Dakar: Portraits of the Day 2007-01-08

Euromilhoes Dakar 2007 Portraits of the Day Monday January 8, 2007 Ali Machlab: "You don't realise just what you can put up with physically" The 40th kilometre of the first special stage in the Dakar 2007 edition will stick in Ali Machlab's...

Euromilhoes Dakar 2007 Portraits of the Day
Monday January 8, 2007

Ali Machlab: "You don't realise just what you can put up with physically"

The 40th kilometre of the first special stage in the Dakar 2007 edition will stick in Ali Machlab's mind for a long time: "Someone overtook on my left and caught my handlebars, causing the front wheel to turn and I was thrown off my bike". The accident, which did not prove to be serious, did not cause much damage to number 158's machine. However, the chain reaction had only just started for the rider. The bruising to his left knee, already injured during the last Baja Aragon, meant that he had to take painkillers just to finish the stage. Whilst parking his bike in the secure enclosure at Portimao, Ali expressed his regrets about the lack of sportsmanship shown by the rider who caused the accident: "I don't even know who it was, but not stopping isn't going to help him win the Dakar".

Ali Machlab is like that: sensitive to helping others. Especially during this race which is the culmination of several years' preparation for him. He started following the Dakar by bike to see, hear, test and accumulate as much experience as possible. Over a four year period, he soaked up information by following the caravan on parallel routes, sleeping less than the competitors and putting his physical resistance to the test. "You don't realise just what you can put up with physically", he says. Ali has guts in spades as well as plenty of know-how. He leaves nothing to chance. The Dakar is so important for him that even his participation in 2005 as co-pilot to Carlos Rentero was a means of testing how he fared at navigating. He and his Spanish team-mate, they dropped out on the penultimate stage, between Kayes and Tambacounda.

Unfortunately, history repeated itself for Ali this year. At the start of the second special stage on Sunday morning, the organisers asked him to check into the hospital in Portimao. The local doctors drained off a build up of blood on his knee and diagnosed a ruptured ligament. But Ali would not admit defeat. After having signed a disclaimer for the doctors who advised him not to continue, he set off to take starter's orders, only to encounter a new set-back: his bike had been stolen. In the time it took to find it in a derelict house thanks to the Portuguese police and GPS tracking, the luckless rider's knee had swollen to twice its size. This time, he could not avoid abandoning. All that remained was to find a flight to Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands, where Ali Machlab, born in Beirut 30 years ago, runs a fishing company.

Philippe Monnet: "What really worries me is the navigation!"

Few cars drew as many admiring glances at technical scrutineering in Lisbon as the six single seater buggies built by French constructor / driver Philippe Gache. Available as a turn key package, their outlandish looks and huge suspension travel have obvious 'petrol head' appeal, particularly among older members of the motorcycle fraternity considering a switch to 4 wheels in the near future.

Another, even more exclusive fraternity for which the single-seater concept holds obvious appeal, is solo round the world yachtsmen -- enter 'stage left' one multi-world record holder and ex-rallye raid navigator Philippe Monnet. "I have wanted to make the switch from co-driver to driver for a while now and when I heard about the Gache project I immediately put my name down. And having driven the car now over two stages I certainly don't regret my choice. The car is brand new, and there are no doubt things that needed to be refined, but it is fantastic fun to drive and I reckon it is an idea that will really take off."

While any motor-sport enthusiast can see the potential, old rally-raid hands were quick to pose the question, 'but how do you get the thing out on your own when you get stuck in a sand dune?' Strangely it isn't something that seems to bother Monnet. "I will worry about that when it happens. What really concerns me is the navigation. That might sound bizarre coming from someone with my back ground but I don't have any experience in riding rally bikes and so co-ordinating the task of reading the road book and driving at the same time is a real challenge. As far as getting stuck is concerned I have an 80 metre tow rope that should do the trick!"

Steve Malone: "The Dakar changed my life"

They say that the Dakar can change your life and Englishman Stephen Malone certainly wouldn't disagree. "I was your typical middle-aged businessman who drank too much beer and smoked too many cigarettes." But rather than continue down that perilous road Stephen decided to take another direction and head off down the gym. "I didn't want to be like a lot of others who talk a good race but never get to the start line. Instead I decided to get myself into shape." The results were spectacular to say the least and within 6 months Steve had ditched the fags and lost a staggering 30 kilos -- just in time to get his entry in for the 2006 Dakar. "To be honest I wasn't sure I had the willpower and I didn't want to send my cheque off before I had achieved my targets."

Unfortunately, and despite all his efforts, Steve didn't make it to Lac Rose last year, going out of the race on day seven when his bike's electrical system packed up. Extremely disappointed not to have made it to the finish he tried to put the experience behind him and for three months left his KTM 525 to rot in his garage. "Then one day I pulled the covers off the bike to give it a clean and before I knew it I was downloading the entry for 2007." Not only has the Dakar transformed the 'Rosbif' physically, it has also changed him subtly in others ways too. "I used to be a bit of a loudmouth, but the Dakar has made me more humble and a little more introspective -- that's probably why my family agreed to me having another go!"

Santiago Anglada: "Team sprit comes before individual interests"

Parking his Mitsubishi L 200 on the side of the road as soon as he passes through the last control point of the stage, Anglada jumps nimbly out of his bucket seat. "Santi" is all smiles. The car is running well and the Dakar is living up to his expectations. After only two special sages, this Catalan business manager is in heaven: "Everything is fine. It's my first Dakar and I'm loving it all: the atmosphere and adrenalin of these first few days. Even the scrutineering impressed me".

The driver of car 413 is in fact enthusiastic about everything which is related to motors and it is as if he were walking in a dream. At 37 years old, in sporting terms his debut on the January rally-raid has been discrete (87th, 1 hr. 6 min. behind the leader after two stages), but determined. The astonishing thing about this smiling and friendly guy is that he decided to create a team with his friends. At Vic, in Catalonia, where he was born, a new structure saw the light of day: Desert Cats. Since Santiago likes a job well done, he and his associates in the project chose a name which represents two basic concepts: love for the desert and love for Catalonia.

But Santiago Anglade is not just a Dakar enthusiast. The huge range of activities practised by this businessman specialised in the reinforced concrete sector never ceases to amaze. He hates to stay still, for example. Travelling is what he likes most, including difficult destinations: Okavango, Tanzania and South Africa are his latest voyages to date. He has also crossed parts of Canada on a snow-mobile. Furthermore, Santiago likes reading and the cinema, but his real major passion is open air. Getting away from it all is the watchword for this former ice hockey player; enterprise could be another. Desert Cats is his new challenge. "We wanted to have a go at the Dakar independently. We pooled our money and energy to create a structure whose aim is to provide a professional offer to other enthusiasts to take part in the Dakar". With the two cars entered in the race by Desert Cats, driven by Pep Busquets and Albert Bosch, he hopes to get to Dakar, in order to set down a landmark on the rally's scenery of a team in which, "Team sprit comes before individual interests".

-credit: dakar.com

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Series Dakar
Drivers Philippe Monnet , Philippe Gache , Stephen Malone