With a smile from ear to ear, Maikel Smits crossed the finish line of the 403 kilometre long seventh stage of the Morocco Desert Challenge. The smile was not only because of the certainty that he had won the stage and was the first to cross the line after another exciting duel with leader Mario Patrao, but also because Smits had thoroughly enjoyed the ride. An hour later Mike van den Goorbergh - cousin of Jurgen and in his first rally - came to the line near Matarka with the third fastest time, but because of time penalties ended on the 9th place in todays ranking.
Maikel Smits: "It went so well today and I enjoyed so much. Very technical, a lot of navigation on compass, but also a lot of gravel and lots of drifting: that is the best thing there is. At the start, I was not so happy. The bike indicated a malfunction on the coolant sensor, so I went back to the Van Eerd service team, and started two minutes later than I should have done. Therefore, I was already four minutes behind. At the tank stop (at 188 km) it was still three minutes and in the second part of the stage I began hunting Patrao down. I saw the dust cloud in the distance, and then a point and that was getting bigger. After 100 kilometres of hunting, I was in his wheel. He tried to get away for 30 kilometres, but I did not let him go. I stuck to his wheel and almost at the end, he made a mistake. He took an S-turn completely, but I had already seen that you could just go straight, so I cut it, so that I was just a bit earlier at the finish. If I know that I am winning the stage, I also want to finish first and I succeeded. I know that I can’t win the rally anymore – unless something really strange happens – but I do want to take the honour of at least winning a few stages."
Mike van den Goorbergh: "As shame I fall back to 9th place because of the penalties, but I'm happy with my ninth place in the overall rankings. Especially because it is my first rally and I participate as a malle moto rider (solo rider, without assistance), without any assistance of a service team to do the maintenance of the bike. Such a result is a gift. It actually went very well all week. The bike is still in a good shape. My cousin Jurgen built it up for me and trimmed it and he also gave many tips. Jurgen has done the Dakar ten times, the last years always as a malle moto rider, so he knows what it takes. We also trained quite a bit together, but I'm already happy if I can keep up with him a bit. I do not have a large background in motorbike racing like he has. Fifteen years ago I did some road racing for a few years, but otherwise it was limited to a bit of enduro driving.
The Morocco Desert Challenge is not the easiest rally to start with, but that's exactly why I learned a lot in a week's time of riding, navigating and maintaining the bike. I have neatly checked my list every day. Luckily, I hardly had any problems. I made one big crash yesterday in the dunes. I banged my head so hard on a hump of camel grass that I was ten minutes out.
I rode well today. The navigation was very difficult, but at a certain moment, the truck of Martin van den Brink came by on a vast plain and I stayed behind him, because he has such a good navigator on board that, I dared to trust it. I saw them take a certain direction so resolute that it had to be good.
So many bikers had to withdraw already - there are only four malle moto riders left in the race - and I am still here. Getting to the finish is the most important thing. First let's do those last 211 kilometres tomorrow."
Don't limit your challenges. Challenge your limits.