We had 3 days to collect our bikes from the port, do our last minute tinkering, and get through the scrutinering process for both the bikes and riders.
|All smiles as i'm reunited with my bike|
|A bit of metal work with Bennie (Memo Tours)|
In the afternoon it was a photo shoot and briefing followed by the podium. From the quiet days in the bivouac we were suddenly thrust into super stardom. The streets were lined with spectators, tv cameras, jumbo screens and it was as overwhelming as it was amazing.
|Having photo taken with fans of the Dakar|
|Waiting for our turn on the podium in Buenos Aires|
|Playing to the crowds. They were great fun|
1st special of the rally started on a man made course with many spectators. Starting in pairs I was surprised to be able to keep my position and all the fear and apprehension built up during the previous 3 or 4 days soon disappeared as I settled into a good rhythm on the fast fire track roads. All going well until in the later stages of the special I couldn't turn the handlebars to the right. Pulled off the course to find the Iritrak had broken free from its bracket and lodged itself between the forks and the fairing mount. Whilst fixing the problem with zip ties and gentle persuasion the other riders nipped past and I was left near the back of the field battling with the dust from the later riders. I decided against risky overtaking manoeuvres and so the next day I would be starting some 40 places down. Not a good place to be.
|Settling in during the 1st special.|
In the morning battled with the quads on the tight turning course. Very dusty and nearly impossible to overtake. A bike bravely overtook me but later ended up missing the corner in the dust and disappeared off the course. The quads stopped to help and that allowed me to push on with a clear track. Lots of supporters on the course cheering the riders on and then we entered soft, sandy, rutted pistes. Suddenly I heard the sentinel for the 1st time. It was Carl, he'd had an off and couldn't start the bike. I offered a jump start but it was of no help. Remembering everyone's advise to push on if there is no serious injury, I was relieved to see a group of supporters round the corner. They enthusiastically went to see Carl and I didn't feel so bad about leaving him. At the fuel stop I was very happy to find out that I had caught up with many bikes and even happier to see Carl arrive 5 minutes later. When I asked how he got the bike going, he told me that he had forgotten to flip the kill switch.
The bike was on the rev limiter for the next 20k. I could see clouds of dust and I was catching up with the next rider. Once a safe overtaking manoeuvre was made Carl whipped past me on the LC4-50. My bike could not match the pace and Carl disappeared into the distance. My nav tower at this point was starting to work itself loose. I stopped to make sure it would survive the rest of the day. It got worse but never gave me any real hassle. Back into the fesh fesh tracks I heard the sentinel for the second time, it was a car. The 3rd or 4th time I heard the siren it was because a rider had been hit by a car. Carl was there on the scene and there was nothing I could do so carried on for the day. Lots of cars came past, and there were a lot of riders crashing and generally looking tired. It was over 40 degrees and I was feeling good and riding relaxed. At CP3 more sentinel activity. The stage had been cancelled due to too many riders getting dehydrated. It was too hot. A long liaison home in the heat was horrible. We stopped many times for water. On arrival at the bivouac I was swarmed with spectators. It was hard to move without fear of hurting someone. The support in South America is overwhelming. Later that I night I learnt that The 1st of our team was out of the rally Ralph had broken his finger and was dehydrated from crashing in the fesh fesh.
|Busy morning in the dust of the quads|
|Will sleep anywhere. Was too hot to sleep in the tents.|
Day started with a long liaison section and I unfortunately passed a rider lying motionless by the side of the road. A car was further down the road and the rider was surrounded by police. Nothing I could do so continued to the start of the special. It contained 100k of dry river bed, fast tracks of zero visibility with hidden rocks, a complicated navigation/riding section riding in and out of gullies/river beds, and then 20k of soft sand/fesh fesh. The Husky's bash plate/water tanks broke off causing the bike to trip up over itself in the river bed, and Clayton had a nasty crash in the fast section. Met Carl and Mikael later on. Carl's bike kept blowing the fuel pump fuse. Mikael towed him for as long as possible without being timed out himself. Carl unfortunately could not find the fault, even though he changed the fuel pump, and was eventually timed out. 2 riders out in 2 days was upsetting. I got in on good time and felt very good. Later we were told the sad news that a fellow rider had died in an accident earlier on in the special. The mood around the camp was pretty emotional. It had been a distressing day.
