Dakar 2011: Riders
I managed to get to speak to Jacob on the evening of 16.1.2011 as they started their celebrations, but not before what turned out to be a prank call of sorts. It was good to see the boys had finally let their hair down after nearly a month of early starts and long days.
Ed: The beers are out already I see…
JS: Yeah, we’ve had a couple! Sorry about that… Max was just pretending to be me!
Ed: I had somewhat of a restless night last night and got up again to watch the timings for the last special. You had me more than a little worried – after entering the stage in the top 20, you disappeared completely from the time sheets for about an hour. What happened?
JS: Mate, I ran wide on a turn that was sharper than I was expecting, through a culvert and then I hit a fence. It pushed the bash plate that had all my tools in it upwards, punching a hole through the bottom of the radiator. I spent a lot of time fixing it. It took a couple of tries because it was a fairly big hole. I had some liquid steel but that wouldn’t plug it. I had to find a stick about the same diameter of the hole to plug it and then filled the rest with “knead-it”. That fixed it and I got going again. I was freaking out big time, I thought my race was over. I was really dirty on myself. I was busy adding up (the road book) and the corner came up way faster than I planned for. Next thing I knew I was in a fence with the radiator pouring water. I was saying to myself before the start, “just take it easy”, because I had nothing at all to gain by going harder. I couldn’t believe it happened right at the end.
Ed: What were we talking about just 24 hours ago? The two guys who crashed out last year!
JS: Yeah! On the last day and all! I felt like an absolute idiot, but I managed to fix it and get in. It was such a relief to get to the finish, to end up in Buenos Aires and hand my time card in… a relief more than anything to tell you the truth.
Ed: Well, at least you did it under your own power. Lopez ended up being towed to the end after he trashed the rear end of his bike and that cost him 3rd place overall. He had a whole lot more to lose though.
JS: For sure. After all the dramas we had, all I wanted to do was finish. But if I was running for the podium and had my spot cemented in place after 16 days only to have something like that go wrong I’d be gutted, massively gutted. I feel for him definitely, but mate, that’s what can happen. It was the last stage and only 180km, but it’s still counts. It could happen on the first day, day 5, day 10, whatever. You have to stay 100% focused, all the way to the end. It’s not over until it’s over. We had an hour and a half before the start of the stage and I was there with Jonah and Quinn Cody. We were all talking about cruising it in because there was nothing to gain, just about home and hosed. Then I find myself 6km into the stage on my hands and knees with the radiator leaking. I just thought “this cannot be happening”. Anyway, it all worked out in the end.
Ed: So are you going to carry an assortment of sticks in the spares kit from now on?
JS: (Laughs…) I dunno mate! We learned a lot this year and we’ll be in a much better shape for next year with all this under our belts. This is an example of one of those things that can happen. I put it down to experience. You can think you know everything but you never, ever stop learning. I got away with it this time, but what happened will stick in my mind for a lot of years to come, I can tell you!
Ed: Well I think you deserve to feel very proud of what you have done, and you deserve at least a couple of beers to celebrate.
JS: It’s been amazing. I was thinking about it on the way here tonight. It’s pretty much a mission accomplished. I wanted to make the finish and get a result. I’m not rapt with 32nd, but we made it to the end. For our first year, we’ve achieved what we needed to do. We know what we need to change.
Ed: I was chatting to Glenn earlier in the day and I pointed out to him that only 94 of the original 186 bikes made it to the end. You’re still essentially in the top third of the half that finished. No mean feat when so many don’t succeed in their first attempt at Dakar. While it’s really sad that Mark and Warren didn’t make it all the way, neither of them sound like it got the better of them. The work now in front of you all is to build the team finances for next year and to do it bigger again. The support that has come from the Australian community and from some places overseas suggests that it’s more than just possible.
JS: It’s very promising. Just the support that I received personally from Australia has been overwhelming. I never knew that many people would follow it. But the website traffic has shown just how many do. We had over 20,000 hits on the site. Right now, I’m very keen to come back. Halfway through at the rest day I was struggling. This has been the toughest thing I have ever done, no doubt there. But none of the troubles we hit have deterred me. We need to get the sponsorship and get to work early. We have so much more knowledge now than when we first arrived. We need to put what we have learned into place quickly to capitalise on it.
