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.

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.