Nancie Akinyi wins a wild stage of the Migration Gravel Race.

Nancie Akinyi sped to her second consecutive victory during stage 3 of the Migration Gravel Race on a day when riders crossed paths with Kenya’s famous wildlife. Akinyi finished ahead of Betsy Welch and may have set herself up for overall victory.

Akinyi and Welch rode together for the first hour before back pain slowed Welch. Akinyi then broke away from the American and the Dutch pair of Dorien Geertsema and Mieke Luten, as ostrich, zebra and wildebeest sprinted across the flat and dusty roads right in front of the riders. The Kenyan took advantage of the tailwind to maintain a consistently high pace and successfully weaved her way through the cattle, goats and sheep which blocked the road throughout the day.

Reflecting on the first 3 stages, Welch said her arms hurt more than her legs, and re-ignited an old debate when she asked:

“Should I have brought a mountain bike?”

Riders were invited to see two goats slaughtered in their honour by their Maasai hosts after the stage. Some accepted, some declined. The fate of the goats reflected the harsh reality of rural Kenya, something riders will again experience on the 4th and final stage.

Who will stand on top of the podium in the inaugural Migration Gravel Race?

Follow the action at http://www.migrationgravelrace.com, and http://www.instagram.com/migrationgravelrace

Who will win the Migration Gravel Race?

The winner of the inaugural Migration Gravel Race will be crowned on today’s fourth and final stage through the Maasai Mara region of Kenya. Laurens Ten Dam and Suleman Kangangi will fight for victory in the men’s category, while the women’s race is a showdown between Nancy Akinyi and Betsy Welch. The fight for bronze will be just as fascinating on the 162km stage with 1600m elevation.

Ten Dam leads Kangangi after the Dutchman won the first two stages and rode strongly in stage 3 to regain contact with the leaders after numerous mechanicals saw him dropped. Kangangi and his Kenyan Riders teammates Geoffrey Langat and John Kariuki attacked Ten Dam, but could not break him.

Akinyi has now won two stages after Welch took stage 1. Akinyi has looked stronger as the race continues and has been too fast for her rivals…when she stays on the course. She got lost on stage 1 and 2, but showed enough strength to catch and then pass the other women in the field. Meanwhile, Welch is battling her own mind as she constantly asks herself whether or not she cares about winning, and whether or not she is competitive. Now is the time to decide.

Ian Boswell and Langat battle for third position. Boswell lost more than one hour to the leaders on a horrid first stage, but has clawed his way back on the subsequent stages to challenge Thomas Dekker and Kenneth Karaya who sat in 3rd and 4th before stage 3.

Langat is looking very strong after powering away to win the flat and fast stage 3, while Boswell is yet to win a stage after taking out the recent Unbound Gravel race in the US. Boswell has ridden in all three grand tours, but Langat employed his local knowledge and inherent toughness to escape from the lead group in the rock garden on stage 3, and leave his rivals in the dust. Jordan Schleck, Edwin Keiya and the Masaka Cycling Club duo of Wasswa Peter and Kato Paul could also fight their way onto the podium.

The Dutch duel.

Dorien Geertsema and Mieke Luten will contest the final podium position in the women’s category. The duo from the Netherlands have ridden together and supported each other during the first three brutal stages and were locked on the same overall time entering stage 3.

Will they cross the line together, or will competitive instincts kick in and prompt one of them to attack?

Follow the final day’s action at http://www.migrationgravelrace.com, and http://www.instagram.com/migrationgravelrace

Boswell is back.

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.

What will Boswell do in stage 3?

Follow the action at http://www.migrationgravelrace.com, and http://www.instagram.com/migrationgravelrace.

Nancie Akinyi makes the Migration Gravel Race very interesting.

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 wins stage 2 of the Migration Gravel Race.

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,

“Water”

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?

“This might be the best day of my life”

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,

“It’s harder than the Tour du Rwanda”

Can a mountain bike beat a gravel bike in a gravel race?

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.

Case closed?

Not entirely.

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?

Find out at http://www.migrationgravelrace.com, and http://www.instagram.com/migrationgravelrace.

Migration Gravel Race goes onwards and upwards.

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.

Follow the progress of the riders at http://www.migrationgravelrace.com, and at http://www.instagram.com/migrationgravelrace.

Betsy Welch creates history in Kenya.

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 creates history at Migration Gravel Race.

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.

Follow live tracking at http://www.migrationgravelrace.com, and keep an eye on http://www.instagram.com/migrationgravelrace for updates.