Indian challenger CS Santosh was placed 52 overall in the 37th Dakar after the end of Day 5. A total of 458 km of stony ground rounded off with a patch of fesh fesh (powdery stuff with little traction) was the task for Santosh on Thursday. The day belonged to defending champion Marc Coma who seems to finally be shrugging off the cobwebs. He clocked 4:38:16 to seal the stage.
Santosh was an hour and 23 minutes behind Coma but given the other rider's experience it's hardly fair to compare the two. While Santosh finished the stage today 56th, his overall standing now is 52. For a first timer, this is indeed a credible showing.At the night halt in this arid moonscape of a port city on the Pacific, Santosh was relaxed and feeling quite confident. "Today (Thursday) was the first day the bike never went down. I had no fall, not even a minor one and am recovering my confidence. I now really think I can ride at this level."
Contrary to what one would imagine, riders love it when they tackle sand dunes. Its hard riding for sure, sand requires good upper body strength to stay leaning on the front ensuring it digs in and does not lose traction, but the best bit according to CS Santosh is the lack of dust. "Sand sprays but it settles down quickly. There is no blinding dust that one has to choke on through. Give me sand over dust any day."
By the end of the day, the Indian had traversed a total of 3,726 kms of the event in just five days. A lot of us can fantasise about managing a similar distance but think of what it means to do the same at speeds above 100 kmph on terrain that throws rock, sand and sinuous dirt tracks at you. For starters, you would need an iron bum.
These riders wear specially padded undies, though Santosh does not, to provide some comfort and then they do stand a lot of the time so the bum isn't that sore but try standing and riding a motorcycle on dirt even for a few kilometres and you'll figure the kind of incredible strength that requires.
Most teams here have physios along and the top riders all have extensive massages by the end of the day. No such luck for Santosh, who barely got together the expenses to put together a ride with a top-class team. "That would help but physically I am actually feeling fine. The soreness is a mental thing and can be pushed away in the head. It's the inability to ride hard enough over rocky bits and through fesh fesh that is bringing my overall standing down."
Thursday's stage proved to be a real hard task. "I would rate this far tougher than the so-called longest second stage. That one had long straights where one could sit back with the throttle on, here it was on the balls of the feet all the time. You just could not relax. I wanted to sit many a time, as it was so exhausting but about 80% of the stage needed me to stay upright so that I could figure out the terrain ahead. It was hard work today (Thursday)."