The sun shines on Manuel Garcia Vitoria It is perhaps because he comes from a wine-making region, La Rioja, that so much sunlight pleases him. It is also because of the memory of his failure on the Dakar 2006, in which the African twilights ...
The sun shines on Manuel Garcia Vitoria
It is perhaps because he comes from a wine-making region, La Rioja, that so much sunlight pleases him. It is also because of the memory of his failure on the Dakar 2006, in which the African twilights falling too early played a part. Manuel Garcia Vitoria, 83rd in the general standings, addresses his sincere thanks to the sun for helping him to make his dream come true. "I've always managed to finish what I have undertaken," says the rider from Calahorra, except on the Dakar, where he had to withdraw at Nouakchott, leaving the impression of having unfinished business. And in South America, he is in the process of completing his quest. For him, the helping hand has not been his preparation, or the route of the rally. In fact it is the additional hours of daylight. "In Africa, the day broke at 7.00 in the morning and night started to fall at 17.00. Here we have 5 to 6 more hours of natural light and the difference is fundamental for an amateur". Insufficient lighting for riding at night, risks on nocturnal link stages... all that is in the past now that the race is in Chile and Argentina. Manuel is following his calm and composed route to Buenos Aires, in the anonymity synonymous with the race's modest riders, but full of sunshine all the same.
The empire strikes back
It is already quite an achievement. One year ago at this same time, the two Chinese riders enrolled in the bike race had already returned home. Twelve months later, the representatives of the Middle Kingdom are still present and set to become the first bikers from their country to finish a Dakar. Of course, their rankings are nothing to shout about, but the important thing is to get back to Buenos Aires. Each day has been a real struggle for Guanghui Wei and newcomer Wenmin Su. "I've suffered a lot since the start," explains Su, Chinese champion of the discipline. "The Dakar is much harder than I imagined. To start with, it's taken me five or six days to learn how to use the navigation tools. I'm not riding at my real level, but I'm forcing myself to ride sensibly to be able to finish". As for Wei, he had to withdraw before the rest day in 2009. Currently 85th, the Chinese biker is hanging in there. "Last year I was on a 250cc and didn't have anywhere near enough power. I was going to bed each night at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning. This time on a 450cc, it's much better". Just one final titanic effort... The triumphal route for China, via Buenos Aires, still includes the terrible dunes of Nihuil.
The race continues for the Morels...
This year, Antoine Morel has taken up a challenge. After having become the first competitor to have finished the Dakar in the bike, quad and truck categories, the manager of Team MD Rallye, who are running several cars on the Dakar, decided he wanted to taste the rally in the car category as well. However, the experience was short-lived. It was in fact called to a halt by Antoine himself, after the third stage, when his three "client" vehicles dropped out: "It wasn't really such a good idea, because we realised that it was impossible to provide rapid assistance. For example, when a 4x4 gets stuck in the sand, you still need a truck to get it out. So it wasn't really useful". Since this disaster, the days seem rather long for Antoine, Maryse and the 15 people who make up the team, as they wait each evening for only one remaining crew, made up of Olivier Pottier and Philippe Gosselin. The two former quad riders are trialling a new buggy, the Optimus, on which Antoine Morel is counting for the future: "It's aimed at former bikers and quad riders who want to switch to cars, but who may have modest resources. What's more, perhaps next year you'll see my sons, Alan and Kevin in these Optimus buggies, since they've been heavily involved in the project. I think that I might also have a go at it too".
Roma loyal to the bivouac
A top driver forced to withdraw from the Dakar does not often hang about at the bivouac. Joan "Nani" Roma, who rolled his car during the 3rd stage, has chosen to stay with the BMW X-Raid team. "My guiding principle in life is to never hide away," insists the Catalan. "But it's not easy every day -- it's very hard to see the others start the race in the morning". Roma has obviously not hesitated to help his team-mates Stephane Peterhansel and Guerlain Chicherit. "I worked on the car for 6 months and I know every last detail about it. So, I can give advice on certain settings and other things. It's the same for Michel Perin [his co-pilot] who talks a lot with his colleagues". The other, and this time essential, reason for his presence at the bivouac is the forthcoming award of the Henri Magne trophy to the most deserving co-pilot. "I co-founded this trophy. Out of respect for Henri, I must stay here". Whilst whiling away the time before he can get back on the tracks, Roma wears a press pass around his neck and is travelling by plane, like any other follower of the rally. He even spent some stages in an assistance vehicle, but his comments on the experience were: "never again!"