In the rankings, Maikel Smits gains only four minutes on Mario Patrao, but he did win the fifth stage of the Morocco Desert Challenge to Merzouga. The 278-kilometer-long ride from Fezzou to Merzouga had a few hefty dune sections where the difference could be made. The Portuguese and the Dutchman, however, both made mistakes.
Maikel Smits: "He has a penalty for two speeding offenses and I missed a waypoint and we both made mistakes in the navigation. I’m a bit upset about it because I could have taken more time on him. I started third, but at the first checkpoint (at km 104) I was with Patrao, who had started first. Then there was a fast track and I kept my distance because I did not want to ride his dust. Far too dangerous and too risky to make mistakes. That turned out to be true as I took the wrong track for 5 kilometres. During the lunch stop (at km 166), I was a quarter of an hour behind Patrao.
When we continued he went wrong again: Immediately after the stop, there was a track to the left with a very sharp bend. I was right so he lost time so we came together again. In an oued where we both had to search for the right track, I could profit again because Patrao made another mistake, but when at kilometre 208 I started to doubt searching for the right track but my first idea turned out to be good. When driving down a mountain I mistake turning left where I should have gone right but could not turn back, that is where I missed a waypoint.
The last dunes we drove together again. Patrao wanted to get passed me but I did not let him, just as a matter of principle. If I win the stage, I also want to be the first to cross the finish line. I think I was about ten seconds earlier than Patrao. At this finish I only noticed he had two speed penalties, so that reassured me because four minutes is not much. To conclude; it was a beautiful day, with beautiful driving through the dunes, I really enjoyed the day.”
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