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The 10th edition of the Afriquia Merzouga Rally ended in climax this Friday morning in the dunes of southeast Morocco. The spectacular group start was followed by crowds of local spectators. Adrien Van Beveren (Yamaha, motorbikes), Axel Dutrie (Yamaha, quads) and Nasser Al-Attiyah (Can-Am, side-bysides) kept their cool and each won their category. Looking back at a morning to celebrate!   
Key points:  
  • - Van Beveren (Yamaha, motorbikes), Axel Dutrie (Yamaha, quads) and Nasser Al-Attiyah (Can-Am, side-by-sides) won the last stage and took the honours in the overall classification 
  • - Thanks to the "Dakar Series" label, the competitors who completed this edition without incurring any major penalties have qualified for the next Dakar Rally, in January 2020 
  • - David Scott Myers won the KTM Ultimate Race, a category with 12 riders selected from around the world by the Austrian make 
  • - The "mass start" set the tone for the final day before the 48.30-kilometre special stage 
  • - The Afriquia Merzouga Rally, under the High Patronage of King Mohammed VI, has been a tremendous popular success, with hundreds of spectators watching the departure of this last stage 
The mass start: real fireworks to finish the event  
After several days of looking up at dark clouds, with the odd shower filling the wadis with water, the sun finally returned. It lit up Erg Chebbi in Merzouga this Friday morning for the start of the last special stage in this 10th edition of the Afriquia Merzouga Rally. The mass start took place opposite majestic sand dunes in the presence of numerous spectators. "It reminds me of Enduro starts, I just love it", chuckled Adrien Van Beveren, crowned the winner one hour later after having won the last stage on his bike. "We're going to let everyone go and then we'll attack", said Nasser Al-Attiyah, this year's Dakar winner and first in Side by Side in the Afriquia Merzouga Rally. The driver from Qatar did his job before putting on a show for the spectators with the fastest time of the morning. At the finish line, smiles were the order of the day for all those crossing it. "Given the difficulties of navigation and driving, just getting here is a real pleasure", said South Africa's Calheine Perry. "Once you have tried rally-raid, you immediately want to get back in there", said Frenchman Antoine Lecomte. After the medals ceremony in the company of one of the coaches of the rally, Giovanni Sala, the competitors reached the bivouac in the luxurious setting of the Hôtel Xaluca to enjoy the warmth of the local people and the satisfaction of having battled the tracks for a week. 
Adrien Van Beveren (FRA, 1st in motorbikes, Yamaha): "It feels really good to win! I have had some good performances in rallies in recent years but I haven't seen the fruits at the finish line. I am really happy for the whole team, my family and the many people who follow me. It's been a great rally, with ideal conditions and a particularly tough roadbook. The complexity of each stage means you have to be really focused and never drop your guard. I have rarely made so much progress in such a short time!"  
Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT, 1st in side-by-sides, Can-Am): “We've really enjoyed ourselves all week, and that has been clearly seen in this final stage. It's been a wonderful experience. It's one of the races I've most enjoyed in my career. Apart from the competition and the pleasure of driving in the dunes in a Side by Side, I really appreciate the good atmosphere and the feeling of sharing with other competitors. That's what rally-raid is all about!"   

Mathieu Baumel (FRA, Nasser Al-Attiyah’s co-driver): "We have really had a good time! It’s been a tremendous learning curve, we've learned a lot about Side by Side. As a co-driver, it is less stressful than in a car, so it's more fun. The Afriquia Merzouga Rally is a really good learning step for anyone who wants to discover rally-raid."  
Axel Dutrie (FRA, 1st in quads, Yamaha): "It's been a really great edition, with even more varied sections than last year across rivers, dunes and trial zones. Apart from the win, I am really happy that I finished this rally after I had to withdraw from the Dakar due to mechanical failure. I feel relieved: it shows that the mechanical side doesn't always leave you in the lurch!"  
1- Adrien Van Beveren (FRA, Yamaha) 15 h 28’02’’ 
2- Ross Branch (BOT, KTM) + 24’37’’ 
3- Oriol Mena (ESP, Hero) + 33’01’’ 

