Ian Boswell is fighting for a podium position in stage 3 of the Migration Gravel Race, while an intriguing battle between Nancie Akinyi and Betsy Welch awaits. Boswell finished second behind overall leader Laurens Ten Dam in stage 2 after a disastrous first day, and is chasing Suleiman Kangangi and Thomas Decker on the 130km stage which involves 1300m of climbing.
Akinyi rode powerfully to win the Queen’s stage and now sits about 28 minutes behind Welch after the American won stage 1. Dutch duo Dorien Geertsema and Mieke Luten occupy 3rd and 4th position, and are locked at exactly the same time. The pair have ridden together throughout the race and will have to decide at some point who claims a spot on the podium.
Stage 3 is shorter and flatter than stage 2, but stage 1 taught riders to assume nothing and avoid complacency on the rough gravel roads of the Maasai Mara region.
Ten Dam extended his overall lead with victory in stage 2. Kangangi is 19.07 behind, with Dekker and Kenneth Karaya 57 minutes back. 1.19.30 separates Boswell from Ten Dam.
Akinyi and Welch appear to be the only contenders for the overall title in the women’s race, as Geertsema and Luten are about 2 hrs and 25 min behind Welch. But this is Africa, there are two tough stages remaining and anything can happen, as Boswell proved on stage 1 when multiple mishaps destroyed his day.
11 of the top 15 riders in the men’s field are from East Africa, while riders from Kenya and the Netherlands are expected to medal in the men’s and women’s categories. Will the USA also grab podium positions in both categories?
Boswell won Unbound Gravel in the US recently, outsprinting Ten Dam at the finish. He has ridden all three grand tours and has the pedigree to challenge any rider in the field. He currently sits in 5th overall, 1 hour from Kangangi, but only about 22 minutes behind Thomas Dekker in 3rd. Kenyan Geoffrey Langat also made a big move on stage 2, and at only 23 minutes behind Dekker, he will also threaten for a medal.
Nancie Akinyi won the Queen’s stage of the Migration Gravel race in 10 hrs 02min 24s and created an intriguing battle with Betsy Welch for the women’s overall title. Mieke Luten finished third after crossing the line with her compatriot Dorien Geertsema.
Akinyi broke away from Welch and the Dutch duo at the beginning of the stage before encountering problems,
“I went off course,”
By the time she rejoined the race, Welch, Geertsema and Luten had caught up. Akinyi surged again up the long, steep climbs and enjoyed a lead of about 10 minutes over Welch at the final check point.
“I’m suffering,” she explained, “I’ve had my ups and downs today.” She quickly refuelled and set off for the final climb.
Welch, meanwhile, was battling a philosophical conundrum as well as the exhausting terrain.
“Do I care, do I not care?” about winning, she asked herself while snacking and cursing her leaking water bottle. She of the sparkly spokes and pink bar tape said,
“My body hurts. I’ve had lots of struggles today, but I’m doing better,”
Welch won stage 1 convincingly, and finished about 14 minutes behind the Kenyan on stage 2. Luten and Geertsema, meanwhile, are riding together steadily and consistently. Welch still leads the overall, but Akinyi is coming after her.
Laurens Ten Dam has won the Queen’s stage of the Migration Gravel Race in 7hrs 12 min 55s ahead of Ian Boswell, Suleiman Kangangi and Geoffrey Langat after 3000m of climbing. The Dutchman extended the lead he established after winning stage 1 and is a strong favourite to win the overall classification.
Ten Dam attacked with 10km remaining after riding with Kangangi, Langat and Boswell throughout the 174km stage. He dropped Langat, then Kangangi and Boswell, and now enjoys a healthy lead over Kangangi heading into stage 3.
Ian Boswell redeemed himself after the disaster of stage 1. He crossed the line and said,
Having caught his breath, he then declared;
“I think gravel riding has reached it’s peak and adventure riding is the next thing, and this is an adventure race.”
Langat rode on and off the lead group after the final feed station, but could not hang onto his compatriot or the two former grand tour riders and finished 4th.
Ten Dam, Boswell, Kangangi and Langat broke away from the rest of the field at the base of the first major climb, and formed a formidable quartet. Kenneth Karaya, who finished 4th on day 1, was stuck a few minutes behind the leaders but was never able to make contact. At the first check point, he declined food and drink and powered through on his hardtail mountain bike after seeing the leaders stop for a few minutes to refuel. At the final feed station, he was still within 10 minutes of the leaders, and still riding alone. He eventually crossed the line with Thomas Dekker in 5th and 6th.
