The KTM Repsol team from the inside. Hard days in Dakar
Two fatal accidents hit the team and the whole bivouac harshly. Dakar is getting closer day by day but it won't be the same this time
"Meoni has died". That simple, that crude, that real. An SMS telling us about what had happened last Tuesday, at 11.29 a.m., while we were on the road covering kilometres without a break. After two days of rest in Atar, the liaison we had ahead was one of those breathtaking ones: 1,045 kilometres of really bad roads filled with a thousand traps.
Wake-up call at 3 o'clock in the morning and at 4, right after breakfast, we were leaving behind Atar, heading for Kifa. After eight and a half hours, I received a message in my mobile phone and I thought it was one of those I get every day, with news about the first or second checkpoint. But when I opened the message and saw what it meant, I didn't have the courage to say anything. Nicoli was driving and he knew Fabrizio Meoni quite well; he had been his mechanic for two years and they were both part of the big group of Italians that have been intensively living the Dakar for many years.
Seated in the front was also Manel Salinas, Marc's mechanic, and I gave him my phone. He saw the message, threw the road book against the front window and told Nicoli to stop. In that moment, both Arnaldo Nicoli and Fausto, the two Italians in our assistance car, knew that something serious had happened. After the unintelligible words of Nicoli when he saw the message, I saw Fausto's sad face. A few seconds later, the second assistance car arrived and stopped beside ours. We still hadn't said anything; nobody had the courage to say what we had just learned, so Nicoli handed the phone over to the other car. Again, the phone changed hands...
The calls to Spain, Italy and the bivouac started, we were all hoping that it was a mistake and the best thing was to confirm the mistake immediately. But the news we got did only confirm that there was no way back, that the harsh reality was that Meoni had suffered an accident and that he had lost his life.
Only 24 hours before it was Jose Manuel Perez, a Spaniard racing his fourth Dakar, who had left us. The riders and some members of the team knew him, so since Monday morning, when we got the news, the good atmosphere of the team had been blown out. But what had happened to Meoni was too much and the remaining four hours on the road were a continuous and immutable silence.
When we arrived at the bivouac we did not organise the team or look for a place to park the trucks, bikes and pitch up the tents. The riders arrived one hour later -- they had already learned the sad news at the finish line of the special -- and they had just covered 300 kilometres, I guess with their minds somewhere else.
The meeting between riders, drivers, team managers and organisation lasted over one hour and a half. The riders made it clear that they neither wanted nor could take the start the following day, out of respect to Fabrizio and his family, and because they were too shocked after what had happened only a few hours ago right in front of them. So finally the organisation gave in and cancelled the next day's stage, taking riders and bikes to Bamako by airplane. That night was, together with the one after we knew that Jose Manuel Perez had died in Alicante in the morning, the saddest of the Dakar.
The next morning, the terrible track we had to use to cover the 300 kilometres, helped us to leave the shock both news had caused us, behind. All of that was left behind, in Kifa, but the sadness was still among us.
On Wednesday morning, the riders flew from Kifa to Bamako, while the assistances moved-on to Kayes, because it was supposed to be a marathon stage. We left Mauritania behind to enter Mali. Crossing the border between these two countries meant covering really long 300 km full of bumps, stones, sand, narrow tracks, dry riverbeds and villages, all of it with an average speed of 50-60 km/h. after arriving in Kayes, we were able to enjoy an afternoon-night of rest. We got some news from Bamako on the special raced by cars and trucks, but tried to disconnect a bit from the rally, to make a short break and recover strength for the final sprint.
The riders arrived in the new bivouac today after the special between Bamako and Kayes. And there we were, waiting for them. You can feel the sadness in the atmosphere, it's obviously not the same as before, but we have to move on, that's what we've decided, and there are three days left to reach Lake Rose.
There's nothing better than the daily life in the bivouac to keep your mind busy: mechanics working on the bikes, riders checking the road book and preparing the strategy with Jordi Arcarons, Lidia doing her job as physio with the riders and the rest of the team-members all doing their jobs. We have a long road ahead tomorrow again, some 100 km and then 200 km more to get to Tambacounda. In a couple of days we'll arrive in Dakar, we're all thinking, some more, some less, but all about the Hotel Meridien, waiting there in Dakar, that seemed so far away only a couple of weeks ago. The finish is near, Dakar is getting closer every day, but it won't be the same this time, and we all know it.