Ed: Thinking about that issue with the fuel tanks. That was a left turn in the design process fairly late in in proceedings. The team were working on a completely different tank arrangement but you ended up with what you had just because of time in the end. That one problem with the tanks was the single biggest contributor to the bad luck you all experienced as a team. It was a relatively simple, non-moving part but it’s something you know how to do differently.
JS: Absolutely. The only things that gave us trouble were the untested parts. The tanks and the map reader brackets were the only things we had drama with and both are a relatively easy fix, although not when you are over here losing time every day. We’re much better off for the experience now. Everything that we had tested was absolutely fine. The engines were amazing and the rest of the setup was just as solid. There is so much potential with these bikes.
Ed: The wash-up from this year, being the first with the “450 rule” will be a fascinating thing to watch. The engine was definitely the least of your worries. For other riders as prolific as David Casteu that certainly was not the case. In the end, everyone lost count of how many engines he went through and it must have been so demoralising having to pull the bike apart in the desert to select first gear and ride home that way. Even Despres had a scare with his engine making sinister noises part way through one stage. Simon Pavey’s bike was probably the most dynamic grenade with the “leg out of bed”. For top level teams these sorts of problems are disastrous, but if the organisers stick with the rule they’ll have to deal with it. Blown engines don’t just cost time, they can cost you the finish.
JS: I know we had a lot of trouble, but none of them prevented any of us riding. The changes required to make the whole package come together are minor. We don’t have to do any more testing on engines. A redesign of the tanks and a couple of weeks to ride would see that sorted out. We can take a huge amount of confidence from this. It’s just the beginning.
Ed: Well, I should leave you to your celebrations. I know it’s going to be a busy few days up ahead but please make sure that Glenn has a beer too.
JS: I’ll try, but Glenn’s just about toasted. He’s been going so hard for weeks, but I think he’ll relax with us tomorrow night. It’s been fantastic to sit down and have dinner as a team tonight, knowing that we don’t have to rush to get up at 4.30 in the morning. We’ve done 16 days of that. We’re all ready for a break.
We’ll bring you some more updates as the team packs up and comes home.
Just had a call from Jake this afternoon…
Ed: Jake! Looks like an excellent day for you! 14th on the stage today. How was it?
JS: It was good! It was long and the first 50km was rough, deep sand with plenty of ruts. You know how long it was today – 555km. The first bit was a hard slog, and there’s been a fair bit of water over here. The next leg of 60km was very muddy. After first refuel at 170km it became easier and faster. I didn’t push the limits or do anything stupid. I just rode at a pace where I felt comfortable. I let Jonah (Street, USA) by at about the 300km I think. He was pushing a bit to improve on the overall standings. I’d spoken to him at the start of the stage and he had said he was going to have a bit of a go. I saw him coming so I let him passed and just latched onto the back of him. We cruised like that to the finish. All in all, it was a pretty good day really!
Ed: He was only 2:30 minutes in front of you at the end of 555km. At a decent pace that’s not too far back behind someone who was “going for it”.
JS: Mate, it was good to ride without dust today to tell you the truth! I know we’re getting towards the end of the race but it shows just where you can end up if you can get up the front, stay out of trouble, get that gap and ride smooth. It sure is very promising for the future.
Ed: It’s worth looking at where everyone is forming up to finish this year. The likes of Despres and Coma are 365 day a year Dakar competitors. They are at this full time, training and racing. They do this for a living, but the rest of you are guys who have day jobs, restricted budgets and a “normal life” outside of this. Even when you have the talent it really does seem to come down to luck early in the race and then who has the best support. At the end of the two weeks, the riders consistently getting more sleep than the rest of the field seem to be doing better.
JS: Absolutely. But there are more than just those two who are pro’s this year. Quinn Cody is a full time racer in the US, Rodrigues and Lopez are also getting paid to do this, and they make up the top five at the moment. That’s why they are at the front. Talent is one thing, but the backing seals it.
Ed: You’re sounding really bright and sparky for someone who’s just battled through 555km of sand and mud today!
