Ian Boswell on the Migration Gravel Race: ‘It’s so much more than a bike race’

Unbound Gravel champ Ian Boswell sees himself as a cycling ambassador at Kenya's Migration Gravel Race, where many riders hail from Africa.

Photo: Wahoo

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NAIROBI, Kenya (VN) — In the two weeks between Ian Boswell’s big win at Unbound Gravel and his travel to Kenya for the Migration Gravel Race, the 30-year old had very little time to think about riding his bike.

“It was busy,” he told me. “I didn’t really realize how influential that race could be on an athlete’s career. I didn’t turn down any media requests or podcasts, big or small, I tried to accommodate everyone’s requests. I know how difficult it can be, I have a podcast of my own.”

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Boswell lives with his wife on a 10.5-acre farm in northern Vermont, and he had plenty of chores to do between Kansas and Kenya. He also works full-time as an athlete liaison for Wahoo Fitness. He only managed three bike rides while he was home. Like any travel related to work, sometimes the tedium trumps the adventure.

But for Boswell, the Migration Gravel Race isn’t work.

“This isn’t a professional road race, which I love,” he said. “I was just camping last week, and I’m really looking forward to that dynamic of the event. There’s more to it than just the race. So many unpredictable things that can happen. It’s so much more than a bike ride and a bike race, it really is a life experience.”

Aside from the life experience of looking up from his bike computer to see the graceful neck of a giraffe poking through the tall grass, Boswell believes that the Migration Gravel Race could be life-altering for some of the East African riders who have come to participate.

Of the race’s 61 riders, 21 hail from Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda. For the past year, some of those riders who are affiliated with international partnerships like Team Amani, Team Africa Rising, and the Masaka Cycling Club have embarked on a unique training and racing program with Wahoo’s Sufferfest platform. The Migration Gravel Race is their opportunity to test themselves against some of gravel’s current A-list, including Boswell’s Unbound podium-mate Laurens ten Dam.

Boswell said that he plans to race hard, but that he also feels that his presence on course could serve a different role, one more of ‘captain’ than competitor.

Of course, I want to race them, but if I have the opportunity to see how they’re implementing their fitness into tactics and techniques, that’s really cool,” he said. “That’s what I want. For these athletes to go against the best riders in gravel and show what they’re capable of.”

As someone who has just come off the self-proclaimed biggest win of his career, Boswell knows how much is riding on the East Africans having a good performance in Kenya. Wahoo is sending the top three East African finishers from the Migration Gravel Race to the U.S. later this summer to compete at Belgian Waffle Ride Asheville, as well as SBT GRVL.

“Their whole life could change if they perform well,” Boswell said. “What do they say, ‘luck is when preparation meets opportunity.’ That’s what it is. They’ve done the prep and now they have this opportunity and they might get lucky and dominate.”

The word opportunity gets tossed around freely when discussing the Migration Gravel Race; not only could the event launch an aspiring professional cyclist from East Africa further toward his or her goals, it could also help set the tone for a gravel cycling culture in Kenya. The notion of being given a possibility and then sticking with it to see where it leads is one that Boswell is intimately familiar with himself.

“I think when I look at my own career, all these opportunities I’ve had, going to nationals, junior races, U23s — when you keep having the opportunity to perform on bigger stages, if you perform at the right time, you move up,” Boswell said. “This is a huge opportunity for them, and not just the race in their own backyard.”

“Laurens and I have raced professionally, had our opportunities. For me, if I can give an opportunity to another rider to change the course of their life, how cool is that that?”

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