1- Axel Dutrie (FRA, Yamaha) 19 h 12’36’’ 
2- Facundo Viel (ARG, Yamaha) + 1 h 20’16’’ 
3- Toni Vingut (ESP, Yamaha) + 1 h 27’47’’ 

1- Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT, Can-Am) 17 h 30’11’’ 
2- Conrad Rautenbach (ZWE, Can-Am) + 1 h 36’29’’ 
3- Juan-Miguel Medero (ARG, Can-Am) + 1 h 59’28’’ 
The incredible adventure of the KTM Ultimate Race 
Their faces are also creased by fatigue, sweat and effort. Twelve riders took part in the Afriquia Merzouga Rally via the KTM Ultimate Race. This category highlights twelve devotees of the Austrian make who won their places after rallies held right across the globe. At the end of the five stages, the American David Scott Myers won through. "Everything is just spinning in my head", he explained at the finish. "I don't think I have ever felt like this. I knew nothing about navigation but I've learned something every day. We were lucky to have the backup of a fantastic team. We have created connections that will never be broken". The winner received the congratulations of the KTM Ultimate Race group, which also includes New Zealander Elliot Michael Kent: "Riding here is just amazing. It’s been crazy every day, we’ve learned an awful lot. If we come back, we'll all be even stronger". "They have shown that you can give your best every day out there", said KTM Ambassador Marc Coma, who has supported them all week. “The Afriquia Merzouga Rally is ideal to discover the beauty and the demands of rally-raid".  


Charlie Herbst (FRA, motorbikes, KTM): "Ever since the Dakar I have had some pain in the ankle and in my back. But, apart from a fall without consequences, everything has gone really well this week. I really wish my Dakar could have worked out like this! The Afriquia Merzouga Rally helps you gain good experience and above all it motivates you to look for sponsors for the next Dakar".  
Kristen Landman (ZAF, motorbikes, KTM): "I am just so happy: I came to learn and to finish the rally, so mission accomplished! I really wanted to finish the Afriquia Merzouga Rally without receiving a penalty to ensure my qualification for the Dakar. That's done, and what's more I am the first women in the overall classification. The beauty of the landscape, the dunes, the kindness of the people: everything came together for a fantastic week. I do not know yet if I will return, but it was the best start I could have to my career in rally-raid."  
Aravind Prabhakar (IND, motorbikes, Sherco): "It has really been a great rally, highly technical and demanding, especially in terms of navigation. I felt really good on the bike and managed to escape any mechanical problems, apart from an oil leak one day. When you get so much pleasure out of a rally, you can't wait to give it another go!".  
Ali Anaam (MAR, side-by-sides, Bombardier): "I can't wait for the Afriquia Merzouga Rally to come round every year. You see old friends again, the atmosphere is great and the days are really full. I am very pleased with my performance, even if I did break my timing belt in one stage. The important things are elsewhere: everyone enjoys it and you take home some great memories ".  

Joel Labille (FRA, side-by-sides, Polaris): "This is my 5th Afriquia Merzouga Rally and I still enjoy it enormously. Competing against the best… it's pure joy. This rally has everything: a fine competitive spirit during the daytime and a great camaraderie among competitors and organisers. Bring on the next edition!"  

Giovanni Sala (ITA, coach): "It's been a great week of competition. I've seen how the drivers and riders progress day by day. Some of them were not too sure about their machinery and their navigation skills at the start but they have gradually gained in confidence, improving their knowledge and getting kilometres under their belts. It is always very gratifying to see competitors improve and be so happy when they cross the finish line."  

Source Afriquia Merzouga Rally's official press release
Photos: Aurelien Vialatte / A.S.O. --  Victor Eleuterio / Fotop / A.S.O.

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