It’s 10pm on the evening of Stage 11, I would tell you what day it is, but I can’t, because since joining the biggest circus in South America at the start of January, days of the week don’t count. Everyone here talks in stages and I’ve learned to do the same.
I got out to see the bikes in action today which was a treat. The bivouac for stage 11 was located only 6KM from the end of the timed special. I was dropped among the crowds before wandering off into the Atacama desert so that I could get far enough into the stage to see the best Rally riders in the world riding hard, before they needed to slow down for the end of the stage.
And I have to say that when stage winner Kurt Casseli came past me I was in awe. Yes I knew the top guys would be fast, but I just didn’t expect him to be riding so hard and so aggressively after being on the road for over 500km with over 200 of them being racing KM’s.
It’s hard to appreciate the speed these guys carry. You hear them coming long before you physically see them, next is the dust cloud that gets spewed up into the air way in advance and then you see them for real – full gas in top gear sat back over the rear wheel. When a corner comes they shut the throttle for an instant, just enough time to move their body position and load the front and then its straight back to full gas.
The only other sound is the fans cheering with their shouts and whoops of delight following the dust cloud and the high pitched drone of a 70+bhp 450cc single.
The riders have told me just how great the South American fans – especially the Argentinians and I saw that first hand today.
Even in a desolate area like Fiambala they were lining the hill tops that looked down on the finish. But I didn’t get to see the best of it. The riders themselves get mobbed at the end of the special. The police are there on horses as crowd control but that doesn’t work, they’ll push down barriers and block the road – anything to make the riders stop and it doesn’t matter if its Cyril Despres or Miguel Puertas (who’s currently the last man standing) they are met with the same euphoria.
They’ll do anything and I mean anything to make riders stop and are always coming up with new things – the latest which has been reported to me by only the most observant British riders is young ladies pulling up their tops - a neat trick which guarantees a reaction.
Out on the stage the fans try to be helpful, pointing the way and giving their advice on the best line, but there are exceptions. On stage ten the locals decided to build a jump out of sand just before a cattle grid. It was designed to add a bit of spice to their viewing, but it was in an area where the riders were flat out in top gear and the jump was too sharp and too severe leading to at least one big time crash.
Only on the Dakar…