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.

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