JS: Yeah, I can see we’re getting to the finish so there’s that light at the end of the tunnel to keep me excited. I honestly don’t feel too bad at the moment. Obviously I am fatigued and my muscles are pretty sore, but fitness-wise I am very good. To be honest, if I had to keep going another week I’d be able to do it. But knowing that the finish is tomorrow gives me that little bit of extra energy.
Ed: Tomorrow is a short special of 181km, but it is at the end of a fairly long transport. What time are you starting the time of day you start the timed section?
JS: The special starts for me at about 10.30 am, but I leave here for the liaison leg at 4.43 am. It’s going to be pretty fast and open. The average speed for the bikes is apparently about 130kph so it’s nearly a flat out run. I’ll still be taking it easy though. They said at the briefing tonight that 2 guys crashed out on the final day last year. You have to stay focussed right to the end so no crazy acts of courage!
Ed: The crew must be getting excited now things are coming to a close.
JS: Yeah, they are. It’s been exhausting for them. They’ve had had next to no sleep every night and they’re still working hard on the bike right now. I’m standing next to it with the front wheel and the tank off at the moment. They’ve just fitted a new pipe to it. They’re juts making sure that everything is OK, but the engine is right. It’s going to be a pretty good party tomorrow night. We are all looking forward to getting everything out of the way tomorrow, packing up and enjoying a couple of quiet beers I think!
Ed: You’ve earned them mate, so make them as loud as you want!
JS: You never know… Sunday only has a few things in store before we ride over the podium at the ceremonial finish. I think we’ve booked a motel for tomorrow night so I’m dreaming of a hot shower, a real toilet and even a decent bed. Luxury!
Ed: When do you actually fly out of Argentina?
JS: Wednesday. We leave about 1.00 and we arrive back in Australia at about 5.30 in the afternoon on Thursday. It’s going to go quickly. We finish up the race, but then we need to pack up all our gear and make sure it’s absolutely spotless before we stash it in the container. We’ll spend most of Monday and Tuesday doing that. Wednesday will just be about getting to the airport and on our way. It’s not going to be a holiday! Tomorrow is the end for me, but then the logistics crank right up again. It’s certainly not the end of the race. The boys have so much to do. The truck and container have to go back to the docks so we won’t be resting until we are home I can tell ya!
Ed: Well I expect a written report on the Argentine beer tomorrow night but then you can call it “finished”!
JS: “Dos cervezas”, that’s all you need to know! That word “finished” sounds very, very good.
Some pics from the last 24 hours…
I should have some more to post later in the day.
A quick update on Jacob Smith’s progress in the today’s stage before I get the call from Argentina in a few hours.
Jake was the 22nd bike over the start this morning, and spent the whole day in the top 20. At one point late in the stage he had climbed to 15th position. I’m still waiting on confirmed results for the day but it appears that he finished the stage in 17th place, 37th overall.
Tomorrow is going to be another big one with 555km of special without the neutralised road section they rode today. The fact that he has cleared the stage in the top 20 will allow him to start well tomorrow after a decent rest tonight. At the time of writing approximately one tenth of the riders remain out on the stage as the sun sets in Argentina and Jacob turns in for the night.
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!
Ed: Hi Mark… been taking it easy on your day off?
MD: I’ve had two days off, what are you talking about? (laughs…)
Ed: It’s nice to see you’re still over there and living it up in spite of being out of the race, and I like the picture of you holding up the Panadeine Forte! How are you feeling with all your battered bits and pieces?
MD: I’m actually pretty happy. I did my best. I was 101st in the field and doing better than I thought I would. But I never, ever thought that I’d suffer so much with altitude sickness. It just wrecked me completely. It took me nine hours to ride the 500km transport, and two hours of that was way up the top. I could only ride at about 50 kph and I needed three stops for oxygen, one of those being in the hospital. I passed out twice and vomited in my helmet… it really knocked me around.
It took me so long to get over the mountains that I was late for the start of the special stage. I was due to start at 12.37 pm, but in reality I didn’t get there until 4.15 pm. By that stage all the bikes and all the cars had left. The bloke at the control point wasn’t going to let me start because he said I was the last bike… but then another bike did turn up. We argued about it, and he spent some time on the radio with someone else speaking french – I didn’t understand what they discussed. At the end of it he came over and said, “very well, you may start in 20 minutes, five minutes before the trucks”. I told him I didn’t want to wait and his response was essentially that I had that one option, or I was finished for the Dakar.
