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.

Ian Boswell wins stage 4 of the Migration Gravel Race.

Ian Boswell finally claimed victory at the Migration Gravel Race with a strong solo breakaway to finish ahead of a chase group containing the contenders for the podium. Boswell powered to victory in stage 4 just a few kilometres from the place where he struck disaster on stage 1 and lost his chances on winning overall.

“It took me 580 kilometres to find my terrain,” he said.

“Just about 5k from here is where I lost the chance in the overall at the start of the first stage with the mechanical, so to win here today does feel a little strange.”

“Today is the culmination of everything I’ve learned on this race. I’m now more familiar with the racing style here. Even near the end there I was cruising through cars and cattle and people on the road, so I just went up onto the grass to go around them. The great thing about this race is that anything can happen.”

Boswell and Laurens Ten Dam were the two clear favourites for the overall title. Boswell has ridden in all three grand tours and recently outsprinted Ten Dam at the Unbound Gravel race. Ten Dam placed in the top 10 at the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana. Boswell, however, lost about 1 hr and 30 minutes due to multiple mechanical failures on the first stage, and had to fight for a stage victory to redeem his race.

A large lead group established itself at the beginning of the final stage, and only broke up during the first climb. This is where Boswell seized his opportunity.

“Didier (Munyaneza) attacked on the climb and by the top he had a bit of a gap. I decided to go with him then pushed on. Didier dropped off on the descent and I decided to go for it once I had a gap. I knew it would take a lot of commitment for all of the chase pack to work together.”

The chase pack contained Ten Dam and Suleman Kangangi, who were the only two riders with a realistic chance of overall victory. It also contained a contender for the third podium spot, Kenneth Karaya, plus John Kariuki and Jordan Schleck. Geoffrey Langat, who won stage 3, was also within reach of third place overall, but he and Kato Paul punctured early in the stage and lost contact with the leaders.

Munyaneza eventually crossed the line behind the chase pack, and the Rwandan road cyclist was satisfied with his performance in his first ever gravel race.

“Boswell dropped me on the descent after the climb. This is my first gravel race so it was good for me to get experience against European riders. Next time, I’ll do more training for longer before the event. I will be stronger.”

Boswell enjoyed his last day on the gravel roads of the Maasai Mara.

“The last 50k or so was fast, with beautiful dirt roads. I saw two elephants and some wildebeest on the ride today, so it was a fun way to end it.”

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.

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?

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.

Tour de France riders take on the gravel of East Africa.

Former Tour de France riders will battle the elements and each other in the inaugural Migration Gravel Race in Kenya from June 23 – 26. Elite road cyclists Laurens Ten Dam and Ian Boswell are favourites to win the gruelling 4-day stage race through the Maasai Mara region of Kenya, but are acutely aware that not all kilometres are created equal.

Boswell and Ten Dam are the most high-profile riders in an international field of 61 that includes some of the most talented cyclists from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and other parts of Africa. Boswell beat Ten Dam recently at Unbound Gravel (200), the world’s premier gravel event. They firm as clear favourites, but they know all too well that they face one massive uncertainty at MGR: Africa.

Africa presents myriad challenges. Unpredictable and potentially dangerous road surfaces include single track, game trails, red clay and rough hard pack gravel. Temperatures will rise and fall significantly during the four stages, which feature 8000m of total elevation at an average elevation of 1900m. This will test the lungs of every rider, even respected climbers like Ten Dam, who finished in the top 10 of both the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana, and Boswell, who competed in all three grand tours.

Elephants, zebra, wildebeest and other game will also greet the riders. Local Maasai rangers have been employed to clear sections of the course of wild animals, but riders have been told to expect sightings of African game that would excite any tourist or wildlife photographer.

There’s also a Schleck in the field. Not Andy, and not Frank, and he’s not from Luxembourg. Jordan Schleck Ssekanwagi is a Ugandan rider. The most fancied of the African riders in the men’s field is Kenyan Suleiman Kangangi, who rides for German professional road team Bike Aid and is a foundation member of Kenyan Riders. He represented Kenya at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and has one distinct advantage over his more famous rivals. Kangangi has ridden many sections of the course in training, and to assist organisers in mapping the route.

While ‘Africa’ will level out the men’s field, the women’s field appears even more open, and even more exciting for fans following the race live on the MGR website. Dutch duo Mieke Luten and Dorien Geertsema appear the strongest on paper, but face strong competition from the likes of Kenyan Nancy Akinyi and Nairobi resident April Kelley.

Ultimately, the outcome is as unpredictable as Africa.

While Chris Froome directs his team around the roads of France in the coming days, his former colleagues in the pro peloton will be fighting off fatigue in the land of his birth.

Images: Simon Connellan, Bradyn Shock