Completed: 3949 miles. Remaining: 2762 miles. In terms of pure distance, the Total Paris-Dakar 2001 has past the halfway point, but as far as the "real" race (i.e. the African portion) is concerned, the bulk of the race is still to come. Despite this, there have already been a number of major upsets in all of the categories. Today's rest day has been well-earned and is badly neede, for the worst is undoubtedly yet to come.
Where the riders are resting in Atar, Mauritania, the sun doesn't warm - it burns. Since crossing over into that country, the omnipresent heat and sand have left no doubt as to which continent the competitors are in. The last three stages have already made a huge impact at the front of the motorcycle class (as well as the car and truck categories), notably with the retirements of the first- and third-placed riders, Richard Sainct and Joan Roma, respectively.
If there have been numerous changes up at the front, it would be quite simply impossible to itemize the adventures of their amateur colleagues. But the fact that this morning, of the 118 motorcycle competitors who left Morocco, only 101 still appeared in the results (18 of which have been awarded penalties ranging from 9 to 81 hours!) speaks volumes.
In the bikes, where there are no less than nine nationalities among the top 10. Italian Fabrizio Meoni's rise to the top yesterday was obviously the major event of the stage, especially as it was directly linked to the retirements of Sainct and Roma. Experienced, fast, and an exceptional navigator, the "old desert fox" has a very good shot at the win. That aid, he has only a 20-minute lead over yet another extremely experienced KTM rider - Jordi Arcarons.
In the Production class, KTM rider Francois Flick (in seventh overall) is also a worthy leader, and enjoys a one-hour, 24-minute cushion on KTM rider Bernardo Villar, 10th overall and first in the Marathon class, an hour and a half ahead of KTM rider Celso Gorrara.