A first for Morocco
The Dakar, born in Africa, had to wait to cross the Atlantic Ocean before it was won by an African, Giniel De Villiers, in 2009. This year, the Volkswagen driver has climbed to 2nd place in the car race two days from the finishing line, whilst the former biker now on four wheels, Alfie Cox, lies in 20th position in the general standings. The other representatives of the continent have not had as much success, since Angola's Carlos Machado withdrew during the 6th stage and Senegal's Mame Less Diallo exited the race with a broken wrist during the special leading to San Juan. Taking a closer look at the standings, it becomes evident that the good news for Africa comes from Ingo Waldschmidt, who is likely to improve on his 52nd place in 2009. As for debuts, great expectations lay on the first participation of Harite Gabari as the first representative of Morocco on the rally. In the first 11 stages, the biker from Agadir experienced falls and breakdowns. Despite all these setbacks, he is in the process of achieving the first part of his objective: "The problems started on the first day, when I crashed and broke the handlebars and front of the bike, which lost me a lot of time. After that, I had a nasty fall in the 4th stage and the doctors said I had internal bruising around one of my kidneys. Even though it is not infected, I've been riding since then with pain in my back, but I'm battling on. Now the bike is starting to give up the ghost and I'm forced to stop for fifteen minutes every 5 km to let it cool down, which means I won't be able to finish in the top 40, but after what has happened to me, it will be a superb performance just to get back to Buenos Aires". He has already received invitations to appear on all the Moroccan TV channels.
Thierry Sabine and South America
The innovators amongst us are always one idea ahead of the rest, or even several in the case of a person like Thierry Sabine. The founder of the Dakar, who died on 14th January 1986, exactly 25 years ago, was not lacking in initiative. Roger Kalmanowitz reminds us of an event to easily forgotten. In June 1985, Thierry Sabine invited to Versailles, in a grand hall, in keeping with the ambitions for his projects, the press, the members of the organisation team of what was at the time the Paris-Dakar and the competitors of the first editions. In his briefcase, there lay an idea able to provide even greater thrills to those present... "He had just come back from a trip to South America, where he had been reconnoitring and conducting formalities. He showed us photos and pictures. His project was not entirely concrete, but this grand presentation showed that it could quickly become so," reminds Kalmanowitz, a member of the current organisation team. Etienne Lavigne, a worthy successor, also took this option and is looking even further afield: "I dream about a possible Grand Slam, with a Dakar that would involve Argentina, Chile, Peru, Brazil..." commented the rally director this week. Sabine would have loved it.
Christophe Declerck: better late than never
It is a bit like story of the hare and the tortoise. Christophe Declerck started slowly and has not really quickened up since the beginning of this Dakar: "I've had a lot of bad luck, but a lot of good luck too". Meaning? "I haven't had a day without problems. That said, every time, the problem was one that could be handled and repaired. So, it hasn't allowed me to lead the race, but I'm still here". And how, because the Frenchman, the only one in the quad category is now installed in 3rd place in the general standings. "I've had one decent day: the one at San Juan. In the end, I've come a long way". As a result, Christophe Declerck has some late emerging ambitions; it is never too late. "There's now a huge battle for 3rd place on the Podium. Argentina's Copetti is only 4'57" behind and Polish rider Laskawiec trails by 47". An astonishing situation in light of the almost nine thousand kilometres covered. However, according to Christophe, everything about this Dakar is astonishing. "Firstly, I really like it, even if it is a lot more difficult than last year. Secondly, the crowds in Argentina are incomparable. Yesterday (Wednesday), I did the special without a battery. As a result at every re-start I had to push. Even in the dunes I managed to find people to help me. You might think that they would be favouring the Patronelli brothers, but the other riders exist as well. They are genuine motorsport fans and what's more they show a lot of fair-play". Worthy of Lafontaine's fable...
Laia comes up for air
She arrived with the weight of being ten times world trial champion and accompanied by a heavyweight of the rally-raid universe, Jordi Arcarons. With such a roll of honour, and such a famous water carrier, it is a difficult reputation to bear, at the age of 25 years old, for a debut on the Dakar. With her head screwed on the right way and her mind buzzing, in the end Laia Sanz battled through the initial expectations and intense media gaze early on to ride the race as an apprenticeship and blend in with the landscape. After 11 stages, she is in the process of meeting a multi-faceted challenge by obtaining a respectable place (38th in the general standings) and holding her own: 35th at the finishing line in Chilecito. "I haven't set myself any goals except to learn and to finish. In a few years time, we'll see". The Women's Challenge was not a acknowledged objective for the Sanz-Arcarons duo, but, two stages away from the end of this edition, Annie Seel's crown will be changing heads and it will be the first victory of Laia Sanz who has been competing against two former holders of this honorary title: Seel and Mirjam Pol. To reach this level on her first participation, Sanz and her entourage have pulled out all the stops: training in Morocco, a crash course in navigation and, on the Dakar, a physio and even a pure oxygen tent to help recovery after each stage: "It's very relaxing. After a day spent swallowing dust, it sets you right again". However, Laia knows that rally-raids will not always be a breath of fresh air.