Faced with no other choice I started five minutes before the big Red Bull monster trucks and the all others. It was a fairly windy day. I lasted 120km, and cleared off the track when they pushed the sentinel button to tell me they were going to pass – except not all of them used it. I moved off the track for one truck thinking I was up-wind, but I’d picked the wrong side. The truck passed and I was swallowed in a cloud of dust. Before I could stop I hit a rock and that was it. I went over the handlebars in third gear and wrecked all the navigation gear.
I managed to get up but I hurt and had no strength. I had a fair idea what I had done, but managed to ride the rest of the stage and entered the bivouac at about 8.00 pm. I went straight to the medical tent and an x-ray confirmed that I had broken ribs. Glenn asked me what I wanted to do and I told him I wanted to battle on. I went off to tidy myself up and then he came over to me with the bike and tipped it on its side. He wanted me to pick it up, but I told him I didn’t think I could because I struggled earlier in the day and the pain was worse now. Glenn said, “well you’re going to need to do that five or six times tomorrow and every day for the next ten days… what do you think?”. We arrived at the inevitable conclusion…
I guess the thing that most disappoints me is that I had no idea that the altitude was going to be such a problem. There really wasn’t anything in the disclosure material for Dakar covering how serious it was. It effected many, many people and I think the older you are, the worse it is.
Ed: It’s a cruel irony to have your Dakar effectively ended by a transport stage rather than running out of puff in the desert.
MD: Oh, look… I made mistakes, sure. Yes, I crashed in the stage, but I did also finish the stage. Would I have crashed otherwise if I was the 101st bike in? Probably I would have been fine, but that’s the event mate! There are all sorts of obstacles that you never think about. Would it have been something else a day later? I can’t say!
Ed: When we spoke just before you left Australia, you said you thought you were as prepared as one could be. Is there anything you would have done differently?
MD: Two things. I knew that we’d be well over 4,000m altitude, but I didn’t appreciate that we’d be there or above for 200km, for two or three hours. I’d never experienced 4,800m before, so I should have considered that more. Subsequently, I asked one of the medicos what other people do. I was surprised to learn that many riders bring their own oxygen – like the small tanks that elderly people carry. I was surprised, but I now know it’s essential. Am I disappointed? Sure… But I remember that I was running middle of the field for five days and I am very happy about that. I gave it my best shot, you know?
Ed: I was pleased to see that in the early stages you were improving on your start position, not just plodding along.
MD: I was happy with my performance. I’d like to be out there still plodding along, but I’m here.
Ed: You’re staying on with the guys for the duration of the event?
MD: Well, there are only Jake and myself left and he’s the only “runner”. I’m staying on to be Jacob’s “dog’s body”. One of the things that outsiders definitely won’t appreciate here is that the bivouac is so big that it’s hard to find things. You need someone at the front gate to show you where the camp is – it’s different every day and you can easily spent 20 minutes looking for it. Then you need to get your GPS code. Then you need your road book. Then you need to get your start time. Those things aren’t available until 10.00 or 11.00 at night when you want to be in bed if you’re racing. It can take two hours to get these sorted at night when you should be asleep. So I’m going to hang out and try to make things as easy for him as I can.
Ed: So are you considering it homework for next year?
MD: Every day is still a learning experience even though I’m not riding. I’m taking the time to talk to other riders, other mechanics and I am picking up as much as I can. I am sucking the brains out of the GPS guys. It’s an event you really need to learn the ropes for. Jacob is running around 34th in the field (he was on the day) and could easily run in the top ten save for his series of problems. Whether or not they are all his fault is irrelevant, because with more experience many would not have happened.
Ed: That’s the picture I get from everyone in the team. The other thing that everyone has noticed is just how generous the whole Dakar caravan of competitors seem to be with their time.
