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Today’s Leg takes the Gazelles through the heights of the Erg Chebbi, the famous dunes of Merzouga

22 MARCH 2014: Merzouga: the most anticipated and most dreaded leg of the Rallye. Today the Gazelles will face the majestic Erg Chebbi dunes. There is a lot for the teams to remember when facing the dunes: they will need to air down their tires and always approach the slope head-on. Driving in dunes is a bit like surfing: angle is everything.

“Don’t approach them as insurmountable obstacles. Think of the sand as a moving substance. You need to manage your speed: don’t assume that the faster you drive, the less likely you are to get stuck. It’s not true”, warns Ludovic Taché, the rally’s sporting director.

Teams can select the level of difficulty they are comfortable with, but points are allocated according to difficulty, so in choosing a route each team is deciding how competitive they hope to be overall (teams who check off all 3 of the “X” CPs will have 0 penalty, those who choose the 3 “Y” CPs will have a 90-point penalty while the Z route will earn a penalty of 180 points). The X route, the “black” line of the Rallye, snakes through the highest peaks in the heart of the erg. Route Y is an intermediate level, and Route Z is the most accessible. However, all 3 routes cross Erg Chebbi in one way or another, so there is no escaping the sand! (The crossovers have their own route.)

In addition to good driving in the sand, the Gazelles will need to accurately assess their abilities. The teams must decide their route before seeing it — once they reach CP1 for a specific route they have committed to finishing that level, and cannot change their minds. The choice of level becomes strategic as teams must estimate their capabilities correctly — Gazelles who overestimate their skills could lose a great deal, while those who underestimate themselves or opt for a more “relaxed” day also stand to lose. So what should they do? Go for the more “valuable” checkpoints at the risk of not being able to reach them? Or choose a “safer” option and accept a penalty for being too timid? Each team will have to make choices.

Rally officials estimate that the “ideal” time to complete the 110km leg is 9.5 hours. Also there is a special aspect of the dunes days — teams are allowed to follow each other — but only in the dunes. Once they leave the erg at CP5, the regular rules apply again — “no following.”

As teams reach the edge of the sand sea, they find that Merzouga seems more hospitable than they imagined. Recent rain has made the sand more firm, making for an easier driving experience and many of the teams are racing easily through the daunting heights. By 9:30, most of the teams on Route X were already approaching the 4th checkpoint. The Gazelles on Route Y were also making good time, but those who had selected the “easy” route Z were having trouble.

Once out of the dunes, the Gazelles still have over 100 kilometres and 4 more checkpoints to find before reaching the new bivouac in Mech Irdane.

The first teams to complete all nine CPs on the course began arriving at the bivouac around 4pm. There was a buzz of excitement as teams revelled in the feeling that they had “conquered” the famed Merzouga dunes.

By 7:15pm 127 teams had reached the new bivouac, though some made the strategic decision to abandon the remaining checkpoints and return by the road — motivated no doubt by fatigue and a desire to get back early to rest up before tomorrow’s marathon leg. The atmosphere at the bivouac this evening is celebratory, ringing with laughter, exclamations, epic tales and sandy anecdotes. Today there were only five calls for mechanical assistance from teams stuck in the sand — Merzouga was merciful this year!

For more live coverage of Today’s event from the official Rally site: English | Français


Gazelles TV presents the third leg of the competition — Through the dunes of Merzouga. [Sorry for the obligatory advertisement at the start of this clip, it comes as part of the embedded resource, not our site.]

GAZELLES TV 2014 – ETAPE3 by Rallye-Aicha-des-Gazelles

M6 highlights from the third leg of the competition [Sorry for the obligatory advertisement at the start of this clip, it comes as part of the embedded resource, not our site.]

M6 – Gazelles 2014 – Leg 3 by Rallye-Aicha-des-Gazelles


Team 171 USnomads hit all 9 of their checkpoints today on the “Y” Route, with a total “penalty” of 102.52 for the day (the value of the missed CPs plus the extra kilometers driven over the “ideal” course). The team ranked 10th among First-time Participants and 37th overall.

Here’s the top ten 4×4 teams in today’s leg of the competition:

Leg 3 -  Top Ten




The team’s track (white line) compared to the “straight line” course for Leg 3 (click the image for a larger view). Current live tracking in realtime is available from the official Gazelle Rally site here.



LEG 3: NEJAKH/MECH IRDANE – Ideal distance 80 to 110 km – Estimated time 9:30

The reputation of the Merzouga dunes has been a source of discussion among the Gazelles since before their arrival in Morocco. Now, after skirting around the edges of the looming mountains of sand for the past three days, the Gazelles will finally face the challenge. The time has come to take on the ERG CHEBBI. Long anticipated with a mix of excitement and dread, there’s no turning back now. However, the teams have 3 different routes to choose from. The easiest, Route Z, meanders around the base of the dunes: a good choice for the less experienced or less daring (though Z is no joyride: while the slopes may be less steep and the hollows less deep, there is sand everywhere, and driving in sand remains a challenge). The middle option, Route Y, passes close to the highest sandy peaks. While the navigation is not particularly difficult, the terrain is more rugged and gets harder as the day progresses. Finally, for those who dare, Route X with veritable walls of sand: the Gazelles will need to circle around, take stock, coax their way over or through. Those coveted red flags, easily visible from the peaks at a distance of several hundred meters, will prove difficult to reach. Whichever route they choose, the Gazelles will return to the bivouac proud and exhilarated at having faced the tallest of Moroccos sand dunes.


