Atacama by night !
When some are already tucked under their duvets, under the shower or eating a hearty lentil soup at the bivouac, others are still en route. The first stages of the Dakar in the Atacama desert were tough, even cruel sometimes. There is always something going on at TC -- Time Check -- upon arrival.
Stage 5, Iquique, 0:10 AM: As all eyes are on the big Iquique sand dune to spot the headlights of approaching vehicles, it is almost incognito that Alain Steinhoff arrives... on foot. "I ran out of gas 12 km from here. So I walked. Would you have a bit of water for me..." The man from Lorraine is well aware that his first Dakar stops here after five stages only. 0:45 AM: A faint light is shining about 1 km from the finish line. It is the headlight of Jorge Gomez. After riding 422km, the bike's electrical system broke down. Impossible to kick start his BMW 450 RR again. There was only one solution for the Spaniard: push his bike for 800 m up to the finish line, a tremendous effort in the soft sand. 50 m from the finish line it was the cheers of the bystanders -- still numerous this late in the night -- that greeted Jorge. "This is tough, especially after such a great stage." Despite the exhaustion, Jorge was still smiling. Stage 5, special stage finish, 11:30 PM: David Rincon finishes his special stage. He still has 265 km of liaison to reach Arica. "I just can't go on. I have to sleep." After 14h40' of intense effort the Spaniard was given shelter by the TC team in the bus that takes them from finish to finish. Arrived just a few minutes after Rincon, Gilles Diguiet did the same as his pal. The Frenchman lies down before jumping back on his feet... "If I sleep, will I get a penalty?" Finish line of the special stage, 0:30 AM: Two astronauts get out of their 4-wheel drive... and slowly walk to the TC finish tent... Under the dust mask, it is hard to recognize Herve Toscano and his copilot Pascal Gambillon. "We have never seen this much fesh fesh. We drove one meter and got stranded. We got the plates out, started again... one meter then stranded again, and again." 4:30 AM: A filthy and dusty Santa Claus rushes out of the Atacama desert. All dressed in red, Diego Izquierdo Menendez, with his long white beard full of dust is just finishing the doomed stage... That does deserve a good cerveza! 5:00 AM: The Iridium phone of the TC finish rings. "Papa Charly -- the race command post -- calling; you are staying put until noon..." The TC team was supposed to pack up and go at 6:00 AM but there are still 60 contenders in the stage. 8:00 AM: David RIncon wakes up after a restful night. But the Spaniard feels pain in his ribs. Before swallowing a nice breakfast, the man sees the doctors who have been there since the night before. Time for him to get back in the saddle. "Gracias a todos", says the man from Madrid, visibly moved, to the whole team. 9:00 AM: Arrival of the one-seat buggy of Juan Manuel Pato Silva. "Would you like some coffee?", asks a member of the organization. "No, this is the Dakar..." And the man rides on to Arica for a short day of rest. 9:30 AM: One after the other, five riders finish the stage, almost 24 hours after starting it. In the order of arrival, they are Laurent Meffre, Mame Less Diallo, Jacques Barron, Jorge Gomez and Ennio Cucurachi. They spent the night in the desert. Seated in the white tent of the TC, they enjoy a makeshift breakfast. Gomez -- after a second night of hardship -- falls asleep on his chair. Peru's Barron who is in much better shape strikes a pose behind his sleeping pal, laughing.