Africa ECO Race 2020 : Stage 7

Tuesday 14th January, 2020 – Chami to Aidzidine

Andrew Houlihan has continued his climb back up through the rankings in the 2020 Africa ECO Race and now sits just outside the top 20.

Andrew (Coca-Cola Energy KTM 450 Factory Rallye) finished today’s stage in 13th place and has moved up 9 places to 22nd overall.

Today’s 7th stage took the riders on a 480km ride through deep sand and dunes!

The first part of the stage crossed through dunes and camel grass, and after the refuelling point at waypoint 3 the riders had a small reprieve as the track opened up to some fast sections alongside the Mauritanian railway.

But heading into the final part of the stage, riders were faced with some very complicated dune crossings and difficult navigation.

Andrew described the situation so well:

“The sand was some of the most difficult I’ve ridden, very hot and soft and the dunes were not able to be judged.”

“It was also very difficult to navigate through the dunes as the wind was very strong and you had no tracks to follow. It was impossible to go anywhere close in a straight line.”

“The dunes were crazy difficult, not big but just steep up and down and much tougher than anything I’ve ridden in Australia like the Simpson Desert or Hattah Desert.”

Andrew’s progress through the difficult stage shows why he has become a strong contender in international off-road racing.

He started today alongside last year’s winner Alessandro Botturi (Yamaha WR 450F).

“Botturi took off very fast and I could just manage to keep with him for the first 5km.”

However Andrew’s pace and a mistake by Botturi put him in front of the Italian rider for much of the first part of the stage.

At the first checkpoint Andrew was in 16th, and by checkpoint 2 he was placed 4th, just 3m07s behind the stage leader.

At the refuelling point, waypoint 3, Andrew was 8th and Botturi was now making up ground quickly. He passed Andrew and eventually finished the stage second to retain the overall lead.

But at that point in the day Andrew also realised he was getting very tired and knew he had a long and bad dune section coming up.

“It was like they were never going to end. For the last 50km I had no other rider in sight and a few times thought I was lost but was happy to see the finish line and bivouac.”

And as well as the tough terrain there are the animals to deal with.

“I had one very close call with a crazy camel that jumped out in front of me at 140kph today!”

Andrew’s Coca-Cola Energy/Nomadas Adventure teammate Pablo Guillen finished 21st today and held on to his 26th place overall.

Fellow Australians Matt Sutherland (KTM 450 Rally), who won stage 6, was 18th today and remains 8th outright and Peter Caldwell (KTM 450 Rally) is now 17th.

Tomorrow’s Stage 8 is going to be similar in difficulty, with a 3km transfer stage, 429km special followed by an 18km liaison.

The stage ends in Tidjikja, the capital of the Tagant region of central Mauritania. The city is on a stony plateau with an elevation of 400m.

To get to Tidjikja, riders will first have to negotiate sand tracks, stony sections, wadis (dry river beds) and of course some challenging dune crossings.

Of the original 75 entrants in the motorcycle category, 66 are expected to start tomorrow’s stage. You can follow the riders’ timings through checkpoints and waypoints, and follow their positions with live tracking.

  • #175 – Andrew Houlihan
  • #176 – Pablo Guillen
  • #102 – Matt Sutherland
  • #136 – Peter Caldwell
  • #101 – Alessandro Botturi