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/ (75mile 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.