Stage 13 – Cordoba to Buenos Aires

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This is a stage for relaxing for most of the competitors who will take starter’s orders in Cordoba. There may be the chance of stealing one or two places for some, or a long route to overcome with a sore wrist or knee for others. These are all good reasons for remaining highly concentrated. The final short and quick special stage of the Dakar 2011 will finish at the Baradero racing track where a great show and thrills are guaranteed.
We will be watching this stage on YouTube and the Dakar iPhone app. The real race is over, and we will miss the parade of the participants in Buenos Aires.
Al Attiyah asked me to come say hi at the finish line in Buenos Aires, which regretfully I will need to take a rain check on. Coma, was to arrogant to talk to the fans, so I will keep the photo ops as memory from him.
We had an adventure of a lifetime, wrapped around a one of a kind world rally event, The Dakar. It was a dream I had growing up and this was as close as I got to fulfilling it.
Long live adventure, long live the Dakar, and here is to new friends.

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Stage 12 – San Juan to Cordoba

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Here is what the racers would go through today;
The final battle for the title will take place in broad day-light for the trucks, which will have a head start, exceptionally kicking off proceedings for this stage. For the rest, the length of this penultimate stage requires caution, especially over the first still sandy 100 kilometers. Since the gaps are sometimes tiny between the quickest drivers and riders, a lot can still change at this stage of the race.
The circumstances reminded me of the movie “The big race”. In a last minute twist, Julie decided she didn’t want to ride, and gave me her 650. A crappy bike but a bike none the less. We had a 500 km stretch to ride, with 150 of them through packed sandy road, that made for a shortcut to Cordoba, from San Juan. Some team members, who had enough dirt riding for the rest of their life, decided to take the loop and do 600 km on asphalt.
Diego and I decided to split from the group and go at our own pace. It promised a good adventure, as when we took off the two of us before. Danielle opted to ride with the truck, as the 650 would have hard time dealing with the terrains, two up, and the ride will be very un comfortable for her.
Diego and I took off, briefly met with the team at the first gas station. 200 km into the ride, we see some commotion next to the road. The Volkswagen team, was at the end of the liaison, and getting ready to kick off the race. We stop by them to check it out and once again, with a handful of spectators, find ourselves in a one to one conversation with Al Attiyah. Photo ops, a chat, and off they take to threaded. Wild, to think that we just had a chat and a photo with one of, if not THE the best rally drivers in the world.
We forged on and hit the dirt. It rained the day before, so conditions were perfect. A bit of slush, a bit of water and a straight dirt road at 120 km/p.hr. (75mile p.hr.) Speed.
After about an hour, we see a helicopter hovering about us, which as we have learned, meant we are reaching action. Indeed, once again, we found ourselves, in the middle of nowhere, rubbing with the top bike racers, in their first check point.
The organizers would not let us go to Cordoba through the point, since we would be sharing the track with the racers. They did however let us cut across, and get on a detour that would bring us back to pavement 50km from there.
Our bikes were parked on the dirt road, where the media helicopters landed to get gas. We were once again surrounded by action and adrenaline and loved it.
We gave thumbs up to the opening six bikes, 1,2,3,6,15, 11, 16, all candidates for the top 5 spots. We then got back on the bikes, and took off to the road that would go down as the best ride of the trip. We were hauling at a constant speed of 100 km hr. through slush, sand, water and shrubs. We had enormous amount of fun. Diego, in one of the water passes, narrowly escaped a dire crush with a fence, with skillful recovery from a slip through water and mud. Yours truely, duck walked the bike behind him, to avoid a similar fate.
At the end of the road, as we stopped to exchange impressions and stories from the segment, a sworn of people, from a nearby village, materialized and were clamoring for photos and signatures. Now we were the celebrities of today’s race.
After a short break, we took off. We were in a difficult situation. My GPS run out of power, since I was not riding my bike, and had no way to charge it. Diego’s GPS was acting on us. After getting to a 46 km distance from our destination in Cordoba, we took a wrong turn and 20 minutes later, were 100 km away from the hotel. After a couple of attempts at faking it and driving through beautiful roads that did not take us any closer to the hotel, we stopped and got new batteries for Diego’s GPS. We then very carefully navigated our way to our last stop in Cordoba. We rolled in at 8pm. Exhausted but with what started with a 500 km leg and turned into another 750 km challenging ride.
The adventure was about to be over for us, as we had to head home a day before the final stage of the race. The winners have been determined.
Marc Coma, whom I had the opportunity to meet, won in the Bike category on his KTM, and Nasser Al Attiyah, who was gracious to have a couple of chats with me in Copiapo and on his victory stage on the way to Cordoba, in his Tuareg.
As for our adventure, Nacho had one more surprise for us.
The Rodeo; each year, in a small town outside Cordoba, called Santa Maria, an immense crowd gathers, for ten days, for the largest Rodeo competition in South America. Coreadors from Brasilia, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and Peru, compete in different categories of wild horse taming and horse back riding. Hundreds of thousands of people, feast in town from sunset to dawn. We got a seat on the VIP tribune of the Rodeo arena, a venue that seats dozens of thousands of spectators. A line up of Argentinian stars, performed native music, with my favorite Peteco, getting the most cheers from the crowd. Barbecued meets were served with local beers and wines, while a skillful group of competitors was fighting to stay on the back of the wild horses.
At 1am, we toasted a last glass of Champagne with the group and passed by the hotel to get our luggage and head for the airport.

