Nancie Akinyi wins the inaugural Migration Gravel Race.

Nancie Akinyi of Kenya has won the inaugural Migration Gravel Race in Kenya in a time of 30:41:33 ahead of Betsy Welch of The USA and Dorien Geertsema of the Netherlands. Welch finished in 30:49:58 and Geertsema recorded a total time of 33:32:24.

Akinyi won three of the four stages on her way to victory but still had a considerable gap to close entering the final day. She trailed Welch by 20 minutes after Welch had won the brutal first stage and established a lead of more than 40 minutes.

Akinyi won the Queen’s stage with an impressive display of climbing to conquer the 3000m of elevation, then took further time away from the American with another powerful ride on the short and fast stage 3.

Akinyi and Welch were both lost throughout the race. Akinyi strayed off course on day 1 and 2, and lost time navigating her way back onto the trail. Welch was lost inside her own mind, asking publicly if she cared or didn’t care about winning, and whether or not she is competitive. She can be certain of the silver medal she takes home from Kenya.

The final stage would decide the overall winner in the women’s category. Welch enjoyed a 20 minute lead over the Kenyan, and Akinyi charged through the 160km stage with determination. She didn’t stop at the first feed station, and slowly chipped away at the time gap. Behind her, Welch was suffering with a chain that kept slipping off. Akinyi eventually won the stage by almost 30 minutes, and grabbed the gold medal.

Behind the two leaders, Geertsema and companion Mieke Luten rode together and supported each other throughout the first two stages. At the end of stage 3 and 4, however, Geertsema found more strength in her legs and rode away from her compatriot to claim the final position on the podium, while Luten finished 4th in 34:59:37.

Laurens Ten Dam wins the inaugural Migration Gravel Race.

Laurens Ten Dam of the Netherlands has won the inaugural Migration Gravel Race beating Kenyans Suleman Kangangi and Kenneth Karaya. Ten Dam won two of the four stages in the Maasai Mara region of Kenya and finished with a total time of 22:01:51, ahead of Kangangi in 22:20:49 and Karaya in 22:59:37.

Ten Dam arrived in Kenya fresh from second place in Unbound Gravel, while Kangangi and Karaya were competing in their first international gravel race. Karaya rode the entire 4 stages on a 26′ hardtail mountain bike. Ten Dam entered day 4 with a 19 minute gap over Kangangi in second, and monitored the Bike Aid rider throughout the stage.

A large lead group formed at the beginning of the final stage, then shrank up the first climb. At the top of the climb, Didier Munyaneza broke away and Ian Boswell followed. Boswell was more than one hour behind Ten Dam and posed no threat to the overall classification, and the American eventually powered away to victory on the stage. Behind Boswell, the chase group reached 45, then 50km/h in the finishing stretch, swerving as if they were preparing for a sprint, but actually avoiding potholes and cattle.

“The first part of today’s stage was rocky then there was a climb,” Ten Dam said at the finish.

“The last part was smooth and fast, it was perfect. Next year I want all the roads to be like they were today.”

Ten Dam was then reminded that he had won the race on some brutal roads which caused punctures, mechanical failures, falls and injuries. To which he replied:

“I won the hardest one”

Ten Dam finished in the top 10 at the Tour de France and La Vuelta a Espana, and appeared relaxed at the final feed station. He asked about Boswell’s progress up ahead, and was told that Boswell looked serious on this stage.

“Good to see he’s serious for one day,” Ten Dam joked.

“Today we rode through the villages with lots of people, I liked that. My muscles are sore, everywhere, but today I was happy to be on the bike.”

Kangangi explained his approach to the final stage.

“It was a tough day. I was second and I didn’t want to throw that away, so I had to ride smart.”

“Boswell attacked with maybe 90km to go and I knew I still had about 1 hour to play with, so I felt fine as long as I knew Laurens was there.”

Ten Dam stamped his authority on the race on stage 1. He dominated the rough, rocky, brutal terrain to establish a lead of 13 minutes over Kangangi, and 23 minutes over compatriot Thomas Dekker and Karaya. Ugandan Jordan Schleck was about 36 minutes behind on his hardtail mountain bike. Dekker suffered on the steep climbs of stage 2, and slipped off the podium during stage 4.

Ten Dam then showed the climbing prowess which brought him success in the grand tours. He prevailed on the Queen’s stage which punished the riders with 3000m of climbing, and he extended his lead over Kangangi. On stage 3, it looked like he was in trouble. Mechanical issues slowed him down, and he lost touch with the lead group. Realising this, Kangangi worked with his Kenyan Riders teammates John Kariuki and Geoffrey Langat to drop Ten Dam, but it was not successful. Ten Dam plugged his puncture, then time-trialled his way back onto the group and they crossed the line together behind stage winner Langat.

Langat’s victory on stage 3 put him within striking distance of the podium, but early on stage 4 he punctured, then punctured again and he could not reach the lead pack, despite working with Ugandan Kato Paul who had also punctured and slipped down the general classification.

“My body felt strong today, the problem was the bike,” explained Paul after crossing the line.

“It was the same yesterday, even though my body felt good, I had problems with my bike. But, it’s my first gravel race and I’m happy to be here.”

Boswell eventually finished 4th overall in 23:09:36 and Dekker finished 5th in 23:40:17.

Geoffrey Langat rocks to victory in the Migration Gravel Race.

