The organizers of the 4th round of the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship did not waste any time to put the participants’ skills to a serious test. Difficult navigation through treacherous, dry riverbeds and a long, final stretch overgrown with desert grass and shrubs provided the racers with a real challenge. „I suppose they wanted to make us suffer. That plan has worked out very well,” commented Rafał Sonik at the finish line, smiling despite the exhaustion.
The Belen area is well-known among cross-country riders since it has been a part of ten past editions of the Dakar rally and almost every edition of the Desafio Ruta 40. Interestingly, the racers struggled down the same route but in the opposite direction last year. Rafał Sonik’s impressions shared at the finish line were quite similar. „It was a nasty stretch. The worst type of desert I’ve ever had to race in. Overgrown and unwelcoming. This must have been a punishment to make us ride that way. There was no pleasure in competing there; it was just one of those days you somehow had to plow through and survive.”
This year, the 6-time FIM World Champion had similar comments. „First, we had to overcome rough, damaged riverbeds. One of the world’s leading bikers, Kevin Benavides, crashed and left the rally with a skull fracture. However, the overgrown desert was the worst of all. Many participants still wonder why on earth were we made to drive through that terrain while much more pleasant alternatives abounded. It was an awful, lousy route and a huge challenge for my knee. Fortunately, I managed to reach the ending line without any serious issues,” summed up Sonik, who was ranked fifth in the general classification.
Quite a few participants, however, faced serious challenges along the road. An excellent biker, Juan Carlos Salvatierra, who had switched his bike for a quad, was among them. The Bolivian rider had acquired a Barren Racing vehicle, an innovative Dutch quad used by Kees Koolen, a former world champion.
„Chavo” caught up with me at the beginning of the stage,” reported Sonik, „ However, barely twenty minutes later in intensely difficult terrain, there he was, standing on the side of the trail, swinging his gold drive chain above his head. He broke it during the ride and he was looking for a spare one, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to help. My quad has 20 horsepower less than his model and so I don’t run into that kind of issues very often. Moreover, he’s got a heavy duty „530” chain and my „520” is much lighter. So his situation was quite hopeless with no chance for a quick repair. Pablo Copetti was also out of luck, having gotten a puncture along the way, but he was able to fix it and make it to the finish line.”
The stage was claimed by Nicolas Cavigliasso, the winner of the recent Atacama Rally, followed by his two fellow citizens, Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli, and Gaston Gonzalez. Aleksander Maksimow placed fourth and Rafał Sonik got the fifth result of the stage and was ranked fifth in the general classification.
On Tuesday, the racers face the second stage of the rally, which is planned to take them from Belen to Tinogasta. The organizers have already announced that the terrain of the second stage resembles the first one so another serious challenge is looming ahead.
Stage 1 results:
1. Nicolas Cavigliasso (ARG) 5:03.56
2. Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli (ARG) +14.00
3. Gaston Gonzalez (ARG) +25.31
4. Aleksander Maksimow (RUS) +40.48
5. Rafał Sonik (POL) +43.02
6. Pablo Copetti (ARG) +1:14.43
7. Nicolas Robledo (COL) +1:18.44
FIM General Ranking:
1. Nicolas Cavigliasso (ARG) 5:09.57
2. Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli (ARG) +14.17
3. Gaston Gonzalez (ARG) +26.09
4. Aleksander Maksimow (RUS) +41.07
5. Rafał Sonik (POL) +43.23
6. Pablo Copetti (ARG) +1:15.17
7. Nicolas Robledo (COL) +1:19.35