I had a call from Jacob Smith at the end of Day 7 their time. Right off the start, Jacob struck trouble with a leaking fuel tank causing the bike splutter to a halt.

Ed: Hi Jake, yet another frustrating day today…

JS: Yeah. It’s been like that the whole week! But at least we made it in at the end. I didn’t think I was going to… thought it was a case of race over. I was pretty happy just to get it moving again, but I’ve actually still come up in the overall standings (currenty 29th). It could have been a lot worse than it is!

Ed: Did it take you long to work out what was up?

JS: When it stopped I knew it was something electrical or it was flooding. Turned out to be flooding, and when I tipped the bike on the side I saw the fuel running out the bottom of the tank. As quick as I could, I took the tank and the seat off, swapped the plug over, drained the carby in case the tank had picked up some dirt. I had to nurse it for the next 50km partly because it wasn’t running well, but also because I wouldn’t have made it with the fuel range. It was just one of those things.

Ed: Looking at the timing for the waypoints, you lost 38 minutes in the run from the start to WP1, but as soon as you were running again you started climbing the standings. The persistent theme here is that no matter what things conspire against you, you are riding fast and cleanly.

JS: Yes, definitely. I’ve ridden with a few of the guys further up the front and stuck with them easily. I’m setting OK times in the pack, but plenty of the time I’ve had to just cruise in 2nd or 3rd because I can’t see for all the dust.

Ed: Today sounded very dusty…

JS: Yeah, it was. Just as bad as any other day especially passing the quads. Behind them you can’t see a thing. Stopping to 35 minutes to fix the bike puts you right in the middle of the slower riders. I passed probably 30 today. I came in 43rd for the stage having started in the 50s. Time for the first sector was right near the bottom.

Ed: Other than issues with the GPS units misbehaving, you seem to have your head around the navigation fairly well now.

JS: I’m picking it up. At the moment I keep finding that I need to do the navigation very carefully. When you get stuck at the back, there are tracks everywhere that make the going even more confusing. I need to choose carefully. The tracks just go everywhere at the waypoints. Certainly I’ll be a lot wiser for next year.

Ed: You’ve had some testing days, but what’s been the highlight so far?

JS: The crowds. Mate, they are unbelievable! I can’t really put it into words… It’s like the Tour de France in all the towns. I pull up to a red light and everyone just rushes up. They just want to touch you, get your autograph and cheer you on. It just blows me away. Even in the really early starts at 4.30 or 5.00 am there are just thousands of people lining the roads.

Ed: One of the pictures that came through before Mark came off was of him talking to a crowd of people all with cameras on the other side of the bivouac fence.

JS: That night was incredible. I woke up to the noise of the crowd at 3.30am the next morning. Those masses of people just stayed there all night and didn’t sleep. They’re fanatics!

Ed: Speaking of sleep, you must come in pretty worn out but still worn out at the end of the stage. Obviously you still have lots to do. What’s your wind-down routine to start the job of sleeping?

JS: The first week was pretty hectic. The crew helped as much as they could. I’d sit down for 20 minutes and have something to eat, then go off and shower. I’d have to do the road book, pack my backpack and water, get the riding gear ready, set up my bed. The first week it just felt like I didn’t stop. Just going to the showers or toilets or the phone, it’s a real hike to get there especially when you have to go 4 times at 20 minutes a go. Getting into a routine really helps – in bed by 10.30 and then awake at 3.30 for riders’ briefing. It’s a gruelling schedule, but since Mark’s not longer riding he has been helping me out heaps. Mark and Arja (a local contact for the team) have been doing my road books which saves me time.

Ed: Mark has described himself as your “dog’s body”.

JS: That’s it! He’s been doing an awesome job. Today I was able to come in, shower and then go lie down on the stretcher straight away for half an hour while they started my preparations. It makes such a difference when you don’t have to worry about all the little things. That’s the benefit the big boys in the factory teams have. They have motorhomes, so they get off the bike and have their own showers and toilets and a crew to attend to everything they need. The less of that sort of stuff you have to worry about the better I think.

Ed: Did you get to put your feet up much on the rest day yesterday?