Karaya simply shook his head after finishing, while Dekker said,
“Steady climbing I can do, but I’m 10 kilos too heavy,” before checking his computer and adding,
“3100m is too much for a Dutchman to climb”
Trailing Karaya throughout the stage was another strong group containing Dekker, Jordan Schleck, Jean Eric Habimana, Edwin Keiya and the Masaka boys from Uganda, Kato Paul and Wasswa Peter.
Paul finished 7th just a few seconds ahead of Peter, while Keiya and Habimana completed the top 10. Schleck is one of a number of riders tackling the course on a hardtail mountain bike, and finished 11th, in front of Didier Munyaneza, Alvaro Galindo, Kenyan veteran David Kinjah and compatriot John Kariuki.
Boswell and Langat were the big movers on the Queen’s stage. Boswell showed his class after mechanical issues ruined his first stage and moved from 17th to 5th overall. Langat bounced back from 14th place and a 1hr 6 min time gap to Ten Dam, and sits 6th overall. Meanwhile, East African riders proved their resilience. The top 15 contained six Kenyans, three Ugandans and two Rwandans.
Two stages, two victories. Can anyone beat Laurens Ten Dam?
Peter Halliwell had been cycling for 4.30hrs. He had climbed about 1500m and had at least 1200m of climbing remaining before he crossed the finish line on stage 2 of the Migration Gravel Race in Kenya. However, when he reached the final check point and feeding station he declared,
“This might be the best day of my life.”
Was it the pain or the hunger; the thirst, dust, dirt, rocks, creek crossings or the aching muscles which brought him such joy?
Was it the sweeping views of the Maasai Mara region and the regular sightings of Kenyan wildlife? Was it the quiet satisfaction that follows self-inflicted exhaustion? Is it something only an endurance athlete can understand?
Whatever it was, the man from Great Britain was in great spirits before he tackled the final section of the 170km Queen’s stage which featured 3000m of elevation. His fellow riders also found delight in their struggles. Spanish pair Jose Maria Azcarate and Carlos Barzano have ridden together during the first two stages and were pleased to find patriotic red and yellow energy pills at the feed station.
“The red one is for riding,” declared Barzano, “…and the yellow one is for the nightclub later, for dancing.”
Compatriot Marc Roig, meanwhile, expressed concern. Problems with his GPS tracker prompted him to remark,
“My wife will be very worried.” Luckily he stood out in his polka-dot jersey, or what he calls his ‘Traje de Luces’, a term normally used to describe a bull fighter’s suit.
The most common sentiment among the riders was the brutality of the course.
“Feels like the kilometres are taking forever, especially after the six /$*&* puddles we’ve had to ride through today,” said Charlie Kimber. Betsy Welch, who was the first woman across the line in stage one, said simply,
“My body hurts!”
Kenyan veteran Davidson Kamau won the Tour du Rwanda road race in his prime and summed up the course succinctly,
Which is superior for gravel racing, a gravel bike or a mountain bike?
A gravel bike, obviously.
But is the answer really that obvious?
The fate of riders in the inaugural Migration Gravel Race in Kenya may have breathed life into a debate that most informed cyclists thought was dead and buried.
Laurens Ten Dam, Suleiman Kangangi and Thomas Decker filled the top three positions in the men’s field after stage 1, and Betsy Welch, Nancy Akinyi and Mieke Luten were the first three women. All six riders are competing on gravel bikes.
Fourth in the men’s field heading into stage 2 was Kenyan Kenneth Karaya, riding a hardtail mountain bike. Karaya was unable to get his hands on a gravel bike and, like many of the East African riders, is tackling the brutal 4-stage race on a hardtail MTB. Jordan Schleck of Uganda, finished 5th, and Edwin Keiya 8th. All are riding mountain bikes.
Most of the international riders, who hail from counties such as The USA, the Netherlands, Spain, Ireland and Great Britain, are riding high quality gravel bikes with competition-level components. Bikes that have proven their worth in tough gravel races and bike packing tours in other parts of the world.
But this is Africa.