Stage 11 – Chilecito to San Juan

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The country remains the same, but the competitors will genuinely have the impression of entering a new land. The foothills of the Andes sometimes take on a far west appearance, and this is indeed the case for the fabulous canyons in the first timed sector. A little tune by Ennio Morricone would be a perfect sound-track to the sandier backdrop of the second portion, where the competitors will navigate between fairy chimneys. In spite of appearances, it is not a cinema setting: the competitors will have to remain focused and on form for more than 600 kilometres to conserve the benefits of the efforts they have made up to this point.
Overnight, Jim’s truck was repaired in a local shop, and by dawn we were ready to get started. A good hearty breakfast and we took off. The group split in two, half of us took the short route with the dirt segments and the other half went the long way round. In the dirt, Danielle and I took our second dive, this time a bit faster, while going through another rutted pulverized powder section. A few bruises further, one of which is our ego, we made it to Chilecito. We had a great lunch, filled up the water bag, and took off on a long winding dirt road, part of the infamous Ruta 40, that could take us all the way through Patagonia to the Tierra del Fuego, to San Juan.
We had an amazing ride. 500 km into it, the lights on the dashboard start blinking. When we stopped next for gas, the bike gave up. We were two days before the end of the race and looked like we were going to join the group of many racers who do not get to finish it. Statistics show that only 20% of the racers, finish the Dakar. We were going to join the stats. Abuelito, came with Nacho and the truck, and after few attempts, decided that the bike is done. Nacho arranged for it to be picked up the following day. Danielle climbed behind Diego and I got a ride with Charlie, on his 800.we finished the day riding shot gun. Rolled into the night’s stay at 11:30 pm.
Another day, that started innocent, turned into an edgy experience. But our spirit was high, and Nacho suggested we join him in his truck the following day.
Diego tried to figure out how would we get a bike to ride. His plan fell apart the following morning when Steve decided that he wanted to ride his 1200 after all.

