Dakar: Alfie Cox stage six report

Gauloises KTM Factory rider, Alfie Cox, today showed maturity, mental strength and absolute team spirit when the South African supported his Italian teammate Fabrizio Méoni during the 492 km sixth special stage of the 2005 Telefónica Dakar race...

Gauloises KTM Factory rider, Alfie Cox, today showed maturity, mental strength and absolute team spirit when the South African supported his Italian teammate Fabrizio Méoni during the 492 km sixth special stage of the 2005 Telefónica Dakar race from Smara to Zouérat in Mauritania.

Had Cox continued at his own high-speed pace, he could probably have won the stage, but he improved his overall time from 6' 45" behind the overall race leader to a marginal 3' 21", finishing third in the stage. A fantastic achievement, when considering the pair's slower riding over the last 90 km of the stage.

A very confident Cox explained at the finish: "Fabrizio (Méoni) started in sixth place this morning, 4 minutes behind me, and caught me along the way. He is very strong and as I suggested yesterday he raced much harder today. His navigation ability is exceptional. We rode together for some way. At the last checkpoint I smelt a mousse (solid tube) on Méoni's bike and realized he had trouble, we rode on but we could not go flat-out because his tyre was running flat and would have climbed off the rim and damaged the bike, ripped the chain off and stopped him completely. He just made it to the finish."

When asked why he did not ride off with Cyril Despres and Ullevalseter, who rode away from Cox and Méoni about 20 km from the finish, he replied: "If you break down with a blown mousse so close to the finish and you have no support, it is very difficult to fix. Supporting Fabrizio today will come back to me when I need it most. We need each other if we want to finish at Lac Rose in Dakar as Marc Coma said yesterday after Jordi crashed."

Very strong desert winds and lots of dust made the very high speed going difficult this morning. Often motorcyclist could be seen leaning over into the wind to stay upright whilst racing at speeds in access of 160 km/h. The navigation is a lot more technical in the vast expansion in the desert this year, because the roadbooks give basic route indications and different to the last three years, very few weighpoints are loaded on the GPS by the organizers. For the old hands the navigation is a true challenge this year and a very tough experience for the rookies.

Not withstanding the tyre problems, the 47 year old Méoni clinched today's stage whilst Cox's other teammate, Frenchman Cyril Despres finished fourth on the stage and took over the overall lead.

Experience proved to be the key on the difficult stage where the riders had a long awaited appointment with the dunes of Mauritania. Until check point 1 (245 km) everything went well for the less experienced. Marc Coma who left in second spot this morning proved to be the fastest ahead of Andy Caldecott, winner of the previous special. No worries at that point of the race for the fast and furious KTM bikers.

But things became a lot tougher with the first dune portions soft sand and lots of Camel grass: in other words, Méoni territory. The Italian made the best of his huge Dakar experience moving closer to Coma (second at only 18") at CP2 (312 km) and he then snatched the best time at CP3 (421 km) and on the finish line ahead of Pal Anders Ullevalseter. The two-time rally winner claimed the stage with a 1'38" on the Norwegian biker and team mate Alfie Cox.

Whilst total mayhem reigned in the car category with Colin McCray retiring after a massive accident with his Nissan and American Flash Gordon rolled the VW. The motorcycles had their own drama with 450cc KTM rider, Spaniard, Carlo de Gavardo who had a big tumble and pulled muscles at the back of his leg.

Alfie Cox commented at the bivouac: "A very good day for me. In fact since my mistake of the first stage, my Dakar is going better every day, my shoulder is less painful every day, and doesn't bother me at all on the bike, even if I still feel it a little. In fact the big problem today was the wind, because at each jump, you have to be very careful at the landing. It's very easy to fall. Other than that, with the sand we couldn't see anything, and it made the navigation difficult. The fact that there are less GPS points is good, because the talented navigators like Méoni can make the difference. That's very good for the interest of the race, but it'll be very hard for all the new participants."

Fabrizio Méoni remarked: "It was a beautiful stage today. I'm very happy. I've always said that for me the Rally was to begin in Mauritania, because yesterday's stage wasn't designed for me. I only like navigation and sand. All the way to the first CP, the first riders were at a very high pace, and if I had done the same, I would have burned my front tyre bib. But 100 km later, there were no more tracks on the road in front of me and I had caught up a 12' deficit. Then, I rode with Despres and Cox. Last year, I had lost the rally here, because of my bib, so I was scared to do the same. In fact, at the end of the stage, I suffered that problem so I reduced the pace, but with my good navigation, I won."

Alfie Cox turns 43 tomorrow and will hope for a good stage on his birthday. As part of the new rules, no vehicle will be serviced tomorrow night and any work on the machines, like changing filters will have to be done before competitors cross the finish line. Past the finish, only refreshments are authorised; vehicles are placed in the Parc Fermé. "Real" marathon stages are back on the Dakar programme.

"Each team member will carry a spare tube with them for tomorrow and Friday in case we have tyre problems like Fabrizio had today. We will then replace the mousse with a tube," explained Cox.

In the motorcycle category, there will be a line-up start, in lines of 20. Up to the difficult El Ghallâouîya pass, situated between two cliffs, drivers will cross plains and some dune fields. The programme will then consist of the crossing of El Mrayer, the "mirror", a series of small ergs, followed by 100 km of camel grass. Finally they need to find a pass before finishing at the Tichit oasis!

"I do not expect fireworks tomorrow, as we all have to preserve tyres, so we will all ride together and make sure we reach the overnight stop. On Friday we have to complete a further 520 km on the same tyres in the Mauritanian desert," explained Cox.

-coen van zyl

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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Fabrizio Meoni , Cyril Despres , Alfie Cox , Marc Coma , Carlo de Gavardo , Pal Anders Ullevalseter