As we start the second half of this year's Dakar, a 5,500 mile race through Argentina and Chile, I realize that this year has been especially dramatic. Between crashes, incredibly difficult stages in 125 degree heat, rain, rocks, dunes etc., there are many stories. Just today, Annie Seel one of the female competitors, went into a hole or tomb of sorts. She managed to keep her body out of it, but her bike fell roughly 30 feet into a 6X8 hole. One might ask, "how does this even happen?" But in the Dakar, it just does.
A helicopter lifted the bike out of the hole and amazingly, Annie continued. One of many stories for this day in this two and a half week long event.
But the top pros are an embarrassment. Marc Coma and Cyril Dupres, both previous winners, make me sad about the Dakar. Yesterday there was drama because Dupres noticed Coma had a fresh rear tire and shouldn't have. An investigation was done and ultimately Coma was penalized 6 hours for an illegal wheel change, eliminating him as a contender to win. It was a bad move by Coma, and even though those in the know say "everyone cheats on all the big teams, he just got caught," I think it's sad. Days earlier, Luca Manca stopped and gave a wheel to Coma to help him. The next day, when Manca was making up time he lost, he crashed horribly. With a fractured skull, he is still unconscious. Then, after receiving assistance with such a price, Coma decided to cheat? Bad. Apparently, he's now upset with Dupres and there has been some public bickering. It's bad enough to get the attention of KTM, whose bikes they ride, and KTM had to threaten to take the bikes away if they didn't stop. Humiliating for both of them and quite honestly, an embarrassment for the sport. Competition is one thing, but at that level, so is professionalism.
So this Dakar has had it's drama, like they all do. But this year, I've noticed a separation from drama associated with human spirit, drive and will (which is what we normally see in a Dakar) to drama over egos, ethics and what ultimately comes down to money and business.
The Dakar is the most difficult race on the planet, and by some margin. It pushes man and machine beyond known limits and into areas of one's soul they never knew existed. No one disputes that. But I hope the second half the 2010 Dakar leaves us all thinking about that element of the race versus some of the childish behavior we saw last week. Drama sells, so even the childish drama will be good for the Dakar as a business. But for the purists who believe this race is one of the last places on earth where man can truly test the limits of his will to endure, we need the drama of the adventure to rise to the top.