Profi Moto class: 320 kms – 90% sand piste, 10% dunes.
“We totally pushed ourselves to the limit today…”
Traditionally the mid-point of the Tuareg Rallye features the toughest stage – and in Tunisia, this means a long day (8+ hours) riding in 100% sand, in the heat of the desert sun.
Located in a soft sea of sand dunes north of Nefta, an abandoned Star Wars set is the backdrop for what has been billed the ‘make or break’ day for those riders looking to ride the Tuareg Rallye without any time penalties.
For the 2014 edition, the Moto Profi riders would also have to ride 33% further than last year, in effectively a race against the clock with a sharp cut-off (and corresponding penalty points) for anyone unable to complete the course in the time allowed.
The evening before, Paul had voiced his concern that they may have to forfeit their plan to make every single checkpoint, in an effort preserve energy for the rest of the week – illustrating perfectly their considered approach so far. “Ultimately we came here to finish the rally” he reiterates “Of course it would be nice to do so avoiding any time penalties – but we have to consider the consequences of exhausting ourselves only half way through the event, which could easily compromise our overall goal.”
Riding together for the duration of the day, each had their own personal battle with the terrain “For me it was trying to navigate though the camel-grass sections” says Gabe “I found that very exhausting”, while Paul was the opposite “For me it was the long soft sandy sections, that got more and more cut-up as the day wore on” he groans.
Paul continues “Although I was pretty exhausted when we came in at the end of the third lap [and despite clearly not having enough time left to finish the final lap] at the same time I was really buzzing, and keen to get as far as we could [in an effort to minimise our time penalties]” and Gabe agrees: “I honestly felt I rode the last ten minutes of today right on my limits, and faster than any of the previous laps!” he grins.
Gabe also recounts the moment when they finished their third lap late in the afternoon, and the event director came over to congratulate them, thinking they had completed all four: “When we admitted we still had one lap more to go – he quickly withdrew the handshake with a look that said ‘Get back out there then!’” he laughs.
Despite their best efforts to get one more checkpoint before the time cut-off, they were ultimately denied by just three minutes. “Although we didn’t quite make it in time, I really enjoyed the fact we totally pushed ourselves to the limit today” Paul concedes.
However, he was a little less complimentary about the format for the day itself “I honestly wouldn’t chose to ride in that sort of terrain” says Paul “I really don’t understand why they made you go round and round on [basically] the same course all day – that doesn’t feel like a rally to me – there was no sense of adventure – you’d get through a tricky section, but with dread that you’d have to do it all again and again in a little while…”
Fortunately it appears the following day will be far more to their liking – at 370 kilometers it is the longest of the rally this year – featuring a long navigation stage interspersed with three more technical timed sectors, through some of the best scenery Tunisia has to offer.
Gabe revealed that despite the disappointment in receiving a time penalty, their plans had not changed. “As far as I’m concerned, we’ll endeavour to ride the rest of the rally and avoid any more [time] penalties” he says, “If we can achieve that, then we’ll certainly consider our campaign a success” and Paul nods in agreement: “I also think if we do that, then almost inevitably we will finish with a good result” he smiles.
Stage result: day 4/7: 28th (14h17m – inc. 6h penalty)
Overall position: day 4/7: 27th