Yanbu, Saudi Arabia – 14/01/2021
“One more day!”
It’s apparently part of the mental chat many of the riders, including Andrew Houlihan, use to get them through each day in the gruelling Dakar Rally.
But today it’s real. There’s one more stage before the riders reach that finish line in Jeddah – back where it all started 12 days ago.
Stage 11 was one of the hardest stages yet because of its length, rocks and soft sand.
Andrew Houlihan, who has been riding with a broken scaphoid in his right wrist since day 3, said “the dunes weren’t so bad today”. That gave him some reprieve – but not much – from the intense pain he has endured each day.
Andrew spent a large part of the day riding with his Coca-Cola Nomadas teammate Pablo Guillen and Asish Raorane, who rode with the team in the Africa ECO race in January last year.
Ashish was competing in the Original by Motul class without any team assistance until a crash in Stage 5 sidelined him.
After a trip to hospital to get checked out, he has continued in the Dakar Experience classification which allowed him to resume the rally. He is included in each day’s results, but is no longer considered in the general standings.
The 3 riders did ok together, although a navigational error cost them about 20 minutes.
For Andrew, today was a pretty clean run with no crashes.
But he said he is amazed Pablo and Ashish came through without any serious injuries because both of them had heavy falls.
“Pablo was going down a dune and it had a shear drop of couple of metres at the bottom and over the bars he went! I thought, ‘oh, this is bad’”.
“Ashish was roaring along the flat sand and hit a hidden rock and cartwheeled it.”
By the end of the stage they were all spent, and rested up before tackling the 130kms of liaison to the bivouac.
Alistair Nichol, Founder & Managing Director of LINKFire and one of Andrew’s sponsors, is with the team in Saudi Arabia.
He described the scene as the guys reached the bivouac in darkness at about 7.40pm.
“It looked like a scene from a western cowboy movie when the posse rides into town. They all jumped off their steeds, all chuffed with themselves they had made it through in one piece.”
Dealing with the pain in his wrist has been tough, but Andrew is determined to make it to the finish line and achieve that massive goal of completing the Dakar Rally.
“Many of us, me included, are now even having trouble just getting on and off the bikes because of body fatigue. One of the team has to help me to get all my heavy gear off”, Andrew said.
The riders have been lucky with the weather so far, today was another mild day with the temperatures in the mid 20’s. While the riders had to deal with an hour long dust storm, at least they avoided the rain.
After the support teams arrived in the Yanbu bivouac it poured rain, turning the area into mud. Apparently there’s only one small leak in the team’s transporter – and it’s right over Alistair’s bed. A wet night for you buddy!
Andrew finished 54th in the stage today and goes into the final day in 51st overall. A good clean run tomorrow or the retirement of a rider ahead of him could push him into a top 50 finish.
Pablo picked up a 20 minute penalty today for missing a waypoint. That dropped him to 56th on the day but he still holds on to 49th overall.
There was more drama and disappointment for the leading riders today.
Going into the stage, Honda factory rider Kevin Benavides had a clear margin of over ten minutes on the leading KTM of Sam Sunderland.
Ricky Brabec, who had fought back from being over 17 minutes behind in Stage 8, was just 51 seconds behind Benavides.
And Joan Barreda, although 15 minutes behind Benavides, had won the stage the day before and was at least there as a show of force for Honda.
But things turned a little less than ideal for Honda with Brabec dropping 12 minutes over the stage and Barreda running out of fuel after missing the refuel point.
Barreda is now out of the rally.
Sam Sunderland pushed hard and took over 5 minutes out of Benavides’ lead, setting up a showdown between the Honda and KTM factory riders.
Michael Burgess, Andrew’s training buddy, is now 28th overall and the only other Australian now in the event, Daniel Sanders, is 4th overall in his first ever Dakar.
Sanders, who was picked up by the KTM factory team late last year, is over 33 minutes off the leaders but was only 8 minutes behind the stage winner yesterday so he could rattle a few people on the final day.
And if something goes wrong at the head of the field he could just pick up a podium!
There’s now just 247km of liaison and 202km of special between the riders and the glory of the finish line!