A Yacht Race on Motorcycles

| January 9, 2001

“They were riding like grannies!” That was the assessment of the competitors in the Dakar Rally today by South African Alfie Cox, who went on to elaborate, “At kilometer 170 [mile 105] I broke my chain and lost at least 10 minutes fixing it [actually, more like 20]. A hundred and fifty kilometers [93 miles] from the end I caught everybody up again.”

In the process, Cox took 17 minutes off overall-leader Richard Sainct in just 204 miles.

Today, riders negotiated a new form of special test in the Dakar Rally, one not unlike a yacht race – a large (321-mile) loop with three GPS points replacing the buoys. The start and finishing points were the same, at El Ghallaouiya.

Cox’s was a view that Sainct didn’t necessarily disagree with, as he said, “At the beginning, Roma followed the GPS waypoint and I followed him – but it turned out not to be the best solution. Eventually we found the others and all rode together – effectively neutralizing each other.”

If Cox has (to his great regret) not much to lose (trailing as he does one and a half hours behind the leaders), Sainct and Joan Roma have everything to play for and today decided to ride “in each other’s pockets.” Fifth in the stage was Italian Fabrizio Meoni, who tried to escape but, failed, saying, “If you open, you can’t ride flat out, and the others simply have to follow.” The KTM rider has nevertheless taken over second place overall (nearly five minutes behind Sainct) to the detriment of Team BMW’s Roma.

It could, however, have been a lot more. Commented Roma, “Fifty meters from the end, I hit a big rock with my left-hand cylinder head and ripped off the bottom half of the cover. Fortunately I managed to restart again and passed the finish line without stopping, just handing in my card as I rode through.”

While today’s game of cat and mouse might be heavy on the nerves of some of its protagonists, it at least made a happy man out of the Spaniard Isidre Esteve Pujol, who made a break at the end to win his second special in two days, ahead of Sala, De Gavardo and Deacon.

American Jimmy Lewis finished 12th on the day and is seventh overall, an hour and nine minutes behind Sainct. Johnny Campbell was 15th on the stage and is 12th overall, three hours and nine minutes off the pace.

By Chris Jonnum