’t do much about it. Things steadily improved for the next 180 miles. 

Tire pressure?
Ooh, contentious question. 38 psi in both, 40c tires. That’s pretty high for a small person like myself but conditions were good and last year I hit a rim hard enough to crack it and wasn’t risking that again. 

Do you remember the specific moment when you realized that you were going to win?
I didn’t let myself believe it till I crossed the finish. I know anything can happen in Kansas— a devastating flat 5 miles out, a crash, a wrong turn. Not to mention the comeback abilities of a certain Alison Tetrick. There is a right hand turn up the very last hill, behind the campus there, that was the same as the year before, and I knew how close it was then. That’s probably when I let myself first entertain the idea of a victory. 

First food that you ate after crossing the line?
I was so sick. I’d been puking from the heat for the last 70 miles. Probably two full hours after coming in, Allen Lim made me a bowl of plain white rice with some olive oil and salt that I scarfed down. 

First drink after crossing the finish line?
Water. An entire bottle in like .45 seconds. Chased by some GU Roctane recovery mix. 

Name one way in which winning Kanza changed you or your life.
I think maybe I can stop putting the word “semi” in front of professional cyclist. Also I was asked to sign a hat once, that was cool. 

Name four races that you have done this year that were ideal for the ALLROAD. And name four races that you did this year that were ideal for the ABLE. And why.
ALLROAD: SBT Gravel, BWR, Sweetwater and King Ridge Grasshoppers, Crusher in the Tushar— these are races that either feature a significant amount of pavement or have the nicest hard packed fast rolling gravel. Or have enough climbing that I want a responsive lightweight race bike, with the feel of a road bike but the handling capabilities and tire clearance for a little more fun and peace of mind. 
ABLE: Dirty Kanza, of course. Less than 40c there is not smart, and the handling of that bike is snappy but solid enough to not tire you out over super long distances. Rebecca’s Private Idaho and Skaggs Grasshopper, because of all the singletrack. Old Growth Classic, because there’s some crazy terrain out there and you gotta have a little more comfort on the descents.

A quality human being doing unconventional things on the bike, and acting as a great ambassador for this thing we all love so much. Her being fast is just gravy. #ALLIEDfamily