First marathon day: a mix of nostalgia and strategy

Leg 6

Leg 6, the final leg of this year’s competition, lasts two days and takes the teams through the dunes of Chegaga. One last emotional start line. “We’re excited to camp out in nature and be connected to the environment, but at the same time a bit nostalgic to think that it’s already the last leg”, confides Ania of Team 208 (Ania DUFLOS / Blandine COUSIN).

On today’s program, the Gazelles will (once again) have to face a series of small dunes. Emmanuelle and Valérie of Team 304 (Valérie SANTINI / Emmanuelle GIRAUD-BUSSAT)are looking for the best place to pass. Teams 303 (Angélique LABRUGERE-TOVO / Mélissa MAISONNEUVE) and 309 (Virginie REYNAUD / Alexandra PEREZ)deflate their tires to avoid getting stuck, although it is almost inevitable. “We need to do it before the sand is soft”, warns Angélique of team 303. “The goal is to take it easy; we don’t want to take any risks now that we’ve reached the final leg, so we’re going to drive together”, confirms Alexandra of Team 309. Once again, this leg will be hard work for the navigators. The navigator of Team 129 (Perrine RONCHI / Anne-Sophie FRAYSSE)runs behind the vehicle after leading the way towards their heading.

At CP1, the teams take a break to plot the day’s points. It’s time to get serious as the Gazelles get out their maps, plotters and compasses. Laurence and Fanny of Team 25 (Fanny MARCHESI / Laurence LINDOR)take the opportunity to plug in their GoPro. The SSV/Quad teams compare their points. This break at CP1 is also a good time to have breakfast. “It’s out little ritual”, laugh Romane and Pauline of Team 301 (Romane SPINDLER / Pauline BOCQUET).

A few mistakes

But not all routes have the same first checkpoint, and some teams make mistakes… “We saw the flag and went for it without thinking. We do that every time, and then tell ourselves we won’t do it anymore”, lament Sandrine and Marina of Team 258 (Marina CHAILLOU / Sandrine CHARRIER). And they are not the only ones. Aurélie and Marilyne of Team 255 (Maryline AMALBERTI / Aurélie CATTANEO)are also a bit lost. In E-Gazelles Manal and Karolyn of Team 500 (Manal FAXELLE-ABOUHAMDA / Karolyn FAVREAU), ahead in the rankings, don’t want to “take any chances”. “We have a bit of a lead; strategically, if we don’t follow the headings exactly, it doesn’t really matter”, explains Manal. “We’re enjoying ourselves; we’re under positive pressure because we really want to win for our association MLD”, adds Karolyne.

Before tackling Chegaga, the Gazelles warm up by crossing the small dunes followed by a oued, where visibility is extremely limited. “We’re taking it easy; we decided to stop for lunch first to have enough energy”, says Ania of Team 208 (Ania DUFLOS / Blandine COUSIN) To avoid too much digging, the teams arrange to work together. “When there are a few of us, it’s cool”, says Julie of Team 217 (Julie LAMBOLEY / Karine LUONG). “Cool” may have been a bit hasty in view of the difficult afternoon, which saw many teams driving in circles searching for their checkpoints.

Several teams miss CP3 or choose to go straight to CP4, such as Laure and Nadia of Team 140 (Nadia LORJOUX / Laure MICHARDIERE). “We were advancing really well but the navigation was difficult, and we preferred to go straight to CP4”, explains Nadia. Except that without CP3, the Gazelles are stuck at the 4th checkpoint until the following morning at 7 a.m. So they are the first to set up their tents in the bed of the tamarisk-lined oued. The situation is worse for Véronique and Monique of Team 123 (Véronique DELPIANO / Monique RODENAS), who didn’t get CP2 or CP3… That will cost them a hefty penalty, but they keep on smiling.

Getting together before nightfall

Those who had planned to sleep at CP5X in the Chegaga dunes soon see their hopes dashed. Gaëlle and Dominique of Team 128 (Dominique CREPIN-GUERIN / Gaëlle DUMAUSE)insists: “We need to get out of the dunes”. They are soon joined by Mylène and Marie-Line of Team 234 (Marie-Line REY / Mylène LECIEUX). On comparing their headings, the Gazelles realize they aren’t in agreement. “56; it’s over there”, indicates Mylène, while Gaëlle calculated a heading of 52. Agreeing to disagree, she wishes them good luck: “Good luck ladies, see you soon.

At CP4, Mylène doesn’t want to waste any time, and looks for other teams heading for CP5X. “We don’t want to sleep by ourselves”, she explains. Emeline of Team 220 (Emeline BAUDESSON / Mélanie ZAIDI-LE FOLL) jokes that she and her teammate are looking for a Riad to spend the night. Sophie and Laure of Team 125 (Sophie SOLON-BREUSSE / Laure DE LA JONQUIERE) let themselves be talked into trying to sleep at the foot of the dunes. Time passes and the sun slowly sinks towards the horizon. “Just fifteen more minutes of visibility”, warns Laure, as Mylène looks for sand to pitch their tents. After a few more kilometres the tired Gazelles stop, 3 km before CP5.

The two teams pitch their tents in the sand under a spectacular starry sky. They get out their bottle of Tsarine champagne, handed out this morning at the start line and stored carefully in their “Berber fridge” all day. (The “Berber fridge” is a precious tip for Gazelles who don’t have a fridge in their vehicle: they store their food in a damp cloth, which cools down as the water evaporates.) “I’m happy to meet you”, says Marie-Line of Team 234 (Marie-Line REY / Mylène LECIEUX) to the two Gazelles of Team 125 (Sophie SOLON-BREUSSE / Laure DE LA JONQUIERE). “It’s funny to finally meet out here when we’ve been doing the same rally for six days”, laughs Sophie. The four Gazelles chat about their lives and discover points in common. “You have a great attitude”, says Marie-Line. The teams, who are both well-placed in the rankings also discuss strategy, as the last day of competition is on everyone’s minds.