The hardest stages of most rally raids nearly always happen to be the marathon stages. And so it was at the 2017 Afriquia Merzouga Rally, with the riders having to survive mind-boggling terrain that dealt their machinery a severe beating, followed by which they had to manage to service their own motorcycles, spend a night in the dessert, and carry right on riding the next morning. The fifth stage of the rally, which was a continuation of the marathon stage, threw up challenges in the form of dunettes, rocky fields, sandstorms and, as is typical of Merzouga, navigational challenges aplenty. But both Hero riders managed to deal with the challenges, finishing the day well.
Joaquim Rodrigues, the team's Portuguese rider, finished the stage in fourth position. He managed to keep calm, ride well, and navigate even better, ensuring he had his best finish over the course of the rally so far (after taking victory in the prologue stage, that is). JRod nearly took stage victory too, losing out by 1min 07sec. "I lost a bit of time yesterday in the Marathon stage, looking for a secret waypoint but today I started off really well and got myself to the end in a very good position. For now, we just wait for the last stage tomorrow and bring my bike home for Hero MotoSports Team Rally," he said.
CS Santosh started the stage well, but things turned ugly for the Indian rider when he crashed. The fact that he lost time due to this meant that he ended the stage in 39th position. "The Marathon stage is generally the turning point of any cross country any rally. For me the marathon stage started alright but a couple of crashes and navigations errors hampered my performance. I wasn't feeling too good with the bike and found that I had some damage there. My focus was to bring it home today and get it in shape for the last stage tomorrow."
The final 50km dash is all that remains between the riders and the finish line.
Provisional Results Stage 5
1. Mena Oriol, Honda, 03:12:04 Hr
2. Botturi Alessandro, Yamaha, +00:07 sec
3. De Soultrait Xavier, Yamaha, +00:26 min
4. Joaquim Rodrigues, Hero MotoSports Team Rally, +01:07 min
39. CS Santosh, Hero MotoSports Team Rally, +01:25:04 Hr
Provisional Results Overall
1. De Soultrait Xavier, Yamaha, 13:48:48 Hr
2. Farres Guell Gerard, KTM, +12:43 min
3. Caimi Franco, Yamaha, +21:56 min
9. Joaquim Rodrigues, Hero MotoSports Team Rally, +01:35:04 Hr
17. CS Santosh, Hero MotoSports Team Rally, +03:26:10 Hr