Stage 10 – Copiapo to Chilecito

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The competitors will once again become mountaineers to cross the Andes mountain range. They should also make sure to take a camera to immortalise their journey along the road section on route 60, after crossing the border at the Paso San Francisco pass. After these moments of freshness and relaxation, the riders and drivers should expect heat shock. During this season, it is always very hot in the white dunes of Fiambala. The visit will be shorter than in previous years, but after ten days of racing, this section can in particular prove to be decisive for amateurs who start to show signs of tiredness.
As you can remember, the pass to Chile, over the Paso de Jama, a few days ago, was a gruesome adventure. We rode, with the Dakar convoy, through rain and freeze, in a tough journey that took us through 600 km and cost us two bikes and a lost team member ( who was later found sound and well…). learning from our previous experience, we have decided to start the day early, and be over the pass by early afternoon. The San Francisco pass is harder and longer ride, with over two hundred kilometers (over 125 miles) of dirt road. Jim took a leisurely pace in the morning, and four hours later, we covered only 100 miles, just starting to meet the challenges of the pass. We then stopped to help a stranded biker with overheating issues and by noon, the majority of the pass still had to be tackled. Bad news for our team. At that time, the cars and trucks of the race liaison, were tearing their way through the dirt road, pulverizing the sand into this dust, obstructing vision and making the ride extremely technical. I got frustrated with the slow pace, and decided to take off ahead of the group. 50 km later, we took our first nose dive of the trip. Getting into a turn, following a very dusty Dutch truck team, we found ourselves in a triple, deep rutted curve, with two feet deep powder. With no visibility, I decided to drop the bike, to avoid collision or getting of the road into a trench or ravine. We are at a 15,342 ft (about 5,000 meter) elevation at this point, chewing coca leaves to fight altitude sickness, and gasping for air. As the bike drops, Danielle bolts off the dusty scene, and a truck comes hauling around the corner. After he barely missed our bike, I pulled the little breath I had, stood the bike up, and rode it to the side of the road. It was a very soft fall, thanks to the deep powder, but very scary, none the less.
Needless to say, we were relived we came out of it in one piece. Danielle, the bike and I were all OK. As we were gathering our wits, another biker took a nose dive in the same spot. We later learned that most of our team mates, shared a similar experience. One of whom fainted, as result of the action and lack of oxygen.
We went on riding till we liaised with Nacho and his truck for lunch and re- fueling, so that we can make our way to the Argentinian border. We then learned that Jim’s support truck lost it’s air suspension, and is driving at a slow pace down the road.
Being at high elevation for extended period, started taking it’s tall on us. Danielle fainted and was offered a a ride with the BMW support team, to the border. I decided to take off so that I can join her and get to lower altitude to get some much needed air and avoid similar fate. I got on the bike and started riding down the pass, with trucks, cars, bikes and all. The scenery was amazing. Salt rich lakes with icy looking waters, made for a stunning backdrop. I soon joined Danielle at the border post. She got Gatorade from the BMW team, and oxygen from the border medics, and was feeling somewhat better. We decided to wait for Nacho, and when he got there, he offered to take her in the truck through the remainder of the day’s journey.
Adventure kept messing with us. The paso de san Francisco, was bound to be a long day. We had to do 700 km of riding with 200 dirt through high elevation, and get to Chilecito, the next stop of the race. At 6:30 pm, after hanging out in the desert for two hours, with Glen who run out of gas, we rolled into a small town with still a hundred miles to go. The first of which were 20 km of dirt.
While we waited to the rest of the team to get off the mountain, a group decided to make a head start to the camp site in Chilecito. An hour later they were back, refusing to do one more km in the dirt for the day. Emotions and exhaustion kicked in, and we had something going on edging on mutiny.
At 10pm, we decided to stay in the town we were in, and catch up with the race in Chilecito, the morning after. The local tourist office, helped us find a family, who cleared part of their house for us, so that we have a place to sleep. By midnight, we had dinner and a shower and a room full of bugs as our night stop. It was a challenging day, both physically and mentally. Long live adventure. Danielle was tired, but back to her old self, after getting nourished, hydrated and oxygenated.
But where is Diego? We just found out that he went through to Chilecito, not knowing that we would not follow. Nacho called and arranged a place for him to sleep, since his luggage was with us, in the support truck.

