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Friday, January 15, 2010

just great words from Simon

Thursday, 14 Jan 2010

January 14 – San Juan - San Rafael

I am writing this under siege, in a service station, about 100km from San Rafael, Argentina. Although we are clearly not driving in the race – merely reporting on it, we were mobbed as we pulled up. I signed autograph after autograph before finally stumbling into this air-conditioned haven. Right now we are holed up with two confused looking American drivers from the Monster Hummer team. The crowd are banging on the windows, staring in, trying to attract the attention of the yanks (my ego would like to think that it’s all about me, but it’s definitely not).One of the many fine things about Argentine servos is the fact that they sell beer, long necks of beer. So as I write, I am supping cold Heineken and watching the mayhem unfold outside.

Last night I felt like I was filming something of a last supper, this morning as I pointed the camera at Christophe over the bivouac table, I was unable to shake the fear that by the end of today, it could all be over. Everything I shot was coloured with “last?”.
We hit the road at around 7.00am, heading to the end of today’s special. This latter part of the rally is attracting spectators in their tens/hundreds of thousands and we had to weave a torrid path through their cars to find a space to leave the car close to the village of San Martin.

It was hot as we walked towards the arrival checkpoint – very hot, definitely up in the high 30s with very little shade. The prospect of a long, hot, nervous wait for Christophe was not one that I relished. I have taken to carrying the hard drive that holds all the footage I have taken with me at all times. I was worried that the intense heat would somehow damage it, so I practically crawled under a thorn bush which offered some shade and prepared to wait.
I soon tired of this uncomfortable predicament and longingly eyed the shady awning under which the official Dakar TV crew were waiting. Earlier in the day, I had sent an SMS to one of the TV guys at the race organisers to have him tell people to expect me at the finish. I had little hope of this leading to anything, but it is at this point that the day started to become officially good. As I wandered over to the awning, a rough looking, Gauloises smoking TV guy was on the phone. I heard my name. “Am I hallucinating? Is it the heat? The exhaustion?” No. before I knew it, I had escaped the sweaty solipsism of the independent film maker and was sat in a camp chair, enjoying banter with the French guys.

The crowd at the finish were frenzied. In amongst the dust being kicked up by a hot wind, they mobbed every bike or car that arrived, chanting, shouting, touting T-shirts, flags, bags, stickers, underwear? To be signed. The French TV producer seemed on the verge of a nervous breakdown, chain smoking like a madman as he attempted to “shoo” them away from the TV area. It made for great viewing from the luxury of my chair.
It was at least an hour and a half before I even thought about filming – expecting Christophe to come in 2 ½ hours or so behind the leaders. Eventually, I got up and captured some of the madness – a long lens bringing the action close up to me, quite literally in my face. Fifty or so bikes had come through. Rob Pollard among them. Another great performance, finishing in the thirties despite a broken elbow that is causing him serious discomfort.

The Volkswagen cars that are leading the race arrived in, and the crowd broke ranks and went wild. Monsieur Gauloises lit a whole pack at once and ran into the fray, looking ready to cause serious harm to anyone who’d interfere with his broadcast. An immaculately dusty long-haired French TV presenter complete with neck scarf flowing in the wind attempted to look composed as he reported from the heart of the madness.

I stood back, well away from the chaos – letting my long lens bring it all to me. It was out of the corner of this lens that I spied an orange helmet, forging a path through the throngs of passionate fans. I blinked, pulled my face away from the eye-piece, wanting to check this apparition for myself. The French TV presenter laughed a perfectly manicured laugh at a comment from one of the VW drivers. The TV crew’s camera captured the whole manufactured scene, and right out of their shot and into mine came Christophe.

There is, so I’m told a position you can find on a motorbike where riding becomes effortless. In the face of an injured back, a torn triceps and 13 days of hard riding, it is this Zen riding state that Christophe found today. He rode better, faster, more efficiently than he has on any day since the race began. How, I do not know, but somewhere amidst the sun scorched rocks and parched sierra earth between San Juan and San Raphael, Christophe found the something that maybe, just maybe could take him through to Buenos Aires.

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