MD: I was expecting people to have that attitude because I had experienced it before. It’s not the case here at all. There’s no “closed book”, and if they can help you they will. I’m sure that if you were here by yourself, you’d not go without help. We’ve found out some interesting things though. I think that guy making me start just five minutes in front of the trucks is almost criminal. Have you seen those things? I kid you not, they are passing at 180 kph. The are just horrible things to be near and not even Jake could get away from them. It was an irresponsible, bloody-minded, spiteful decision. I guess I made him look silly in front of his colleagues when, having told me I was the last bike, the other one turned up! In Safari we have transport stages that are pretty relaxed. Here, you can’t muck around. You have to break every speed limit and nearly every road rule in the book. Only then would you maybe have ten minutes up your sleeve at the beginning of the special. Jake found that out the hard way when he stopped for fuel and a whizz and with one little wrong turn he got there 20 minutes late. That sort of thing can end a race. I picked up 15 speeding infringements on the first day because I didn’t understand the speed zones. They threw the rule book at me, but I’ve learned that other guys know what they can get away with. That comes with time and experience.
Ed: Sounds like fun, and even with all of that I can tell you’re still smiling.
MD: I’m having the time of my life! It’s an absolute ball! I’m not the dunce, so don’t think that at all. I signed up for Dakar, and I’m going to finish Dakar. Not as a rider, but I’ll finish as a rider’s assistant. I’ve got no regrets. The only drawback is these broken ribs. The bones are completely smashed and I can feel them grinding together.
Ed: No coughing, no sneezing and laughing isn’t much chop.
MD: I can tell you going to the toilet isn’t much fun!
Mark was given the round up by Glenn at this stage. It was 1.00 am and they had to be up around 4.30 am. Time really is short over there and I think everyone is grateful for Mark’s dedication to his new-found role. Everyone expected Day 7 to be big…
I have not had the call in from Glenn yet, but there is news just in that Warren Strange and Jacob Smith were riding together on the stage from Iquique to Arica when Warren came down hard. It appears that he probably has a broken shoulder and is being attended to in Iquique.
Jacob continued to finish 50th for the day, yielding another 01:52:41.
More updates coming soon…
A rough day, but not unexpected…
The crossing of the Andes was no picnic today.
First off, those who had been watching the timing for the checkpoints overnight will have seen Mark drop off the charts.
Mark Davidson had a monumental crash near the highest part of the Andes crossing. He blacked out as he was riding, crashed and came to with people feeding him coca leaves. At the moment it looks like he has broken a few ribs and sustained some muscle damage. The bike was very much second hand too. It was a very heart breaking decision to make, but Mark has officially withdrawn from the event. The team knew they could make good with the crash damage, but Mark was not able to lift his bike. Going on knowing that the sand stages were still to come would have been pointless. The team are very sad to see him out, the potential for injury if he crashed again with those injuries was too great a risk.
It turned out that Warren Strange had missed a waypoint yesterday and was consequently relegated way back down the starting order. Not letting that get in his way he got straight down to business, passing many riders to climb the standings again. He was the 141st rider off the start, but crossed WP1 in 77th place, WP2 in 56th place and ended the special in 49th place. His start in 49th should see him catch a few throughout the day.
Jacob Smith was 25th off the start of the special and climbed to 17th for the stage at WP5 but then struck problems less than 30km from the end. The tyre clearance issue with the rear tanks returned and having holed the rear tank he ran out of fuel, losing more than 35 minutes. He eventually crossed the line in 86th place for the stage, 00:56:57 off the leader. Importantly, Jake had the navigation completely under control so he knows there’s nothing more he could have done. Starting 86th tomorrow will mean he will be have many to pass, but caution will be vital while the field are descending from the mountains.
The rear tanks were found to be an issue with the Michelin tyres used by the GHR team. To their credit, the tank manufacturer has remoulded new tanks to suit and someone is flying in to Chile with some replacements in their luggage. New equipment was always a concern for Glenn, but the new tanks should be available within a day or so. Sometimes you get away with such risks, but this year has not been the year. At least a fix is happening.
The support crew encountered multiple vehicles stopped along the road up the hill, just refusing to run. Some trucks could only manage 1st or 2nd gear due to the lack of oxygen. Robby Gordon’s truck only pulled in to bivouac as we were talking but the GHR guys had made better time than expected, arriving at 8.30 pm their time. This morning they had ensured that they were carrying as much diesel as possible to prevent the need to refuel on transport. The clutch on the truck went on holiday at altitude today but returned as the atmospheric density returned to more friendly levels.