Kenyan Geoffrey Langat attacked through a rock garden to win stage 3 of the Migration Gravel Race ahead of four East African riders. Langat won in 4:34.22 ahead of Kenyan Riders teammate John Kariuki, who finished in 4:39.40 to lead home the chase group of compatriot Kenneth Karaya, Ugandan Jordan Schleck and Kenya’s Suleman Kangangi, plus Laurens Ten Dam and Ian Boswell.

Langat broke away from a group of seven riders in the final 20 kilometres when they confronted a rocky section of the otherwise smooth gravel road. The Kenyan battled through the rocks while the rest sought smoother lines off the side of the road, and he’d established a meaningful gap when the group rode back onto the rocks. A few minutes later, a herd of cows, then a flock of sheep, slowed the chasers, leaving some to wonder whether the local boy had arranged for the cattle to be herded onto the road.

Langat was soon nothing but a trail of dust to the chasing group.

The largest lead pack of the race so far stayed together for a long time on the fast, flat stage, and watched as wildebeest and zebra sprinted across the trails in front of them. A select group of five riders then formed, without overall leader Ten Dam. Boswell, Schleck, Kariuki, Kangangi and Langat sat about 3 minutes ahead of the Dutchman as the tailwind propelled them across the gravel. The three Kenyan Riders surged in an attempt to distance Ten Dam, but he worked with Karaya and both of them eventually clawed their way back to the front.

Ten Dam started the final stage with a lead of about 19 minutes over Kangangi. Thomas Dekker and Karaya are 57 minutes behind, while Langat and Boswell are about 1 hr 20 minutes off the leader. The battle for the bronze is particularly interesting.

Stage 4 is 160km long and features 1600m elevation. What will it do to the podium?

Nixon Sewe is the busiest man in Kenya.

Nixon Sewe is the chief mechanic at the Migration Gravel Race in Kenya. That makes him the busiest man in Kenya. Riders are currently tackling the 4th and final stage and Nixon has worked day and night during stages 1, 2 and 3.

Nixon is the regular mechanic for the Kenyan Riders professional road cycling team, and has occupied that role for many years. He is invaluable to the KR team, and he is showing why on the Migration Gravel Race. He attends to bikes before and during stages, and oversees the mechanical check and clean of all 61 bikes at the end of each day’s racing. In consultation with the riders, he ensures every bike is ready to go before the gun fires.

Today, he is fixing punctures. Puncture after puncture after puncture. Punctures are the story of the day as riders reach the first checkpoint 60km into the 160km stage, and roll in on their battered bikes which are being punished on the rough, rocky, rutted and dusty gravel roads of the Maasai Mara region.

He pumped some air into Geoffrey Langat’s tyre. Langat won stage 3 but was a long way behind the lead pack at the first check point. He had suffered two mechanical issues. Kato Paul of Uganda also suffered a mechanical early in the stage, and Nixon cured his bike before Paul and Langat teamed up to chase down the leaders.

Will they make it?

He also cast his eye of the gravel bike of Betsy Welch. Her chain had fallen off eight times in the first 60km, and put her out of touch with her arch rival for the overall, Nancie Akinyi. Welch lead Akinyi by about 20 minutes entering the final stage. She can ill-afford mechanical issues.

Such is the brutality of the parcours that some riders are contemplating bringing mountain bikes rather than gravel bikes to next year’s race. That’s if they make it to next year’s race. Mountain bike riders like Jordan Schleck and Kenneth Karaya were placed inside the top 10 overall before the start of the final stage. Maybe a mountain bike is a good idea.

Peter Halliwell was ready to ride on without fixing the puncture in his tyre – until his mother saw him on the race’s live instagram feed. Mrs Halliwell told him to “get the bike sorted” Peter got the bike sorted.

Good boy Peter.

Meanwhile, Nixon waits at the checkpoint until the last riders passes through. Waits to fix puncture after puncture.

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

“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”

Suleiman Kangangi is ready.

Suleiman Kangangi is ready for pain. He is ready for exhaustion, hunger, thirst, dust, dirt and heat. He is ready for Africa. The Kenyan cyclist is ready for the first Migration Gravel Race in the wilds of Kenya from June 23 – 26.

Kangangi will battle some of the world’s best gravel riders as well as 650 kilometres and a total of 8000 metres of elevation. He will traverse single track, game trails, red clay, and rough hard pack gravel around the Maasai Mara region. He is also ready for the average elevation of 1900m – he grew up in the Rift Valley at much higher altitudes.

When asked how he was feeling just days out from the big race, the quietly spoken Kenyan said simply,

“Good…motivated.”

Most of the race will pass through Maasai villages as well as plains, rivers, mountains and across big game country. Kangangi has ridden much of the route in training and in helping to establish the route. As organisers have promised:

Not all kilometres are equal.

Kangangi is also ready to seize an opportunity. He has raced all over the world as a member of German road cycling team Bike Aid, Kenyan Riders and the national team. He now enjoys the opportunity to race the world’s best on his home soil, and to benefit from one of the founding principles of the MGR: to bring the world’s best cyclists to Africa and expose African cyclists to elite competition without having to leave home.

One of the pioneers of Kenyan cycling is now fine tuning his preparation for the big race, and his steely exterior hides a strong undercurrent of excitement,

“It’s gonna be hot,”