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Betsy Welch diary: Migration Gravel Race stage 4

What an incredible adventure; I'll be thinking about this one for many months to come.

MAASAI MARA, Kenya (VN) — Maasai blessings bring the rain.

And so, while we’re having the podium ceremony on the last night of the Migration Gravel Race, where every finisher is called up for a medal and a Maasai blessing, it starts to sprinkle. And then rain. And then torrentially pour. The sun continues to cast a hazy orange glow to the west while all hundred or so of us — riders, staff, photographers, and the rest — run into the dining area where the tin roof only amplifies the sound.

The rain brings a chill, and I am so happy that I am snug in my second-place award: a bright blue and red Maasai shuka, the traditional knit blanket that has been ubiquitous along the entirety of this trip. All week, the only thing better than seeing Maasai men walking along the road in the pink and black or firey red coverings was seeing our support crew zipping around on motos, their neon-yellow MGR staff vests making their bright shukas even brighter.

The men’s overall podium: Laurens ten Dam in first, Sule Kangani in second, and Geoffrey Langat in third. Photo: Betsy Welch

I know this is supposed to be a ride report, but it’s hard not to veer into the sentimental as our time on the Mara comes to an end. Last week, all 60+ of us left the comfort of our Covid bubbles to travel to a remote and dangerous place (of the lions, tigers, and elephants kind) and gamble on a brand-new bike race. We came from Rwanda, the U.S., the Netherlands, Spain, Uganda, and the U.K. Some of us came to race, and some of us came to ride.

I’ll be reporting more on how the East African riders experienced the Migration Gravel Race, but the resounding verdict I hear around the dinner table tonight is that it was well worth it, despite the challenges of gear, terrain, and competition.

Most of the guys are road cyclists, yet they have no road races to compete in.

“I will do anything on a bike,” Edwin Keiya of the Kenyan riders tells me. “And if someone hears about this race, then they will know I was there.”

A Team Amani rider digs deep on the savanna. Photo: Wahoo

I came to Kenya because I wanted to see how gravel fit in here, and if indeed a gravel race with an elite international field could shine a spotlight on the potential of East African cyclists — both here in Kenya and hopefully later abroad. I came because I wanted to see the wildebeest and zebras and camp under the southern hemisphere sky. I came to ride my bike through an entirely new landscape all day long and swap stories around the campfire at night. I was tested physically much more than I anticipated, but I still believe that the ride was simply the vehicle for the adventures and sights and sounds that I’ll be thinking about for months to come — like the monkeys dancing behind the podium as the Maasai chanted the blessing that brought the rain.

Stage and overall results here.

Sule Kangangi and Nicola Greene. Photo: @saltlake_lian