A first stage of 37.2 km, that seemed pretty easy on the paper but proved to be quite difficult on the ground due to a long sandy section. A stage won by the male and female favourites, Rachid EL MORABITY (D001-MAR) and Nathalie MAUCLAIR (D114-FRA).
THE EVENT OF THE DAY: TODAY WE'RE GOING SWIMMING
How about a swim at the end of a stage of the MARATHON DES SABLES? This is the sweet surprise that awaited competitors at the end of this difficult first stage. We're obviously not talking about an Olympic pool...but of the waters of Rio Grande, which were greatly appreciated by those who had the courage to walk the 200-300 metres separating the bivouac from the stream. Footbathing and clothes washing – a perfect way to reboost motivation affected by the 37 km of today's stage.
Stalin CARRASCO QUISPE (D361-PER)
"I was feeling fine until CP2 but I then started to have a sore head. I'm used to trail running in the mountains. Everyone said it was going to be easy today with the descent, but there was the oued, where running was very difficult. Rachid has spent his childhood in the desert. It's a great advantage. And he's got a fantastic level – he seems inexhaustible."
Alexander STONOR (D097-GBR)
"Close to CP2, it was just sand...I'm not used to that, it was pretty hard on the thighs."
Philippe FOULQUIER (D150-FRA)
"The stage was varied: very rolling and easy to start with, but towards the end, our feet were sinking in the sand... The wind was blowing quite steadily, so heat was bearable."
Laurent MARTIN (D128-FRA)
"Very tough! It's different from Morocco - the sand is much softer, I had to walk a lot. But it's beautiful. It's a strange desert – there are trees, animals...I even saw goats! Really awesome!"
Hugo REINHOLD (D071-SUI)
"My colleague said it was hard, but it's false...it was very very hard!" (laughs).
THE TOP ATHLETES' RACE
The favourites Rachid EL MORABITY (D001-MAR) and Nathalie MAUCLAIR (D114-FRA) confirmed their status by easily winning this first stage, with a lead of 25 min. for Rachid and 37 min. for Nathalie. Julien CHORIER (D111-FRA) comments: "Rachid was right to hit hard right from the first day: with his 25-min. lead, he's going to be difficult to catch up...all the more since he's technically and physically stronger in this type of environment." The first rolling section of some 15 km enabled Remigio HUMAN QUISPE (D003-PER) to take the lead, closely followed by Rachid and by Erik CLAVERY (D112-FRA). Incidentally, they covered this initial section at a average speed of almost 15 km/h, despite their fully loaded backpacks weighing more than 8 kg. Then, the very sandy section favoured Rachid, the uncontested expert of such unstable terrains; Remigio had to let him and Erik pass, but then, Erik couldn't keep up with Rachid, impressively at ease. Erik, the recent winner of the Grand2Grand event in the US, suffered from the heat and had a difficult time finishing the stage, arriving after Julien. The race of Gediminas GRINIUS (D236-LTU), one of the pack's favourites, was affected by heat and digestive disorders – he finished thirtieth.
In the women's category, Nathalie MAUCLAIR (D114-FRA) showed extreme motivation before this morning's start: she ran around the bivouac several times to warm up before going to the start line. She stayed in the leading group during the entire rolling section, before experiencing some difficulty in the soft sand, but at the end of the stage, she accelerated and reached an impressive ninth rank in the scratch classification. Mélanie ROUSSET (D365-FRA) arrived 37 min. after her, and Rocío CARRIÓN (D215-PER) completed the podium with almost 45 min. more than Mélanie. For now, the logic is respected.
Worthy of notice is the presence of 13 Peruvian competitors in the Top 50 – a proof of the enthusiasm and values of the host country's runners.