Smits wins dune stage to Merzouga ahead of Patrao

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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