The gravel roads are rougher and more punishing than many international riders anticipated.
Ian Boswell learned that the hard way on stage 1, and he was not the only rider. Boswell punctured more than once and spent a considerable amount of time attempting to repair his ride and get back in touch with the leaders. He wasn’t able to, and started the second stage 1hr and 17 minutes behind Ten Dam.
Numerous other international riders lost sight of the course when their GPS devices slipped off their handlebars on the unexpectedly bumpy and treacherous dirt roads of Kenya. Devices for securing bike computers which work in Europe or North America don’t necessarily work in Africa. Some riders strayed so far off track they enjoyed their own private wildlife safari along the animals tracks of the Maasai Mara.
That said, Schleck did not escape mechanical issues. A bolt fell out of the gear shifting mechanism on his hardtail, and he crossed the finish line at the end of day 1 with the shifting mechanism zip-tied to his handle bars. An African rider, on African roads, with an African solution.
Maybe no bike is tough enough for Africa. Is any rider tough enough for Africa?
Soft sand, sunshine and warm water were my reward for what I had endured the previous day, my first day in Rabat.
I’d been threatened.
The threat was vague, but direct, and it was to manifest itself today. I was nervous as I left the hostel, because the man who’d made the threat knew where I was staying and had promised to get me, but I swallowed my fear and walked to Rabat Beach to bathe in its refreshing waters.
Strolling to the beach through the heavy morning air of this fascinating city was not as enjoyable as it should have been, as trepidation settled in my stomach. I reminded myself to ignore my unjustified paranoia, but I couldn’t stop worrying.
The threat which jangled my nerves eventuated after a shopping trip to buy toothpaste and a few other simple items, including the shorts and towel I was taking to the beach.
My suitcase had been delayed on the flight from Nairobi via Dubai, and I had only heavy hiking clothes to wear during Morocco’s summer heat. The problem started when I got lost among the myriad street signs bearing the name ‘Muhammed’, which hampered my search for Avenue Mohammed, where I’d been told I’d find a supermarket.
I made the mistake of arriving in Morocco with no Arabic or French. I then made the fatal mistake of backtracking and criss-crossing a major intersection in my frustrating and sweaty search for the elusive supermarket. Local man Muhammed had found me, and had offered to help me find the shop. Little did I know that he wasn’t doing it out of the goodness of his heart.
Muhammed did guide me to a supermarket. I thought he’d leave me at that point and be on his way. His directness, self-assuredness and aggressive manner had put me off from the beginning, and I was frustrated and surprised when he followed me into the shop.
Once inside, he managed to upset the female staff, make a mess, draw attention to us and make me regret my decision to follow him. At one point, he raced off to menswear to find the shorts I was now wearing to the beach, and proceeded to throw pairs at me after holding them against himself like a Moroccan Mr Bean.
I did manage to buy what I needed, except for one essential item, but once we left the shop and started walking back towards my hostel, the problems began. Mohammed lit up a cigarette upon stepping outside, and he soon realised I didn’t need him anymore. This is when the demands began. He asked for a bottle of water. I bought one for him and one for myself.
Then he wanted beer.
“Have a drink with me,” he said in the same aggressive tone he’d used on the supermarket staff. It didn’t seem right to add alcohol to this situation, but he was insistent.
“Have a drink with me. I’ll call my friends. It’ll be fun. We’ll show you Rabat. Let’s have a good time. I helped you. I found the shop. I found you the towel…” he persisted.
“I’ll buy you some more water,” I offered.
“No!” he snapped, “No water!”
And he persisted with his demands for beer, which now included beer for his friends.
“Buy me dinner,” he then demanded.
“We have dinner together!” and by this point he was virtually yelling at me, ignoring the reaction of people nearby.
“We have dinner, I know a good restaurant.”
“I’ll buy you a snack,” I offered hesitantly. I knew I owed him something, but I was reluctant to keep opening my wallet, lest he see how much money I was carrying, for he knew the true value of the notes more than I did.
“Where are you staying, which hotel, what’s the name?” he demanded. I said nothing. One golden rule I had remembered is to avoid telling strangers the name of your accommodation.
“You’re staying at the hostel near the medina, aren’t you?”
Yes, I was, and he knew its name, but there was no way I was admitting that to Mohammed. Then another demand. More aggressive.
“Buy me cigarettes!”
