Profi Moto class: 200 kms – 40% hard piste, 55% sand piste, 5% dunes.
“A lucky escape…”
As the rally approaches the halfway point, team Dirtpunk/Zen Overland riders Paul Castle and Gabriel Bolton have another successful albeit eventful day, and look forward with some trepidation to day four – billed as the most arduous stage of the event this year.
By the end of day three, they both feel as if the initially daunting navigation procedure is now becoming second nature, allowing them to concentrate fully on riding the terrain.
Gabriel: “We’ve learnt so much already, and it’s funny how the days just seem to be blending into one another – while day one feels like it was three weeks ago!” he laughs, and Paul agrees “I feel far more confident, we’re not having to [consciously] think so much about the navigation, it seems to be far more instinctive now.”
Continuing their plan to ride together for the duration of the rally, due to their slightly differing start times this morning (riders are set off in pairs, each minute), Gabriel shot off at top speed before pulling to a halt at the side of the track after 200 meters and waiting for Paul, much to the bemusement of the rider who had started next to him!
Once reunited, Paul and Gabriel enjoyed a fast flowing high-speed first half to the day. “We really got into a good rhythm” says Paul describing how they were making really good progress with the tricky navigation compared to many other riders.
The suddenly he had a moment that could easily have ended his rally: “I’d been holding back overtaking a slower rider, when I saw [what I thought was] the perfect opportunity, only to find that the piste turned sharp right just over a crest that wasn’t marked as a hazard… “I was carrying far too much speed, jammed on my brakes, slid sideways – it was one of those moments where you thought it could only end badly… “I don’t know how I managed to make the turn and avoid ending up in a deep ditch at the side of the track – I really thought it was going to be all over at that point!” Paul sighs with relief.
Similarly a little later in the day, Gabriel also narrowly avoided a potentially serious accident, thanks this time to teammate Paul. “There was a really long, steep and aggressive climb that was marked ‘Danger do not jump!’ in the road-book” Paul explains “And right at the top I realised why – it was almost vertical on the far side!”
He continues: “I stopped immediately to avoid flying over the top, only for Gabe to run straight into the back of me, and fall off!” he laughs. Gabriel nods in agreement and appreciation – “If you’d have gone off the top of that peak, even at only 15 mph, it was so steep that I think you’d have simply flown through the air and landed in a heap at the bottom – it doesn’t bear thinking about really.”
Recomposed, they enjoyed the final sector of the day’s stage into Nefta, and arrived at the bivouac in good time to relax with their respective families, who have travelled out to Tunisia to support them during the race. They were further pleased when the results for the day showed the pair have climbed back up the overall leader board, and are now comfortably in the top twenty of the Moto Profi class.
However, the both started to look nervous again when it was revealed at that evening’s race briefing that the following day [stage 4] would make or break many rider’s campaigns.
Featuring a series of loops through the soft sand dunes north of Nefta, it is effectively a race against the clock, with severe time penalties for those riders unable to complete the course in the allotted time.
Stage result: day 3/7: 27th (2h42m)
Overall position: day 3/7: 26th