Nearly 600 miles in length, Monday's stage included another short special test, just under four miles in length, but more importantly, it marks the race's entry into Africa, where the real racing will soon begin. After leaving the Spanish capital this morning, the Dakar Rally went just a few miles before beginning the event's third special test just outside of town in a construction area outside the Stadeo Peneta. Spain had experienced abnormally cold weather in previous days (there's a light dusting of snow over much of the country), and although things are a bit warmer now, it was raining steadily when the riders left the parc ferme and tackled the muddy, sloppy special test.
That brief section was followed by a transfer south to Algeciras, near Gibraltar, where race and support vehicles were loaded onto ferries and carried across the Strait of Gibraltar to the city of Tangiers in the northern African country of Morocco. Another transfer section brought the rolling caravan south to Rabat, just up the Atlantic coast from Casablanca.
In the morning's short-but-muddy test, the fastest rider was Joan Roma on a Repsol-sponsored KTM, and the Spaniard moved into sole position of the overall lead. He was nine seconds faster than Finn Kari Tiainen, who also did well in the other muddy special test (on day two). Rounding out the top three was Frenchman Cyril Despres, with Dutchman Eric Verhoef and Frenchman Richard Sainct (winner of yesterday's test) following in fourth and fifth, respectively.
The rally first visited Rabat, home to two million inhabitants, in 1994, and the last time it visited the city was in 1999. Founded way back in 1150 by the Grand Sultan Almohade 'Abde Al Mu'min, the city became Morocco's capital in 1912, and it is home to the royal palace.
As for Morocco itself, the country has 30 million inhabitants, most of whom speak Arabic. Mohammed VI is the leader, and the diverse country derives much of its income from tourism.
By the way, motorcycling hero Stephane Peterhansel currently holds third-overall position in the car class, in his Nissan.
MONDAY'S SPECIAL-TEST RESULTS
1. Joan Roma (KTM) Spain: 5 min., 29 sec.,
2. Kari Tiainen (KTM) Finland: 5 min., 38 sec.
3. Cyril Despres (KTM) France: 5 min., 40 sec.
4. Isidre Esteve (KTM) Spain: 5 min., 43 sec.
5. Eric Verhoef (KTM) Netherlands: 5 min., 49 sec.
6. Richard Sainct (KTM) France: 5 min., 55 sec.
7. Marc Coma (Suz) Spain: 6 min., 0 sec.
8. Eric Bernard (KTM) France: 6 min., 6 sec.
9. (TIE) Jordi Arcarons (KTM): 6 min., 8 sec.
Jean Brucy (KTM) France: 6 min., 8 sec.
1. Joan Roma (KTM) Spain: 38 min., 7 sec.
2. Cyril Despres (KTM) France: 38 min., 18 sec.
3. Kari Tiainen (KTM) Finland: 38 min., 37 sec.
4. Richard Sainct (KTM) France: 39 min., 0 sec.
5. Isidre Esteve (KTM) 39 min., 42 sec.
6. Marc Coma (Suz) Spain: 40 min., 38 sec.
7. Giovanni Sala (KTM) Italy: 40 min., 44 sec.
8. Alfie Cox (KTM) South Africa: 40 min., 49 sec.
9. Eric Verhoef (KTM) Netherlands: 40 min., 53 sec.
10. Fabrizio Meoni (KTM) Italy: 40 min., 54 sec.
To be safe, I'm sending this update from Madrid, where I just watched Monday's special test. I'd wait until tonight, but as I mentioned in my last posting, I'm not sure what kind of internet access I'll get once in Africa.
Madrid is a renowned party town, and it should go off tonight for New Year's Eve. I'm not sure what to expect at the bash planned for tonight in Rabat, Morocco, but I can't imagine anyone being in a very festive mood after the rally's longest stage thus far.
The test was well-attended by the public despite the inclement conditions, and they showed their support by waving banners, singing, blowing air-horns and tossing confetti.
Now it's midday, and I'll kill time until 7:00 p.m., when I'll catch the press bus to the airport and fly to Rabat. It would have been cool to do the ferry-ride thing, but I won't mind not doing the long freeway slog.