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.

“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”

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.