Bike Five kilometers from the finish! The first stage was especially difficult for the most experienced bikers, whose day was disrupted by tire problems. It was also hard for Belgian Stephane Charlier, who ground to a halt 5 km before the end of...
Five kilometers from the finish!
The first stage was especially difficult for the most experienced bikers, whose day was disrupted by tire problems. It was also hard for Belgian Stephane Charlier, who ground to a halt 5 km before the end of the special, due to engine problems. But in South America, just like in Africa, solidarity is alive and well on the Dakar. "I managed to finish thanks to Pierre (Navarro) who towed me home using a strap that the Argentines found for us", explained the rider. "I found him lying down by the side of the track. I though he was having a nap, but he told me he thought he had broken his engine", said Pierre Navarro, the day's good Samaritan. "I checked my road-book and saw that there were only 5 km left. It would have been such a shame to have to give it all up there and then. That's also why I'm taking part in the Dakar, for its human values, but I never thought I would end up in that sort of situation on my first Dakar..."
Declreck: happiness on four wheels
Christophe Declerck surely did not expect to win the first special stage of the first Dakar in South America. It was an almost divine surprise for this native of northern France and quad instructor in Dunkirk, who is taking part in his first Dakar. "Everything went well. There were nice sandy tracks, which are ideal for quads. However, I was still fairly cautious but I soon overtook some of the bikes". Four times winner in Tunisia in 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007 but also twice a winner in Morocco in 2005 and 2006, Christophe also won the quad World Cup in 2006. He is a Dakar rookie, albeit with a fair bit of experience, and admits his only ambition is to do as well as possible, though he is full of enthusiasm for this edition: "At last there is a real quad category. It will be fine old battle". And Christophe is already the man to beat.
The amateurs cannot believe their eyes
"If he wants, I can give autograph signing lessons to Brad Pitt". Dominique Brie, rider No. 159, is not the only one looking for a striking way to explain his first stage. From an everyday existence, suddenly the Dakar's amateurs are thrown into the brightest of spotlights. His friend Julio Ano, rider No. 118, prefers to uses cycling rather than Hollywood as a metaphor: "This stage is like a stage of the Tour de France, but over 700 kilometers. Incredible!" A ten minute stop to refuel is in fact prolonged by a twenty minute photo call for competitors who are usually more used to battling with the dunes and tracks all alone. "What's more, the crowds were sensible, respectful and didn't cause any problems: a real pleasure", underlines Jerôme Pelichet in his Bowler 373. Jean-Luc Martin, co-pilot in car No. 391, cannot forget all the dust yesterday but concludes: "The crowds are so encouraging!"
Life in pink
One innovation on the Dakar 2009 that is more discrete than the change of continent has nonetheless regularly led to questions from many curious spectators: "What are the pink race numbers all about?" This slight change has been adopted for easier identification of riders enrolled on bikes that have engines smaller than 450cc on the one hand, and cars in the T2 category on the other hand. Often racing with less means than the crews who are fighting for outright victory, the drivers of these "production" cars (whose technical features are very similar to mass produced vehicles) are still just as competitive as their more illustrious competitors. With this sign of recognition, the race within the race could be even more intense.
Chicherit in the dark
At 20.45, Guerlain Chicherit finally finished the day's special stage, as the sun was setting on the Pampa. The BMW X-Raid driver's day was one of contrasts. In the lead at CP3 (after 248 km), Chicherit then saw all his hopes of a good showing during this Dakar go up in smoke when trying to overtake the Volkswagen of Giniel De Villiers. Whilst maneuvering, the Frenchman managed to rip off his front suspension and damage the steering column of his X3 when he drove over a tree stump. Whilst his team-mate Nasser Al Attiyah scored the best scratch time, Chicherit had to wait for his rapid assistance truck to repair the damage. As a result he is now 7 hours behind the leader of the general standings.