With another extreme day in the books, Mohammed Al Balooshi, the only Emirati participating in Dakar Rally 2019 reached the half point of the competition and the well expected rest day in Arequipa, South of Peru. Anticipated and deserved rest day for men and machines after 2 exhausting days run under marathon regime; mode in which competitors are not allowed to receive assistance from their teams and have to live two full days basically on their own. This means they can only count on the almost zero spare parts and tools they can carry with them in their pockets, or in some small empty spaces the bike has near the frame, and with the mechanical knowledge each competitor has, they need to manage to do the basic maintenance to their motorcycles and prep for the next day of racing.
The first Marathon Day, Stage 4, was a carnage and covered 511 kilometers of extreme road conditions through fast tracks, river beds with rocks the size of cars, canyons so deep that competitors looked like ants from the distance, and the infamous fesh fesh coming back as one of the stars of the day. A very dangerous stage, with almost no visibility in many areas, particularly because of the fesh fesh which generates a dense cloud of this super thin powder not allowing the racers to see more than a couple of meters ahead of them. The early morning fog added to the difficulties and after a full day of fighting all the dangers lurking behind every bend, dune, and river bed, the competitors reached the satellite bivouac in Montegua, for a short night, sleeping side by side with the roughly 100 riders that remain in the competition; a night spent on a thin mat, under the dome of the village’s basketball court. Upon arrival to this improvised camp, competitors would find a basic individual kit with T-shirt, yoga pants, flip flops, towel, a poncho, and a basic toiletries’ bag… not the night one would wish for after so many hours on the saddle racing through ups and down, but Dakar is a race of attrition, in which competitors are constantly pushed beyond their physical and mental limits. This is a race for the brave, and only the strongest and best prepared men, with a little dose of luck as well, will make it to the finish line.
The UAE Champion, who has done a smart race so far pacing himself and keeping his motorcycle and his body in good condition for the second part of the competition, reached the satellite bivouac with his bike in decent shape, and after some retouches and prepping for the second day of marathon racing, he tapped on Stage 5 feeling good after he managed to recover many positions during Stage 4. Stage 5 linked Montegua with Arequipa, and started by the Pacific Ocean, with a mass start on the beach. The very scenic start to the day kicked off with groups of 10 riders departing at the same time, exacerbating the spirit of competition between riders, in the style of a motocross race. The same picturesque mass start which sparked the adrenaline kick in the morning, would show its downside later on once the competitors reached the fesh fesh zones again and were once again riding in each other’s dust for a big part of the day.
Eight hours and 714 kilometers later Emirati star athlete Mohammed Al Balooshi made it to the bivouac, with tyres as slick and thin as glass after the savage traction imposed by his Husqvarna 450 Rally, and the friction against rocks, sand, and all kind of extreme terrains; but in one peace and with a big smile for knowing he is many steps closer to fulfilling his mission of bringing the UAE flag to the finish line of the toughest race on the planet. At the Bivouac entrance, a visibly tired, thinner, and covered in dust Mohammed Al Balooshi expressed: “It’s been 2 exhausting days, and so many riders including factory guys have been forced to retire, that I am happy to have endured all challenges so far, and to have completed this first half of the race with the bike in good shape. I had planned to race smartly, with my mind on the goal set at the beginning, which is to be able to finish my second Dakar and raise my country’s flag in front of the crowd in Lima next week, at the finish. This remains my objective, and I will do my best to accomplish this mission”.
With only fifty per cent of the race complete, one third of the motorcycle competitors have retired some with mechanical problems, and many with injuries. Also, only 19 cars remain in the competition, which speaks of how tough this 41st edition of Dakar Rally has been. Being shorter in days compared to previous years, the unexperienced would have expected this Dakar to be a lighter and easier version of the iconic race; but in fact, it has proven to be exactly the opposite. Having sent home world champions and true legends way too early, we can say that the reputation of “Bone Breaker” this race has, remains absolutely intact, and as strong as ever.
The rest day in Arequipa, city located 2335 meters above sea level, will serve for the teams to work on the beat-up machines and prepare them for the second half, which is anticipated to be as intense as the first one, with the return to the higher temperatures and the oceans of sand and towering dunes of the Peruvian desert. Men will also use the day to recover from the intense previous days and set their strategies, this time setting their eyes on the finish line next Thursday 17th Jan in Lima.
After Kuwait’s Abdullah Al Shatti’s withdrawal due to mechanical problems, Mohammed Al Balooshi is the only Arab still competing in this legendary race, in the motorcycle category. “It makes me proud to be able to represent the UAE and the Arab world, I do it with responsibility and a lot of effort, and I will give my 100% until the end. It is an honor for me to be able to show the world what are Emiratis made of, and that no matter what, we don’t give up, we keep battling and giving our best to achieve our goals” closed Al Balooshi, with his mind already on the second half of the race.
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