The first of eight Mauritanian stages of the 2001 Total Paris-Dakar allowed Joan Roma to pull back a little time on leader Richard Sainct today. The fast going of the first real desert special test (and at 384 miles, also the longest of the rally) was supposed to favor the BMWs, and while that German team’s Roma did indeed win the special, it wasn't by the amount expected.
"Once past the wall, it was very fast," Roma said. "I overtook the KTMs at around kilometer 150 (mile 93), and after that, simply rode my own race. The most important thing is that my bike is running perfectly on this marathon stage."
For his part, Frenchman Sainct was happy with his damage control and the fact that he still retains the overall lead. "I expected Roma to take more than 2'20" off me," he said. "Tomorrow will probably be more of the same, and we'll just have to wait for more favorable going."
Italian Fabrizio Meoni hurt his shoulder slightly in a fall at the beginning of the special, and while he still managed to finish fourth on the day, he slips down to third overall nearly eight minutes behind the leader. "I just want to keep finishing among the front runners and then make the difference in the navigation," he said. "While I am getting slower with age, the bike is getting better and better."
Meoni’s KTM teammate Alfie Cox performed one of his by-now traditional climbs through the field. Starting 59th this morning thanks to bike problems yesterday, he finished third in the special, just ahead of Meoni.
American Jimmy Lewis finished seventh in the test on his factory BMW and advanced one spot to seventh in the overall standings, his best position yet this year. Lewis lost more time to the leader, however, and now sits an hour and eight minutes off the pace. Countryman Johnny Campbell rode his Honda to 12th on the day, and now sits in 14th overall.
Today’s 390-mile (including transfer sections) route started in Smara in the south of Morocco before crossing the northern border of Mauritania and finishing at a fort in El Ghallaouiya. The course included fast, sandy sections, and navigation skills were paramount. Tomorrow’s course will consist of one 321-mile special test, and since this is a marathon stage, there are no support trucks or replacement parts allowed either tonight or tomorrow night.
On a down note, today's stage was marked by an accident involving an assistance vehicle that strayed off the course while crossing the "wall" between Morocco and Mauritania, and ran over a mine. The Portuguese driver, Jose Eduardo Ribeiro, lost his foot in the explosion and was evacuated to the military hospital at Laayoune.