Up at 3.00am, said goodbye to Carl and Ralph in the morning, tried to forget about the incidents of yesterday, and settled down to a long 600k liaison over the mountains. Many had some effects from the altitude but luckily not me. The bike however was down on power due to the lack of oxygen and it was tough passing the service vehicles in the dusty, cold conditions. Fair to say we were a little tired before the start of the special, and what a special it was. The heat was back and the special started with twisty, rocky, tight tracks, and moved into the faster stuff broken up by slippery hill climbs and river bed crossings. Then there was miles of fast, rocky tracks that had me crash a few times. The usual zero visibility and random big stones/rocks hit the bike hard. Had to go fast as the cars were on their way. The anticipation of the sound of the sentinel was unbearable. The cars came past soon enough, but they all graciously passed giving loads of warning and space and by the end of the section I was no longer bothered by their presence. By the time the dunes arrived the bikes nav tower was all bent up, fairing cracked and it had to be taped down to avoid it hitting the handlebars.
|Very comfortable in the dunes|
Loved the dunes. Total chaos with trucks, cars and bikes struggling to get over the 1st set. Much slingshotting was needed to find the speed to get out and over the bigger dunes. 3rd gear, 2nd, and finally 1st on the climbs as the bike struggled to find the power needed to reach the dunes summits. Steep drops the other side, quick on the power, and quick route planning was needed to make the next. Stopping or being stuck was not an option. It was too hot and there was too much traffic. I was in riding heaven, staying smooth, and thoroughly enjoying myself. The sand was soft and rutted and was great fun (thank you James West for you're teachings).
|Nothing beats riding in the dunes - its amazing|
60k of dunes/sand done and I was confronted with a large bowl of sand and quickly noticed others getting stuck. I decided to ride around the bowl and into a hard packed rocky section and fire myself back into the climb on the other side. All went well but as I dropped out of the rocks I was stopped dead by something hidden beneath the sand. It was all rather quick, but I knew instantly that I had broken something. As I fell to the ground in disbelief that my Dakar was over I was surrounded by spectators and Mikael Berglund (who I was riding with most of the day). A splint was made and ice wrapped round my arm/hand. It was hard to make the call to the emergency services as I was surrounded by the noise of the cars, trucks, and bikes going in all directions trying to make it out of the bowl. The helicopter came and my race was done. Back at the bivouac An X-ray confirmed the broken arm (radius). Mikael came in at a good time but we were missing 2 team riders and our good friend Clayton at Nomad Racing. We watched the lights coming out of the dunes late into the night but they did not arrive. The 3 riders had spent the night in the dunes. Also heard Sunderland was out.
Back and ribs hurting. Very rough night. The 3 lost riders arrived back in the morning. The 2 Turkish riders looked terrible and their bikes even worse. Selçuk's helmet was all smashed up. They had all had a rough time. We pinched bits of my bike to fix theirs, found a new helmet, fed/watered them and off they went. I have no idea if they will make it today. If they do it will be a late one battling with the cars and trucks.
Selçuk arrived back 1st but was out. The crash and night spent in the dunes had taken its toll on him. He was done. Herculean effort though. Koray got back after dark and Clayton is spending the night at CP3. His 3rd night sleeping away from the bivouac.
|Selcuk's smashed helmet|
|Much carnage in the morning of day 5|
Rest day and my last day at the Dakar. Clayton arrived around 2.00pm and said he had a great sleep away from the generators and noise of the bivouac. Out of the 9 team riders that started, just 5 remain.
|View from the service truck at rest day|
I flew home as we only had 1 space available on the service vehicles and I was finding it hard to get sleep due to the bruising on my body. It was a long journey back to the UK and I felt extremely low. Found it hard not to get emotional - it was over and I have no idea how I can come back and finish what I started. The Dakar has a hold of me.