STUTTGART, Germany -- August 6 -- After an exhausting transit on Sunday from Kasan to Ekaterinburg, the 33 competitors left in the Transsyberia Rallye 2007 were ready for a challenging 21.7-mile special stage in an off-road vehicle park today, but were disappointed when the organizer was forced to cancel the stage.

"We send an organization course opening vehicle to run the stage, and it took them five hours to go only 2.8 miles," said Richard Schalber.

"The strong rainfalls of the past days has softened the ground tremendously, and some of the mud holes are more than three feet deep. The participants would have only managed to advance with the help of a winch. I couldn't have guaranteed that all vehicles which were stranded would have been recovered during daylight," he said.

The Transsyberia Rallye has now left the European part of Russia and reached it namesake -- Siberia -- which is located in the Asian part of the country. Despite the special stage cancellation, the fourth leg pointed the competitors from Ekaterinburg, Russia's fifth largest city with over a million inhabitants on the eastern side of the Ural Mountains, to points east. By Monday evening, after 248 miles of transit, the participants reached the finish of the first Siberian leg in the city of Tyumen.

During Sunday's marathon transit from Kasan to Ekaterinburg, the competitors and crews crews covered 621 miles. After about 186 miles, the teams left the main street, and crossed over the Ural Mountains on side streets in a picturesque landscape. In sunshine and summery temperatures they passed cereal crops and fields of sunflowers, birch forests and remote villages. Many natives greeted the drivers and their unusual cars form the side of the street. Competitors saw scenes which took them back to the last century (or even earlier), with whole families working in the fields, harvesting crops by hand, and placing them in wooden horse-drawn wagons.

The drivers didn't have much time to enjoy the idyllic Russian countryside Sunday night. Organizer Richard Schalber had asked the drivers to attend a briefing in the evening, in order to prepare them for the special training of the fourth special stage -- the one that ended up being cancelled. Not every team was able to participate in the training as the last vehicles did not arrive at the hotel until midnight on Sunday.

Because of Sunday's transit and Monday's cancellation, the competition point standings remain the same. In the lead are Armin Schwarz (Austria) with his co-driver Oliver Hilger (Germany), followed closely by the Polish team Jarek Swiwka/Andrzej Bryl. Ranking third is Carles Celma from Spain, with Jorn Pugmeister (Germany) as navigator, with Rod Millen (New Zealand) and his co-pilot Richard Kelsey (USA) -- representing Team North America, in fourth place after winning stage two on Saturday. All top teams compete with the 385 hp Porsche Cayenne S Transsyberia. Porsche built a limited edition series of the SUV specifically for the endurance rally through Russia and Mongolia.

The North American Team #2 of Jeff Zwart/Paul Dallenbach was sixth after stage one, but dropped out of the top ten because of the infamous water hole that snagged about half the field. Zwart said that, despite the nasty conditions that faced the competitors today, he and Paul were looking forward to the stage today.

"We had all gone through 'winch' training early this morning, and were prepareds to take on the mud. Paul and I were especially anxious to get back into the top group after Saturday's slow time due to the water hole, so we'll just have to wait for the next special stage to catch up," said Zwart.

The Kees Nierop/Laurance Yap North America Team #1 Cayenne is also looking to make up time as they fell out of the top ten from fourth place after sinking in the water hole.

Armin Schwarz summarized Monday's transit.

"At first we were disappointed the special stage was cancelled -- I think our adrenaline and motivation levels were at full revs. The transit leg to Tyumen was not particularly fast but demanding. We crossed rivers with improvised bridges made out of tree trunks and there were many possibilities of sustaining punctures or falling into a deep pothole."

While they are not scoring competition points on the transits, the competitors are still being timed, and must make checkpoints and other pre-determined destinations within specific time windows. Mechanical failures, flat tire, and driving mistakes -- all possible on these less-than-modern roads -- will put competitors behind.

Tuesday's route from Tyumen on 7th August leads towards the south-east. After almost 600 kilometres of navigating the teams will reach the destination of Omsk. The event is now more that 1,600 miles east of Moscow and at about 73 degrees East. Ulan Bator in Mongolia is at around 107 degrees East, so there is still a very long way to go.

-credit: porsche