When telling people around us we would be racing in Mauritania, many had to look on a map where Mauritania is actually located. Understandably, it is a country that rarely reaches the news in Western countries, yet that was only sparking our interest to go there. After good contact with ‘Mister Sy’ – the team manager for the Mauritanian national team – last year in some races in Morocco, it was only natural we would receive an invitation for the Tour du Sahel.
Kenny and Antonie decided to plan a little 3-day panic training stage on Gran Canaria before the race. According to Antonie’s record, he would issue a negative travel advice for anyone planning to go to Gran Canaria with Kenny. Unfortunately for Kenny and luckily for Antonie, the roads in Mauritania would be mostly flat with crosswinds. The rest of the team joined in directly from home and after a day of exploring Nouakchott, unpacking our lovely new kit and preparing ourselves for a five day sahara trip, we were eager to start for the race.
The first raceday was already exemplary for the rest of the week. The time schedule in the road book appeared to be only an indication and despite the stages being relatively short, we spend each day a full day hitting the road, waiting for lunch packages or podium ceremonies. The reason why google maps would not show the starting village would become clear when we arrived on the spot: There was no village, only a line on the road indicating ‘Depart’ and emptyness surrounding us. Lars, packed with morale from a winter of training, went headwind solo from the gun: a suicide mission. Nevertheless, he did dare to acknowledge after the finish that at some point – despite having only a 2:00 gap with 80 km to go – he started to believe in his chances, which basically mimicked our tactics for the whole week. Despite not standing a chance against the Moroccon team in the crosswinds, never give up and believe in ourselves, even if the situation was completely hopeless, which resulted in a stage win in the fourth stage.
Even more important than the race, the Mauritanian hospitality in one of the most remote areas of our planet made the race a special experience. Eating a goat leg with the whole team with our bare hands, joking with our new friends from the Tunesian national team, trying some camel milk for its extra recovery effect and sleeping with the five of us in a 2-person room, the Tour du Sahel was a perfect race to start the season for our team.