Glenn struggled with the altitude too and had to seek help from some of the medical support teams. The lack of air combined with a cold he has picked up saw him receive some medication and time on oxygen. The scenery is incredible, but it will be a cold night and I am sure everyone will be relieved to get back to relatively flat land tomorrow.
We’re still trying to get some pics out – Glenn Hoffmann has borrowed a camera from Glenn Brown after his own went missing but is yet to send images. I’ll get them up as soon as they arrive. I can’t wait for them – Glenn H won’t stop raving about the places he’s seen!
There are still about two full Australian Safaris to go in terms of race time and distance, so Jacob and Warren still have many days to show the world what they are made of. Once again, the riders are strong and other than the issues with fuel tanks the bikes are proving to be extremely robust.
More as it happens… Ed.
Another day, another adventure!
Glenn called about 10.30 Argentina time. We were hoping to have some photos, but in the running around at bivouac in the evening, Glenn has misplaced his camera.
Once again the scenery was amazing, but the general community spirit here has been quite remarkable too. Days ago Glenn reported that there were problems with the lack of air conditioning in the truck, made worse by the heater being stuck on. Ambient temperature today was well above 30°C so yo can imagine what it was like with the heater huffing on top of that. Initially the crew managed to get the heater turned off and made do by repeatedly drenching themselves with water in the cab to keep cool. Later they found some other competitors in the rally able to re-gas the air conditioning system and put in a bypass valve for the heater matrix. The only catch was that the bypass is underneath the truck. No neat switch on the dash but considering it was all done by the roadside with a bunch of strangers it’s good enough! What made this more remarkable was the fact that they didn’t speak any english at all, so the whole collaboration was done with Glenn’s best “spanglish”, points, gestures and smiles. These guys had no reason to be that helpful, but such is the community spirit with Dakar – total strangers helping other strangers. Perhaps everyone just wants to keep their karma in check, but whatever the explanation it makes for a better experience for all.
The daunting mountains are now clearly in view on the horizon. There’s a heap of programmed maintenance tonight in preparation for the Andes crossing tomorrow, with a peak altitude of 4,800m. To give you an idea of just how serious the altitude is, there are medics stationed thought the transport with oxygen tanks, and a hyperbaric chamber for anyone with oedema. The transport is likely to take about 13 hours, and the crew were hoping to get under way by 4.00 am. However, the organisers are not allowing the support convoy to leave until the last car departs at 10.00am. The guys are dreading the prospects of more sleep deprivation, having never caught up from their long hours before the event started.
The riders had a mixed day.
Mark Davidson kept the bike straight but had a couple navigation issues. It was a solid day for him though finishing in 117th position.
Warren and Jacob also had navigation issues.
Jacob lost time going to waypoints that he was not required to hit (last minute changes to the route) finishing in 26th place. Warren was lead astray a couple of times following others rather than making clear decisions based on his road book but ended up 34th in the field. These sorts of things are the “traps for young players”, often catching out first time Dakar competitors. That’s the best explanation at the moment, but the guys are both picking working things out and up on all the rules as we expected they would. At one stage Jacob was running in the top 15 for the stage, only losing time badly in the later checkpoints.
It seems that plenty of riders were having issues similar problems and the wheel tracks, loops and u-turns left in the dirt after a few riders passed through would have made it all the more confusing for the riders further back in the field. In terms of riding ability Warren and Jacob are both proving themselves soundly. Up to this point all of the delays that count have been caused by human error, but they’re both well aware of their experience deficit here. This is how they learn. At this point the riders are all strong and the bikes are strong. They’re running to plan.
The crew are learning little tricks along the way too. Today’s realisation was that it’s best to find a toilet stop before they check in at the bivouac. Everyone is busting at the end of the day, generally to the detriment of the facilities provided at the overnight camps.
Tomorrow is going to be a massive effort. It will be a slow haul, made slower because the efficiency of the truck’s engine suffers just as much as the humans in the rarified air. The crew have been advised to stay in their vehicles going over the Andes to help reduce the effects of the altitude, but at some point they will need to get out to turn the heater back on. The riders won’t have that protection at all.