Happy or Sad. Dakar Comes To An End. What’s next?

For the first time on this nearly 10,000km journey, the Darkcyd Racing Team rose at near sunrise and calmly and collectively packed camp and headed out of the Pisco Bivouac before the last of the cars and the trucks. I’m sure many on the team would confess relief, excitement and express jubilee as the end of this long trip was just a few hundred kilometers away. However, I’m sure that most would hesitate to reveal a certain post-Dakar disappointment or depression settling in. To be sure, no one will miss Bivouac food, gnarly and questionable shower and toilet facilities, wind, biting sand and the roaring and revving of engines all night long. But we’re at the end.

The Dakar competitors still vying for a position on the podium have other things on their minds. For the bikes, I have to admit that it’s over. Despite my finger-crossing, wishing and positive thoughts going out to Marc Coma, Cyril Despres walked away with the #1 spot on the podium Troubles with Coma’s gearbox cost him yet another penalty, this time one-hour. Though I felt a little tingle today as Portuguese rider Helder Rodrigues riding on his Red Bull Yamaha grabbed the top spot on Stage 13 and beat Despres by just :47 seconds. So, maybe I just don’t prefer riders on KTMs, though I was rooting for Coma. By the time we rolled into Lima Despres had it locked in with Coma and Rodriques taking 2nd and 3rd positions accordingly.

While my allegiance to Coma for the bikes met with disappointment , I was more disappointed by the ending results for the cars. I know this is a French-run race and that the French have incredibly capable and professional motorcycle racers and car racers, when will an American walk away with the top spot on the podium for cars? Robby Gordon had set his team’s sites on #1 and #2 for 2012. But he too fell short. Before taking off yesterday morning Gordon was rather vocal that he’d take the (13th) stage away from the ‘sissy’ Minis. But he pushed too hard. After getting stuck in the sand and seeing Peterhansel pull away before he got out, he floored his special-built Hummer and drove it a bit too hard as he tried to talk Peterhansel, he hopped over a small dune and landed a tad cockeyed and flipped his Speed Energy Hummer and landed on the roof. The locals quickly got him on his way, but two flat tires cost him more time and he never caught the Mini’s.

On the podium we watched corks flying and champagne spewing. Flags waving and happy finishers grinning ear to ear. For those who made it this far, now was time for their glory.
But on the final stage, a short 29km run into Lima, Gordon showed once and for all who should be boss and he won the final stage by just 21 seconds ahead of Ricardo Leal Dos Santos, though not enough to make a dent in the standings. So by the time the he rolled into Lima, Gordon ended up with a respectable, but not desirable, 5th place overall position. He guaranteed the Mini’s and the crowd that he’ll be back.

Our Canadian teammate David Bensadoun driving the banana colored Desert Warrior became the first Canadian to ever complete a Dakar and took 40th place, though he was 30 hours behind the winner Stephane Peterhansel. And the only other Americans to finish the race behind Robby Gordon, Darren Skilton in a Revolution VI buggy and Ned Suesse, from Colorado Springs and riding a KTM motorcycle in his first attempt at Dakar finished 53rd overall.

When it comes to Dakar, finishing is winning. And though the Darkcyd Rally Racing Team’s Desert Warrior didn’t finish in the strict rules of the event, it made the journey and logged over 5,000 miles from Mar del Plata, Argentina to Lima, Peru. There was no cheering on the podium and the somber mood that hung over the team earlier in Argentina had dissipated by the time it was greeted with enormous fanfare staring some 100 miles south of Lima where Peruvian fans had lined the roadsides, crowded the overpasses and steps of bridges all the way to Lima. They whistled, the cheered, they raised there fists high and echoed excitement — excitement that lasted for hours as we rolled into Lima in classic celebrity fashion: with a siren blaring and lights chasing Police Escort.

Darkcyd Racing made it to Lima. Our mission was to get to know and reconnaissance the most grueling and difficult race on the planet. As I watched the faces of its teammates, I could see they all were happy to finish and that they all harbor a desire to come back.

The fans lining the bridges/overpasses was a site that can barely be described using words. It warmed our hearts and sparked our imagination. We’d never see anything like this in the United States.

On the podium we watched corks flying and champagne spewing. Flags waving and happy finishers grinning ear to ear.

For the Darkcyd Racing Team, the Bivouac behind them and traded for 5-star digs in upmarket Mira Flores. With a Starbucks walking distance and the golden arches glowing, it does seem we’ve come a long way. But rather than gravitate to an American safe haven, the team opted for the culinary creations of a traditional Peruvian restaurant, Pampas del Amacayaes, just a few blocks from our hotel.

There was still business in Lima, however. The T-5 support vehicle and the Desert Warrior were delivered to the docks at the shipping port near the Lima Airport. A bit of bureaucratic runaround made for just one more exciting South American adventure.

And then there’s the bicycle. Remember the bike Robb purchased in Arica? Well before taking the Desert Warrior to the port, an eager youngster, handicapped with just one hand, had been gawking and eyeing the race cars and support vehicles all morning while details for shipping were ironed out. Robb singled him out and before one more Lima Police Escort to the port, Robb handed the young boy the bicycle. Tears nearly fell from his eyes as he caressed the bike and expressed thanks. It makes all of us wonder and wish we all had bicycles to give the needy. For those things that sometimes seem meaningless or are taken for granted are so much appreciated and coveted here south of the border. Sometimes we fall victim to our own greed or desire for something just a little better. A dose of reality like watching the one handed boy glee and smile brings everything in perspective.

Dakar may be over. But much work needs to be done.

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