Starting in the mountains near Borovets, driving down to the Rhodopia Mountains and then back north for a final stage through the fields towards the new camp in the vineyards of Starosel, todays stage had it all: mountains, technical driving, navigation and a final fast stage at high speed.
“It was cold in the mountains!” says Bert van Vegchel, who finishes first today on his KTM. “And all those tracks, so many of them! I am always worried to make a mistake with the navigation, to miss a situation in the roadbook.” But with the best possible result today everything went well. “Especially on the last stage! I hit 150 km/h with my motorbike, fantastic!”
A small group of front runners in the motorbike ranking arrives at the finishline, with over an hour lead to the next competitors. “We race alone,” says Bram van der Wouden, “everyone finds their own track, and there is no room for error. For me today was difficult, but in the end I am here with a good time. It is a good start of the week!”
Konstantin Cholakov is ‘the man to beat’ this year, taking a nice lead with his Hilux. He is all smiles when he hears he is again the first. Slavchev Desislav and Margarita are welcomed at the finishline by Margarita’s daughter and granddaughter: all the family is involved in racing and – quoting Hristomir – we hope to see all three at the startline in the near future!
“These stages are very fast, and a lot of fun,” says Rik van den Brink, who races the diesel powered ORD Toyota and holds the third place today. “It is the first time in a diesel car and I am only learning, but it drives and handles great. Today we had just one ‘oops’, but nothing a good push on the throttle could not solve.” Everything is new for him: the car, the race and the co-pilot, the experienced Guido Heijmans.
“You cannot win on pure speed,” says Yann van Beek, racing his SSV and finishing third today. “The Bulgarian teams are too fast.” Tsanko Tsankov and Zornitsa Todorova win today with a big lead, cheering at the finishline. Tsvetan Tsvetanov is right behind them and only rally-raid veteran Jerome Pelichet is capable of following closely. “Even though we cannot push them, we stay close and bit by bit we try to catch up,” says Yann. “A race is not won on speed alone!”
Aviv Kadshai rules the truck ranking with his DAF, followed by Philippe Musy. Hans van Geest had bad luck in Rhodopia, as he bent the steering rod of his Scania. Luckily they made it out of the forest without much trouble. A truck can be a handful on these stages, but so far the teams manage well to keep up with the pace of the Balkan Offroad 2019.
Gilles Girousse and Christian Fraisse win the stage in the Extreme Class, an excellent result for this experienced team. Showing the capabilities of their Jeep since the start, they now manage to overtake Christophe Moine and Franck Daurelle, on a magical Extreme stage. “We drove through the hills and you could sometimes see kilometers ahead,” says Andre Kuijt. “We saw Franck accelerate on a long climb through a fantastic mountain landscape, it is just such a pleasure to race here!”
Tonight the teams enjoy the hospitality of the Starosel Wine Hotel, where the Balkan Offroad 2019 will stay for several days before the final step towards Shkorpilovtsi on the shore of the Black Sea. But first things first: tomorrow has 200 km on roadbook through the mountains and on the plains around Starosel!