After skirting around its constant looming presence for the past three days, the time has come for the Gazelles to face the challenge.
It is time to tackle erg Chebbi.
This is the big day, much anticipated with excitement and a certain amount of dread.
The teams will have to confront the sand; there is no way out. But they will have 3 different routes to choose from: Z, Y and X.
Route Z meanders around the feet of the dunes: a good choice for the less experienced Gazelles. But be warned: Route Z is no joyride. While the slopes may be less steep and the hollows less deep, there is sand everywhere, and driving in sand remains a challenge whether up on top or down below.
And then there is Route Y, which passes close to the highest sandy peaks. While navigation is not particularly difficult, the terrain is more rugged and increases in difficulty as the day progresses.
Finally, there is Route X for those who dare. With veritable walls of sand rising before them, the Gazelles will need to circle around, take stock, coax their way over or through. Those coveted red flags, easily visible from the peaks at a distance of several hundred metres, will prove difficult to reach.
Whichever route they choose, the Gazelles will return to the bivouac proud and exhilarated at having defeated the sand giant.
Unable to take on the dunes, Crossover and e-Gazelle teams will have their share of challenges, with sandy oueds that will put up a resistance worthy of the most valiant Gazelles.
By the time they reach the Merch Irdane bivouac, everyone will have had their share of sand… We can promise you that!
The last three teams to reach the bivouac are on the finish line: 144 (Laurene VOILLEQUIN / Laure AVELINE - Adhome Services), 143 (Leila MASSON / Monica OBERLE - Programme Alimentaire Mondial) and 166 (Stephanie PIERI-CHESNAIS / Isabelle AVIS - TRANSAVIA). They still need to hand in their road sheet and tracking devices... But a glass of Tsarine champagne is waiting for them!
The stretch from the dunes to the bivouac offers easy navigation and driving. There are even several trails leading to the bivouac.
That’s how Team 178 (Marie GUARINO / Giliane STORRER - MERSE-TRANSAC) described their feelings at the finish line, in front of the Ranking office. "We’re happy it’s over but it’s really strange to say that this is the last time we’ll be handing in our road sheet. We’re proud to have found every checkpoint of the Rallye. At first we didn’t think we could do it, but we got into it because we’re pretty competitive."
We're starting to have a good idea of who will be on the podium but aren't saying anything... we'll let you make your own predictions!
...and honking horns: it feels like the end of the Rallye! Many teams have crossed the finish line before a crowd of photographers and cameramen. Tears, laughter, emotions, arms waving triumphantly... they are all proud of what they have accomplished. Just making it to the finish line is a exploit in itself.