Uyuni, the place to be!
Uyuni has quite a buzz going for a town of 16,000 people! The settlement pulled out all the stops to become an unlikely metropolis for the Dakar. Spectators and retailers have come from all over the place. Locals set up kiosks and shops. Onlookers and families walk around under the watchful eye of the many policemen stationed at each intersection. The Dakar is the perfect occasion to sell their artisanal products and show off the highlights of local produce, ranging from coca leaf to quinoa! It is the event to see and the place to be. Roxana came from La Paz by car with husband Álvaro, brother César and mother Polonia: "This race is so great for our country!", she adds after posing in front of the huge Dakar trophy that dominates the town centre. Everyone wants to have a picture taken in front of it. With instant paper pictures selling for 10 bolivianos, many local photographers have sniffed a good business opportunity. Anita also has her picture taken. She has come from Oruro, the other big town in the province, clad in flashy green. "We've come with our orchestra to play music in the streets while we wait for the competitors. Locals want to spruce their town up so much that municipal gardeners were at work early this morning, despite it being a Sunday, planting hortensias and rattles in the only pedestrian street. Meanwhile, the soldiers of the Fourth Loa Infantry Regiment stood to attention in full ceremonial dress: white uniform, a multicoloured fourragère and red gaiters!
Nicolas Gibon: close encounters of the head-on kind
29th overall, Nicolas Gibon was in the pole position of the production classification at the start of stage 6, but his hopes of victory were literally smashed on the road from San Miguel de Tucumán to Salta due to close encounters of the head-on kind, which nevertheless resulted in a more enjoyable one.
"Already from km 50 of the first special of stage 6, I got fed up of racing in the dust of a competitor who, despite the Sentinel device, simply wouldn't let me through, so I overtook him... but that wasn't the place to do it and I ended up in a ditch, where a tree brought me to a violent stop", explains the winner of the production classification in the 2009 Dakar. "A truck got me out of this tight spot, but that was when I realised how damage my car was: the entire front had buckled, there was a hole in the radiator and the rack-and-pinion was broken, so we were left without power steering! We got going again, but we had to stop a few kilometres later to patch up the radiator. That was when a few locals offered their help in restoring the front of the car to something resembling normal. They went to get a tractor, to which we strapped the body of our car and we were able to repair almost everything. People are amazingly kind here... Well, it depends! When we were making our way through the second special, very late in the evening and without being able to drive quickly, when it got dark we started to come across spectators going home... on the same track we used for the race! I came across at least ten cars, three of which were going in the opposite direction! I actually crashed into one of them, on the left side, this time..."
033 - Juan Manuel Pellicer's scorching experience
The 2003 edition of the Dakar, when Pellicer finished in 12th place, seems like ages ago. He has since participated seven times with varying degrees of success (notably 12th place in 2012) but with the same unwavering determination and know-how of a true Dakar rider. However, the day before reaching Salta he had to accept the fact that this would not be his year. "I'd just crossed the riverbed. I was at kilometre 143 and we had to find another crossing near another riverbed. It was all off-track and I had about 10 kilometres left before I got out of this fesh-fesh area. The sand among the thorny plants was so loose it sucked us in. It pushed the motorcycle to the limit. I was in second or third gear, yet the engine revved up a lot. It was simply not possible to give the machine some respite, so the engine gave up...". Juan Manuel is used to sizzling temperatures in his hometown Castellón, but he was left stranded on the toughest day of the 2014 Dakar, as the mercury climbed to levels never seen before at the Dakar. "It was 10 am and I had to hide under the fesh-fesh branches, which I had covered with my racing clothes, to find some protection from the sun. Whenever I heard a car, I got some water. After the medical car went by, I waited for the sweep vehicle. The truck came at 11 pm. It was unbelievable, I'd never been so hot!"
Un techo para mi país, where the Dakar's solidarity comes to life
It has become a tradition since the Dakar first came to South America for race organisers ASO to support the NGO Un techo para mi país ("A roof for my country") and help provide for those in poor housing conditions as part of operation Únete a la carrera contra la pobreza ("Join the fight against poverty"). Once again this year, Etienne Lavigne handed over a cheque for 112,000 dollars. The regional governor, the mayor of Salta and Argentina's Minister of Tourism Enrique Meyer all came to the bivouac on the rest day to witness this act of solidarity. The Dakar has given the association a total of 661,000 dollars since 2009, allowing it to build 180 houses, nine centres and four communal buildings in Peru, Argentina and Chile. Driver Nasser Al-Attiyah, who has supported this charitable drive for two years, also handed over a cheque for 100,000 dollars during today's ceremony in Salta. Standing next to the rally's director and the Qatari rider, Sebastián Ruiz's entire family bear witness to the impact of this action. Together with his wife Paola Saldivia and their three children Isabela, Valentina and Francisco, the man from Salta explains how his life has changed since Un techo para mi país got in touch with him: "We used to live in a small shack, then under a tent, and then in a single room cobbled together from different materials. One day, Un Techo came to see us. I couldn't believe it. We received the keys to our new home last March. My wife and I have since joined Un Techo to help other people." In Salta's La Cerámica neighbourhood, one of so many families is finally living a better life. And the Dakar is proud to have done its bit.