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Ending on a high note in the dunes of Chegaga

Leg 6 | Marathon

With no time to catch their breath, the Gazelles set out for their second marathon and final leg. Two dans and one night in autonomy to finish this 29th edition in style. The famous dunes of Chegaga rise before them. Heat, control, wonderment and fatigue are the watchwords of this first day of the marathon leg.


Starting out in the sandbox

It is not yet 9 a.m., but the sand is already soft. The problems start before even reaching the first checkpoint. Team 170 (Anne Laure SAVONET / Manuela FIGUEIREDO - REX-ROTARY) is already stuck in the small dunes. Team 30 (Prune SALTI / Saadia CHAMALI - GCF FOURCHARD & RENARD EIFFAGE) are on their stomachs in the sand. Their wheels are completely buried.This early in the morning, we could do without the sandbox”. Not everyone is a morning person… They are helped by Team 170, who managed to get out alone. The navigator of Team 210 (Lamia SBAI / Sylvie BENBRIK DUTREMEE - MAYMANA) then comes to help. The three of them push together and get the vehicle out. The sense of solidarity is alive and well. The Gazelles of Team 195 (Isabelle DURAND / Adriane PLANTIN VERDIER - CRIT) are pulled out by Team 116 (Laetitia LAFON / Juliette MAS DAMOUR - Charente Pliage). Their entire rear suspension is in the sand. “Turn the wheels, or you’ll be on a slope”. It takes two tries to get out of the sand. The day is off to a good start… Team 201 (Claire TRIGNAT / Julia BARTHELEMY - Photoweb) airs up. But is that really necessary?

Slowly but surely

At CP1, about twenty Gazelles are plotting their points. They have just received the coordinates of CP2 and CP3. “We’ll go as far as 3 and then see what time we get there, but we would like to try the dunes. We want to make the most of it because we won’t be coming back to the dunes any time soon.” In E-Gazelles VINCI Immobilier Class, all is going well for Team 500 (Pascale BACQUEVILLE / Margaux MASSÉ - MOOD). For now… “Yesterday also started well and then we got lost in some spectacular landscape that wasn’t on the right route.” The mother/daughter team are enjoying themselves but want to do well. “You can come check with me, mum”.I have no sense of orientation, even at the bivouac, I sometimes hesitate…” admits Pascale, who is driving while her daughter navigates. Team 112 (Karina JERIBI / Camille JANIN - Bertaud Belieu) chooses not to plot CP5. “We always do that to save time. Our ultimate goal is to get to CP6. But 4 or 5 would be good, because the distances are long and there are small dunes here and there.” They have already made their choice: they will follow the classic route.

The race to the checkpoint

The E-Gazelles VINCI Immobilier buggy prototype Team 601 (Charlène LESTIENNE / Barbara BARBIER - ASSURANCES LESTIENNE) are in more of a hurry. “We lost some time helping others get unstuck. The timing is pretty tight with the checkpoint closing times so we can’t hang around too much”. They are on Route G, adapted for their vehicles.We’re enjoying it, especially as we see ourselves progress, whether in navigation or driving. We finish the legs, we find our checkpoints, and that’s cool.” At the first checkpoint, Team 507 (Emilie AUBERT / Gaëlle BRUNERIE - AVENIR ENERGIES) get out of the car in tears and hug each other. The Gazelles are tired. “We got lost because we don’t trust ourselves enough.” They then have 30 kilometres to reach CP3 across a dried riverbed, the water of winter giving way to a chaotic, sandy swamp. Many stop for lunch after crossing this zone. The wind is beginning to rise.

Classic or X

Then comes the time to make a choice. The classic route or Route X? Some are wavering or have chosen but are not reassured by their progress. Three teams have been asking themselves questions for more than an hour: are these dunes possible? Where can they get through? “I think you need to zigzag” states Team 175 (Patricia JOLY / Sylvie GALLIOU - Didier Cisilotto). “I’m afraid of flipping over the top, the vehicle is too long” pronounces Florence of Team 196 (Florence PHILIP / Valérie PRIOUL - Saint Fort Auto). The more adventurous tackle Route X, which climbs into the dunes and crosses erg Chegaga.We’re so happy. We decided from the beginning that we would take this route.” Then it is time to decide where and when to pitch the tent. They cross paths with Team 101 (Alexandra BUGNON-MURYS / Véronique EUDES - SULZER) at the checkpoint and head for CP5. “Let’s go, we still have two hours before dark. Let’s try to get as far as we can until then.” Team 218 (Véronique SGARRA BERIOT / Laëtitia BERTIN - KING JOUET), perched on top of a dune, enthuses: “This is amazing, it’s much better than at noon. CP5 is just behind us, we can see Gazelles. Team 192 (Margaux MOUY / Lucille ANTOINE - Easy VO) hug each other and dance for joy.

Bivouac under the stars

The more adventurous keep going to CP6, which opens at 7 a.m. the following day. They set up an improvised camp before opening their small bottle of Tsarine champagne given to them that morning by the organization. They drink a toast high in the dunes and admire the sunset, while enjoying the view of the Chegaga dunes. Then it’s time for raclette. The Gazelles discuss their day, their lives, and unwind before their second and last night out in the open desert. Tomorrow is the final day of the competition…




Dominique Serra has dedicated this 29th edition to Nasrin Sotoudeh – prominent Iranian lawyer and human rights advocate – who has been sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes for “inciting corruption and prostitution” by defending women who took off their headscarves in public.

I encourage everyone to sign the petition for her release.