USnomads, c’est l’histoire d’une amitié de plus de 20 ans, qui s’est construite à travers le temps, les cultures, les expériences de la vie et des voyages. Seule l’union de deux caractères forts et respectueux l’un de l’autre explique que nous soyons arrivées à nos fins dans chacun de nos défis.

Ceci est notre première participation au Rallye des gazelles et nous ne sommes pas des professionels, mais JoMarie a une certaine expérience de l’Afrique et des situations d’urgence. D’autre part, elle s’est totalement investie dans la préparation de cette course et Isabelle s’est récemment mise à la navigation.

Le Rallye des gazelles dans le désert marocain sera le théâtre d’une nouvelle épreuve pour nous : une Jeep, une boussole, une carte et tout le pouvoir de notre volonté d’y parvenir fera le reste.

Ce défi sportif s’inscrit dans un projet humain plus large, celui de traverser le désert du Sahara d’Ouest en Est dans l’espoir d’accompagner les équipes d’ONG dans leurs micro-projets d’aide aux peuplades nomades locales. JoMarie en produira un film documentaire qui donnera à mieux connaitre les hommes de cette partie du monde.

L’équipe 171 prendra fièrement son envol le 15 mars 2014 avec toutes les autres participantes ! Et que les meilleures gagnent !

Mais quelle valeur et quelle portée aurait cette leçon de vie, si nous n’étions pas soutenues par l’amour de nos proches, de nos amis et de tous ceux qui nous entourent. Merci !


Team USnomads is proud to support the work of MothersToMothers, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that recognizes the ability of mothers to change their destiny. MothersToMothers, founded by Pamela Parlapiano, partners with local women to create community supported day care and learning centers that change lives. Their model project in Amacho Wato Kebele, Ethiopia, has shown how with just a little help, the mothers in the community can improve the lives of a whole village. Please join us in supporting their efforts to take this successful model to more villages: Donate to MothersToMothers here. (Note that all donations go 100% directly to MothersToMothers).

The moveable “tent city” the Gazelles call “home” each night is known as the “bivouac.” It has 600 inhabitants, a “mayor” (Rallye director Dominique Serra), essential services, a village square and even a clock tower (featuring the magnificent Saint Honoré “Gazelle” clock). Each morning the bivouac empties out to the sound of roaring engines and honking horns. Only the Rallye organizers remain behind, working diligently to keep the event running smoothly. The “biv” covers an area of 1000 square meters, with different areas roped off with flagging tape, the “dormitory” is where the girls set up their tents, there are showers and toilets on the outer edge, and the main square delineated by the medical tent, the website and video production trailers, the La Poste tent, the media tent, the mess tent and even a bar…


Detailed weather: Errachida

21 March – Leg 2: Nejakh North
20 March – Leg 1: Nejakh South
19 March – Prologue
18 March – To Erfoud
17 March – Ferry to Tangiers
16 March – To Barcelona
15 March – Paris Presentation
14 March – Technical Verification day
8 to 13 Mar 2014 – Paris: Preparations



We started preparing for the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles last year, as soon as we made the decision to participate in the grueling nine-day off-road race across the Sahara… [read]



How do they determine the route for the Rally? An advance team from the organization went out on a recon trip in November to select and pre-run the course. Check out this account from one of the members of the recon team, talking about what they were looking for in the terrain and how they made their determinations: english | français

About Team 171 US Nomads
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No one wants to get “stuck” out in the desert, but we all know it is going to happen. Probably more often than we expect, too. During the rally we will need to be able to get ourselves “unstuck” without depending on someone else to give us a pull… [read]


The Rallye Aicha des Gazelles, a grueling nine-day off-road race across the Moroccan sahara, is one of the toughest motorsport events in the world. Using only a map and compass to navigate (GPS or electronic navigational aids are NOT allowed), the two-women teams must reach a series of checkpoints spread over the harshest desert terrain. The competition is a challenge of endurance and strategy, as teams must decide whether to go over obstacles or around them in an effort to complete the course with the least possible mileage. The winners are the team that reaches all the checkpoints via the shortest total distance. Learn more about the race…

> Team US Nomads is training hard to face the challenges of a Sahara crossing like no other. The first step in their journey is the 2014 Rally Aicha des Gazelles. Find out more about the team and their inspiration …
> A true test of endurance, the Gazelle rally pushes teams to their limits in a struggle to overcome the harshest terrain in the Moroccan Sahara. The key to success is a seamless combination of off-road driving abiility, land navigation skills and strategic thinking. Learn more about this unique race …
> Team US Nomads is working to connect people across borders and cultures in a true exchange. This includes a series of humanitarian efforts to assist communities in the region undertaken with the rally organization and other NGO partners. Discover how we are doing good as we go …
> Team US Nomads needs your support. Whether you represent a corporate organization interested in sponsoring the team, a humanitarian group that would like to find out more about working with us in the Sahara, or if you would just like to follow along with the adventure, we want to hear from you. Find out how to get involved …

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