After the heavy rains flooded the Oruro bivouac and the organizer cancelled the sixth stage of the rivalry, La Paz welcomed the Dakar Rally column with sunshine. Thousands of fans, dressed in colourful clothes and waiving flags, accompanied by the president, Evo Morales, cheered for the competitors. The 254 vehicles still in the race spend the Sunday in the capital city of Bolivia, getting ready to the second part of the super marathon.
‘We brought the longed-for rain to Bolivia with us. For us, it is an obstacle, because ASO had to cancel the longest stage and we spent a difficult night in our cars next to the flooded bivouac, but all in all, this is good news. After the long drought, the locals can catch some breath and enjoy a few days free from work, as decreed by president Evo Morales for the duration of the Dakar Rally,’ said Rafał Sonik, who had the opportunity to talk a little with the head of state at the official ramp situated in the city centre.
The streets of the highest-situated capital in the world, were filled with fans cheering for all riders. ‘I’ve heard that people love the Dakar Rally in this country, but I haven’t expected such a warm welcome. I even saw two Polish flags,’ said Kamil Wiśniewski.
After the emotions of the official event, the competitors went down to the bivouac, where the service teams waited for them, ready to work. The rest day is the opportunity for the riders to recuperate, but the service teams have their hands full. After a week of racing, the vehicles need thorough repairs and replacing of many parts due to wear and tear.
The younger of the two Polish quad riders took the opportunity to sleep off the last two short nights. ‘I decided to allow myself to recuperate thoroughly, because for the past week I’ve only slept for a few hours a day. The marathon stage begins soon. During this stage we must do repairs ourselves, so there are two difficult days ahead, followed by another four days until the finish line…’
Rafał Sonik also took some time off, but he also… protested. The 2015 Dakar Rally winner had a long talk with the judges about the Friday’s special stage and the place where he lost almost two hours. The officials admitted that there was a mistake in the roadbook, but the organizers will not verify the results. ‘I’m not discouraged,’ said Rafał, who filed an official protest as a matter of form. ‘If I was in the organizer’s shoes, I’d deal with this matter, despite the huge amount of work they would have to put in to check the route driven by each competitor and to calculate their losses. I’d do it simply for the idea of justice in sports. But I know that, as I appear at the start line of the rally, I must accept its rules. And so, I’m going to find till the very end, no matter what happens with this.’
The marathon stage begins on Monday; however, it will not be as difficult as promised by the organizers. All because of the weather. The special stage leading from La Paz to Uyuni was halved – from 322 to 161 kilometres. At the bivouac at the great salt lake Salar de Uyni, well-known to the participants, they would have to make the necessary repairs themselves. On the next day, they will drive towards the Argentinian Salta, where the service teams will already be waiting.
While our two quad riders will chase their rivals, their team will not rest. Early in the morning, two vehicles will set off towards San Vicente – the very same town, in which Rafał Sonik ended his participation in the Dakar Rally last year. The residents of this small mining town took care of him in the storm and in the cold weather, feeding him, serving him tea and providing him with blankets. The Polish master prepared a surprise for them, to say thanks. The presentation of gifts was agreed in La Paz with Luuis Castro – the director of the local mine, who admitted that the Pole’s stay in 2016 was the most important event in San Vicente since Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid had been shot there.