Oh, hell no, I thought. There is no way I’m buying cigarettes. I’m not swallowing more second-hand smoke and watching him drop yet another butt on the ground.
I dropped the pretence of off-hand politeness.
“Fuck you,” he shouted. “Fuck you man!” and soon we arrived at the intersection and stopped to await the green light.
“Fuck you man. I know where you’re staying. You are fucking nothing. This is my city…” he shouted, pointing a threatening finger at my face. The barrage continued.
“You’re a fucken cheat man, you dickhead, you are shit…”
The light turned green. I started walking. Mohammad continued the insults, then something happened. He walked in front of me, blocked my path and said:
“Fuck you man. I know where you stay. You watch out shit head. This is my city. I do things my way. Tomorrow, I show you.”
Then he walked off.
Thus, my eyes remained peeled for any sign of Muhammed as I strolled to the beach. I made it safely to the beach, where calm, inviting waters lapped the shore and local families played in the sand and splashed in the shallows.
I chose a spot, lay down my towel and sat for a moment. I drank in salty air for the first time in months and let the stress of the previous day slide away. I swam, sunbathed, swam, sunbathed and ate. Then I swam, sunbathed and drank. Time mattered little. I purged my mind of the ugly threats of the day before and looked forward to the rest of my journey through Morocco and into Europe.
As the sun sank in the sky and the call to prayer rang out over the beach, I decided it was time to farewell the beach and head back to the hostel, before deciding on dinner. In a country like Morocco, there are many inviting culinary options, so I set off with a decided spring in my step.
It was only when I reached the hostel that I realised. I realised what I’d forgotten to buy at the shop yesterday while Mohammed harassed the staff. I’d forgotten to buy sun cream, and I was burnt from head to toe. My face was burnt despite the broad-brimmed hat. My back, chest, arms and legs were red raw. The tops of my feet too. This is going to hurt for days. Then it will peel.
The Queen’s stage of the Migration Gravel Race features a total of 3200m climbing over 146km and could well determine the overall winner of the inaugural gravel race through the Maasai Mara region of Kenya. Laurens Ten Dam and Betsy Welch lead the men’s and women’s categories and are expecting strong attacks from riders like Ian Boswell who lost time in the gruelling first stage.
Ten Dam dropped his rivals with a determined attack into the headwind in the final kilometres of stage 1, and enjoys a 13 minute lead on second placed Suleiman Kangangi. Boswell suffered the most on stage 1. The pre-race favourite and recent winner of Unbound Gravel (200) punctured numerous times on the rough and rocky trails and spent valuable time repairing the damage to his bike. The American sits 1hr 17 min behind Ten Dam.
Boswell has ridden in all three grand tours. What will he do on the Queen’s stage?
Welch broke away from Nancy Akinyi throughout the stage and starts day 2 with a 38 minute lead. Dutch duo Mieke Luten and Dorien Geertsema rode together on day 1, and lie 1hr 24 minutes behind Welch.
Ten Dam holds the following time gaps over his nearest rivals:
Thomas Dekker and Kenneth Karaya – 23 minutes
Jordan Schleck and Alvaro Galindo – 36 minutes
John Kariuki and Edwin Keiya – 45 minutes
Tom Oosterdijk – 46 minutes
Finley Newmark held high expectations leading into stage 1, but the reality of Africa confronted him and he sits in 25th at 1 hr 47 from the lead.
Other women who will be chasing Welch up the steep hills and into the clouds are April Kelley at 1hr 48 behind, and Nicola Greene, who needs to make up 1 hr and 52 minutes.
Rwanda is a powerhouse of African road cycling. It hosts the annual Tour du Rwanda and produces some of the continent’s strongest riders. Most of the Rwandans struggled on stage 1 and their best result was Jean Eric Habimana, who finished 13th, 1 hour 6 minutes off the lead. Attacks are expected from the Rwandans in stage 2.
Stage 1 introduced riders to the reality of off-road cycling in Africa, and stage 2 will be even harder.
Betsy Welch of the USA has become the first woman to win a stage of the Migration Gravel Race after taking stage 1 ahead of Nancy Akinyi of Kenya and Mieke Luten of the Netherlands. Welch finished the 146km stage a full 30 minutes ahead of Akinyi and has established herself as one of the favourites to win the 4-stage race.
