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Syd Stelvio, Peking to Paris 24 | Day 36 – Aix Les Bains to Dijon – 500km

Syd Stelvio, Peking to Paris 24 | Day 36 – Aix Les Bains to Dijon – 500km

This morning marked the first day of the weekend for the citizens of Aix Les Bains, a bog-standard Saturday that dawned under heavy skies, with low cloud clinging to the peaks of the mountains that overlook the town. Days of the week mean very little to the competitors and crew on the Peking to Paris though, we mark time in kilometres and days, and today was day 36, of 37. The penultimate day of this incredible adventure.

It is also exactly five weeks since we departed Beijing, a sentence that in itself is an amazing thing to say, a sentiment shared by the Policeman who stopped us as we passed through a toll booth yesterday, “Where have you come from?”, well, you won’t believe this, but…

It is a difficult thing now keeping one’s mind on the job at hand, with the finish so close. It isn’t the just the thought of crossing the line, either, but also the knowledge that after so long away from home, it will soon be time to be reunited with loved ones, and this will surely be the greatest prize of all.

But there were two final competition sections to tick off, a pair of fairly simple regularities on a 284 km run to Dijon, a mercifully short day after some of the monsters that have been tackled over the past five weeks.

Five weeks, let that sink in. Eight countries (and a micro-state), seven border crossings and fourteen-and-a-half-thousand-kilometres across deserts and mountains, from Asia to Europe across the biggest continuous land mass in the world.

This will be the final time I will write to you on this trip, the end is in sight, and I fear it is beyond my skill to articulate the scale of what has been accomplished over the past month, and the emotions attached to making it this far. There are the event and class winners, those that have amassed the least number of penalties across the rally, but this event is so much more than just a position on a leader board.

This rally is a living thing, it goes on for so long you are completely immersed in it, it governs your day and with every kilometre you complete you feed the beast and it grows bigger and bigger. There is nothing I can think of that quite comes close as a single event, and winners aside, by the time the flag falls at the finish tomorrow, everyone will have their own story to tell. We may all be driving the same route, heading to the same place, but everyone has completed their own rally, and the story of that is as personal as the cars that we have driven. We may all compete under the same banner, but the event is the sum of everyone’s testament, for better and for worse.

And now, here we are, in Dijon with Paris just over 300 clicks away. The story, that has felt like so long in the making, is nearly over and, touch wood, the results are all but set in stone. Andy Buchan and Mike Sinclair are our overall winners, in the Bentley Le Mans that has just kept on going, whilst others around it have fallen to the scourge of mechanical failure. Matt Bryson and Mike Pink have finished top of the Classic Category and collected the least amount of time penalty overall, in the Leyland P76 that has so often been occupied by the late, great Gerry Crown, and a car that also bears a subtle tribute to the unparalleled Philip Young. They were pushed hard by Lars and Annette Rolner, in the always stylish 911 Safari, and they can be extremely proud to be one of only 19 crews who have achieved a coveted Gold Medal on the event, only awarded to crews who have visited every single control between Beijing and Paris.

Included in that list are just seven machines from the vintageant category, including of course Andy and Mike, but also Carlos Reider and Urs Schnuriger, Alex Vassbotten and Bas Gross, Patrick Debussere and Lorenzo Bas, Charlotte Lockhart and Andrew Barnes, Piere Gerber and Alice Leuenberger and Manuel Dubs and Luca Arrigucci. These incredible crews have all driven and navigated brilliantly in their pre-war cars, some of which are nearly 100 years old.

It is no mean feat in the classic category either, and to the 10 crews there that have achieved gold, I also offer the utmost congratulations. It is not just about gold medals though, simply reaching Paris is a tremendous achievement, and even those that have spent time with cars on recovery trucks are deserving of applause. Theirs is but a different story, of overcoming their own tales of adversity and reaching the finish in the best way they possibly could.

This evening the celebrations for and of everybody will begin, all will be toasted, including those that will not make the finish line – their stories are just as much part of the event after all. Tomorrow, the final run to Paris will begin, finishing with a Police convoy to the finish in the grounds of the Gendarmerie National, a branch of the French Armed Forces, where the celebrations will continue, and competitors will begin to be reunited with family and friends.

To everyone involved, whatever your story, I say congratulations. It has been a privilege commentating on your journey and humbling to be part of it. Until we meet again.


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