Stage 9 – Copiapo loop

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If the mileage for the day’s proceedings is taken in isolation, the Copiapo-Copiapo loop could pass for a quiet stroll in the desert. Nonetheless it may happen that for many the outcome of the rally could go a long way to being decided in the majestic dunes that dominate this stage. In some places, the depth of the dips formed by the mountains of sand could condemn those who wander astray in them to an endless series of maneuvers. During this day full of traps, there is a lot to lose… but also much to be won for those who are experts at crossing dunes. The most elementary advice on deflating tiers is probably the most valuable to follow. To add further spice to this stage, the bikers will set off in a grouped start, in rows of ten for the leading riders then in rows of 20.
As for our own adventure, Danielle and I, left for our room early, to catch up on some much needed sleep. I woke up at 7am to find a text message from Diego, with 7:30 am kick-stand up departure, to see the first bikers take off.
Jumped into gear, filled up the water bag, and rushed downstairs to the bike. Diego and I were the only ones there. The rest of the team chose to turn the day to an extra rest day, since we stayed in Copiapo that night.
Just as we were about to reach the Bivouac, the top Bikers were speeding the other direction. We turned around and followed them for 10 miles, and got to the start point with them.
There was hardly anyone there, and the organizers let us come and stand next to tee starting line. Diego and I were chatting with the number 1,2 & 3 racers, as they were getting lined up for the launch. The start was in groups. From the first 10 bikers, 9 lost their way just minutes into the stage, wand gave a rare opportunity for other racers to catch up with them.
After all the bikes left,the Cars started showing up. The crowed grew bigger, but Diego and I were still well positioned for a celebrity rub.
We then turned and started a chat with the top car racers. Diego was taking photos and chatting with Sainz, and I was doing the same with Al Attiyah. We saw them and sever al of the leading trucks take off, and left. It was a morning full of adrenaline and Dakar celebrity footage to show off with. Few seconds of footage of Coma and Depres’ start, from three feet away, and same with the leading Tuaregs.
We then did a run for a quick cup of coffee, and off we took back to the bivouac, to catch the front bikers on their way in.
I took advantage of being alone on the bike, and led us all the way, through some sand, to the end of the race. Once the leading bikes were through, Diego and I decided to get back to the hotel, and share our morning adventure with the team. As we rode down the hill, we mistakenly, joined the finish trail, and rode with a couple of competitors through the finish line. You can imagine the look on the organizers and local carabinieri, as we were rolling with our bikes through the crowed. For us, it was as close as we got to feeling the rush of the race. The crowed was cheering and we had big smiles on our face. Perfect end to a great morning. Diego and I exchanged a slide and fist greeting and were as content as can be.

Stage 8 – Antofagasta to Copiapo

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It was a great day for the team. We got on the bikes and
hauled our rears to a dune 60 miles from Antofagasta. We saw the
race pass by for a couple of hours and took off, passing the hand
stuck in the sand and went on to Copiapo. Highlight of the day, was
meeting “Tony From the Field”, A Dutchman originally called Anton
Van Der Velde, who has been traveling around the world on his
Harley with 300,000 miles on the saddle. Tony Followed six Dakar
races on his bike. He was slightly amused by our well equipped dual
sport bikes, as means of long distance transportation. The team
said he looked like my long lost brother. You guys can judge for
yourself.

Stage 7 – Arica to Antofagasta

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This is what the race would have been like for stage 7. 200
miles into the race, the afternoon was cut short. The pilots were
wiped out by the time they got to the first checkpoint. The ride
through powder sand is grueling, especially for the bikers. The
competitors will get back to business with the longest special
stage of the rally, which marks the start of a very selective
sequence. Two timed sections will be on the menu, with a section of
two halves for the morning. The bikers will have to tackle an
endurance type route lasting for around forty kilometres. Even the
most physically fit will be exhausted by this excursion through the
canyons. The finish of this first portion will take place on the
ocean’s shores, as the vehicles dive down from the dunes along an
especially steep slope towards the finish. The tracks of the second
section are quicker and the riders and drivers will no doubt cross
the finishing line of the special stage to applause at the racing
track. Lopez won the stage. We have spent a good hour talking and
taking photos with the race leaders, Coma, Depres and several
others, at the checkpoint.

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