A small group of the strongest women rode together in the early stages, passing through local villages of the Maasai Mara region over rocky terrain. The rough gravel surfaces caused punctures and mechanical issues, as well as falls and injuries, for a large number of the 61 riders, and so challenging were the conditions that some riders even found themselves a long way off the official course, riding random dirt paths beside Africa’s famous wildlife.
Akinyi rode alone for long sections of the race, while Luten teamed up with Dorien Geertsema for most of the stage before pulling away from her compatriot in the final few kilometres. Nairobi resident April Kelley secured 5th position while Nicola Greene rode home in 6th.
Welch handled the conditions better than any of her competitors, and when the race entered the final 50km stretch, she fought through the strong headwind to open up a significant gap on her rivals and make a statement heading into stage 2.
Welch will take her form and confidence into the Queen’s stage, which covers 160km and a total of 3200m of climbing.
Laurens Ten Dam of the Netherlands has won the first ever stage of the Migration Gravel Race in a gruelling day of mechanical and navigational disasters that claimed many riders, including Ian Boswell. Ten Dam attacked into the headwind at the end of the stage to finish ahead of Kenyans Suleiman Kangangi and Kenneth Karaya, while Boswell finished 15th.
Ten Dam joined the leading pack as the race passed through local villages of the Maasai Mara region, alongside compatriot Thomas Dekker, as well as Jordan Schleck, Alvaro Galindo, Edwin Keiya and Tom Oosterdijk. Dekker finished strongly in 4th, just 23 minutes behind the leader and just ahead of a host of East African riders.
No one was surprised to see a Dutchman excel in the wind, but those watching live, and via the internet, were shocked to see Boswell so far behind throughout the stage and at the finish line. Boswell and Kangangi both punctured about six kilometres into the race. Kangangi was able to fix his puncture fairly quickly, but Boswell’s was more complicated and he was separated from the leaders. Boswell apparently punctured a second time and his day turned into a disaster.
Kangangi set off in pursuit of the lead group and just as he was about to make contact, Ten Dam used the racing smarts which carried him to top 10 finishes at Le Tour and La Vuelta, and launched his attack. Kangangi then picked off the lead riders one by one, including Karaya, who is riding the race on a hardtail mountain bike.
Jordan Schleck, who is from Uganda and not Luxembourg, rode home in sixth despite his own major mechanical mishap. A bolt from his gear shifter fell off on the rough rocky roads and the entire shifter almost landed in his spokes. He crossed the line with his gear shifter attached to the handlebars of his mountain bike with a zip tie.
Galindo battled stones, mechanical issues and a minor injury on his way to fifth place, while Kenyan Edwin Keiya finished 7th, just edging out the third Dutchman, Tom Oosterdijk. Kenya took 6 of the first 15 positions, with John Kariuki in 9th, Geoffrey Langat in 13th and Bobby Joseph 14th.
Masaka Cycling Club in Uganda is celebrating the achievements of their two inexperienced riders competing against some of the world’s best. Wasswa Peter finished 10th, just 3 minutes ahead of Kato Paul in 11th. Rwandan riders are expected to perform well over the four stages, but their sole representative near the top of the leaderboard is Jean Eric Habimana in 12th.
Stage 1 took riders through local villages, challenging rocky sections and a section featuring steep climbs, with a total of 1650m elevation. A stage which appeared moderate on paper proved very difficult in reality, as some riders found themselves completely off course and enjoyed their own private wildlife safari before rejoining the race.
Ten Dam enters stage two with a 15 minute lead over Kangangi, with Karaya 22 minutes behind, Dekker 23 minutes and Spaniard Galindo 35 minutes back. Boswell has three more stages to make up a deficit of 1hr 19 minutes. Such a large deficit could see a significant attack from the American on stage 2, which is the Queen’s stage of 160km with a total of 3200m of climbing.
Who are you tipping to win the first ever Migration Gravel Race? Who will conquer the gravel roads of Kenya and emerge victorious on June 26 after 4 days of gruelling, dusty, hot and challenging riding?
Laurens Ten Dam
or one of the African men?
or a woman with inside knowledge of local roads, such as April Kelley or Nancy Akinyi?
Stage 1 has just started and 61 riders set off from Naretoi Estate, and are making their way through Enonkishu Conservancy.