This is the BIG LEG of the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles, anticipated and feared by the Gazelles... This leg takes place in (and around) the famous Merzouga dunes, the sand mountains of Erg Chebbi. While the distance (123 km) may seem relatively short in comparison to the previous days, don’t forget that the teams are going to spend the whole day in the sand... always a challenging day for our Gazelles.
3 different routes are provided to meet every skill level: the X, through the heart of the highest dunes; the X-bis, of intermediate difficulty; and the regular route that skirts the edge of the erg. Jean-Pierre Berthet, race director, spoke of today’s decisive leg: "Today the positions will start to become clear, a gap will be created between the leaders and the rest".
To everyone’s surprise, Team 121 (Estelle DUCRAY-RIDENT and Marie-Amelie SIROT - ISUZU / AUFEMININ.COM / HEART OF GAZELLES) leads the pack, head to head with the best teams including 109 - Emily Miller and Armelle Médard. "This is the first leg that we’ve finished since the beginning”, explains Estelle amidst laughter and tears… of joy, on reaching CP7. “This is our first time in the dunes - it was a magical day, unforgettable, maybe the best day of our lives…” ”We know each other well, we trust each other and we don’t pressure each other”, continues Marie-Amélie. “Maybe that’s our secret…".
Team 139 - ISUZU / RADIO VITAMINE / ASSOCIATION LE SOURIRE DE LUCIE is 7th in the Isuzu Media Challenge after this difficult leg in the dunes, which Laure and Valérie handle very well.
It looks like the Moroccan team (148 - ISUZU / LUXE RADIO / ASSOCIATION AMSAT) of the Isuzu Media Challenge will be sleeping outside (of the bivouac) tonight, as will 182 - ISUZU / RADIO FRANCE BLEU / ASSOCIATION REVE. Maha, Nadia, Marie and Jessica will have until noon tomorrow to start the next leg of the competition.
"Les Miss", Team 149 - ISUZU / TV MAG / ASSOCIATION ELA, drive the X route with three other teams (during this leg the Gazelles were allowed to follow each other in the dunes) and put Gazelle solidarity to the test: "We got stuck on a dune a few metres from CP3X. We were starting to get out our sand ladders and shovels when 6 other Gazelles came running over from the checkpoint to help us! We were able to get going in no time! Then we drove together until we left the sand, it was super. Now we are rushing back to the bivouac to take a good shower!"
Julie and Ingrid, Team 170 - ISUZU / FEMME ACTUELLE / LA FONDATION PIECES JAUNES, decide to try the X route but… can’t find the first CP. "We ended up at CP2Xbis, so we kept going on that route!" explains Ingrid. “The ambiance is really different, more friendly, here in the dunes, than the other days; we see other Gazelles, while on the first few days we were alone most of the time…". Julie, the pilot, has cramps in her back and legs and takes the time to stretch at every checkpoint. Their morale is high!
Team 176 (Sandrine VALLIER and Carole HUBER - ISUZU / GENERATION 4X4 / ASSOCIATION KASSOUMAI) is in 4th place in the Isuzu Media Challenge after the 4th leg.
Team 177 (Aurore TEBOUL and Charlotte LATOUR - ISUZU / AUTOROUTE FM / ASSOCIATION AUDITIONSOLIDARITE.ORG) is in 9th place.
Team 182 (Marie PINGET and Jessica GOUTTENOIRE - ISUZU / RADIO FRANCE BLEU / ASSOCIATION REVE) has not yet returned to the bivouac.
Today is the favourite leg of Marie Ménager, driver for Team 184 - ISUZU / TÉLÉ 7 JOURS / ASSOCIATION MÉDICO LIONS CLUB. Naturally, they tackle the X route and are the second team to reach CP3X. They witness team 129 (Jeanette JAMES and Anne-Marie BORG - MERCEDES BENZ) overturning in the dunes, and stay with them for 2 hours to help and comfort them. "Marie drove in the dunes like never before – it was amazing" says Natalia. “The first time, in 2008, we got lost in the dunes!" They reach all of the X checkpoints, consolidating their lead in the Isuzu Media Challenge.
For Team 179 - ISUZU / TV5 MONDE / ASSOCIATION PAROLES DE FEMMES - Fiona Gélin and Valérie Ravery, this was not their lucky day. Feeling courageous, the Gazelles decide to do the X route but break a shock between CP1 and CP2, and end up calling mechanical assistance. Once on their way again, they get stuck and have to call for assistance a second time. This is a day that will cost them dearly in points, but their morale has not suffered.
173 - ISUZU / COTE SANTE / ASSOCIATION CEW. Our two nurses, who never lose their positive attitude, have had better days. They search for 3 hours before finding the first checkpoint on the regular route outside the dunes. Then Maryline and Anne-Sarah stop for lunch, take some photos and return to the bivouac: "Anyway, you can’t drive into the dunes at 3:00 under the best of conditions; we wanted to make sure we spent the night at the bivouac before the marathon leg..."
The Belgian team, 195 (Tatiana SILVA BRAGA TAVARES and Emilie KINO - ISUZU / CINE TELE REVUE / ASSOCIATION THINK PINK), have their initiation to sand in the Merzouga dunes. After getting 6 checkpoints yesterday, the Gazelles were smiling again. Today they turn in a good performance, reaching 3 “X” checkpoints. "This leg was really stressful", explains Tatiana, "but Emilie drove really well. We got better with every dune..."