JS: I did. We went into town the night before to stay in a hotel with everything we needed nearby. After dinner I think I got to bed around 12.30 and slept in until 7.00 am. We kicked around there for most of the morning before having lunch. We had to go back to bivouac to set up a few things but I managed to do an hour’s sight seeing before dinner and bed again. It was a good change, but it went fast. I certainly didn’t have much time doing nothing, but it was a break I needed. I got to recharge the batteries a bit and sleep in a decent bed. Doesn’t sound like much, but it makes life much better!

Ed: Warren Strange and his guys have gone home now haven’t they?

JS: Yeah, they went into Santiago last night and then flew to Buenos Aires for a flight home tomorrow morning. His shoulder is not flash and he needs to get it checked out. He really didn’t want to deal with it here because of the language barrier as much as anything, so going home was the only choice.

Ed: When he went down was the iritrack set off by you guys or did the organisers make contact?

JS: I was right beside him when he went down. We rode together for a couple of hundred k’s because my GPS was down. I saw the whole thing happen since I was only 5 metres away. It looked bad, but since it low-sided him I thought he might have been OK. When I got to him he was still lying on the ground and told me he thought his shoulder was out. He wanted to have a crack at putting it back in although I wasn’t too keen on it. I grabbed his shoulder and tried to pull it back but he realised it was no good. We needed to get the chopper so I went to activate the safety gear. It called over to France and it was a little hard to get everything through – I had to repeat myself three or four times so they understood what we needed. But after that, the chopper showed up very quickly once I got off the phone to HQ. The first of the cars were coming through and I had to go up the top to slow the first three cars down. Once I was no longer needed there I went back to see him but there was nothing more I could do. I just had to hop back on my bike and get to it.

Ed: How did you manage the today with no GPS?

JS: It was tough, but I spent some time early on trying to rewire it. I managed to get it to power up again but the aerial wasn’t working. I was trying to get to the fuel stop to work more on it, so did that all with the road book. At the fuel stop I tried fixing it and saw Warren was coming. I just cruised along the side of the track until he caught up and we continued side by side until he crashed. I just winged it to town after that point. There were plenty of tracks but choosing the right ones was tricky. Fortunately the road book checked out and I made it in. Trying to see where we going in the dunes was really hard – it’s so repetitive!

(Jake’s phone rings with another call from Australia.)

Ed: Have you been keeping in touch with many people back home? There are a huge number of people all over the country following you.

JS: I have. I speak to my parents every day, and I’ve spoken to my brother a few times. Friends from home have been in touch and my trainer called last night. Facebook has been going off it’s head! I try to get on that every couple of nights with an update for everyone following there. The support from home has been overwhelming to tell you the truth. I didn’t expect it, but the whole town is behind me. I spoke to Mum about it and she said it takes her half an hour to just get through the checkout at the supermarket because everyone wants to know how we are going. She’s not getting much sleep either. My folks have been up every night watching it on the net. I sort of feel that with my results… I ‘m not doing that well, but everyone is still behind me.

Ed: The point is we can see from the times at night that you’re really doing well when you don’t have a problem. That’s the awful thing – every day something spoils the run and then you have to chase 3 dozen riders to play catch up or you get to start from the back again. There have been heaps of positive comments on the website (keep them coming everyone!!!) and we’re all behind you whatever happens.

JS: That’s the thing, I want to repay that. Of course I want to finish this thing for myself, but I also want to do everyone proud – the team included. I want to get this thing to the finish. Everyone at home is saying, “we don’t care were you come, but bring it home”.

Ed: People like Jonah Street and David Casteu had big problems yesterday – at one stage Jonah thought he was out for keeps but he managed to get the bike going again. At this stage of the event, other riders are starting to find things just grinding to pieces. You never want to wish anyone bad luck however you’ve had more than your fair share of it. Hopefully karma balances things out a little!

JS: I hope so, mate! But I know what you mean. It showed today when I had all that trouble with the fuel tank but I still went from 33rd to 29th. I just have to get that thing to the finish and that’s what will give confidence for next year. If you can make a clean run of it with a “dust gap” you’d be surprised where you can end up. You don’t have to be the outright fastest rider, but if you keep it clean you can run in the top ten, no worries.

Ed: That’s the catch, the top 10 guys start at two minute intervals, but where you’ve been finding yourself the bikes are sent out every 30 seconds. They get four times the gap.

JS: It was actually two at a time off the start today too… It was crazy.

Ed: I should let you go take that other call. You have a good day tomorrow and we’ll see if we can catch up in a couple of days and see if the tables have turned!