The prologue: a warmup for the first leg


The excitement is rising on the start line. The adventure is finally here”, rejoice Danielle and Sylvie of Team 215 (Danielle BRIDIER / Sylvie MAGOT). Fanny and Romane of Team 193 (Romane MENAGER / Fanny MANCIET) are focused: “We’re planning our route together”. “It’s important for the driver to know where we’re going”, adds Fanny. Cendrine and Pauline of Team 223 (Cendrine AZZOPARDI / Pauline CHAPPAZ) are busy putting on sunscreen. The sun is shining brightly as the teams line up. The first start of this 30th edition is given by Mr. Bouchaab Yahdid, the local wali (the equivalent of a regional prefect in France). “You are ambassadors here; I welcome you”, he says to the Gazelles, who are delighted to finally be on the start line.

Just 100 metres after the start line, many Gazelles have already gotten out of their vehicles to take their first heading, on a course that will lead some teams through an area of small dunes. A nice start for teams eager for sand! Sabine and Sophie of Team 100 (Sabine SYREN / Sophie EBERLE) aren’t taking any chances. They both get out of the car to determine the best way out of the sand. It also allows them to evaluate the hardness of the ground and to avoid the prospect of getting stuck. “I’m planning to return my shovels to the store when I get back”, laughs Sophie. Anne-Marie of Team 142 (Karima LAAROUSSI MOUHYI / Anne-Marie BORG) gets out of the vehicle to lead the way for her teammate Karima. The two experienced Gazelles are trying to stay on course at all costs; we can already see that they are aiming for the podium.  

This warmup leg is challenging for Laure and Sophie of Team 125 (Sophie SOLON-BREUSSE / Laure DE LA JONQUIERE), who get stuck in some camel grass. Unable to get out of their predicament alone, they get out their tow straps in the hopes of being towed from behind. Team 116 (Emilie DEMAY / PIERMATTEI / Daniela VARESE) prefer not to stop and help, for fear of getting stuck themselves. Further on, Nadine and Fabienne of Team 117 (Fabienne LABUSSIERE / Nadine ZUNIGO) have more luck. They are towed by Agnès and Stéphanie of Team 119 (Agnès GUICHARD / Stéphanie DANIEL), who found the beginning of the prologue “impressive”.The navigator has to go pretty far to take her headings. I wasn’t expecting that”, notes Agnès.

A few errors to correct

A few metres away, Isabelle and Christine of Team 158 (Isabelle LOPEZ / Christine AIACH) are also well and truly stuck, but they take it with a smile and even get their cameras out. “I’m immortalizing our first time getting stuck… I must say it’s a good one”, jokes Isabelle. Indeed, the vehicle is cross-axled and the Gazelles have to make their first call for mechanical assistance. Lucky for them, this assistance won’t cost them anything, as the prologue does not count for the final rankings.

After the small dunes, the Gazelles find themselves on a broad reg (rocky plateau) at the foot of some hills, dotted with a few acacias. The first checkpoint (CP) is an opportunity to take stock of the start of this warmup leg. “It’s not particularly difficult but we made some strategic mistakes”, explains Anne-Sophie of Team 129 (Perrine RONCHI / Anne-Sophie FRAYSSE). “Let’s just say we learned to read the map properly”, adds her teammate Perrine. “We’ve already gotten stuck twice. The first time was after just 2 kilometres… At least we’re in the heart of the action”, laughs Karen of Team 302 (Laetitia LALET / Karen CHRISTEL). “We’re very pleased with ourselves for the moment”, says Séverine and Angelika of Team 133 (Séverine DUHAMEL / Angelika OLIVIER).

The half-day prologue is drawing to an end. The Gazelles discuss their experience around the finish line.I’m proud of my Gazelle”, says Daniela of Team 116 (Emilie DEMAY / PIERMATTEI / Daniela VARESE). “And the feeling is mutual”, replies Emilie. “The only thing we need to do differently, is to look around more as we approach the heading”, observe the Gazelles. Cécile and Anne of Team 109 (Anne MARTEL-REISON / Cécile BOURY) are also quite satisfied with their day. “We had a good day; we weren’t afraid of the elements”, remarks Cécile. “Today has shown us that we need to communicate more and allow ourselves to “monitor” each other”, adds her teammate. While the first teams enjoy an evening of music at the bivouac, among palm trees planted in the afternoon, getting back is more challenging for the stragglers, who no doubt ran out of time and who will be driving back in the dark. Another good lesson to be learned before the first leg!