Tunisia Desert Challenge

Tunisia Desert Challenge // Cross Country ADV

The brainchild of Gert Duson and his team – the organizers behind the Morocco Desert Challenge – Tunisia desert Challenge is a new and an old event at the same time. Seeing just the second edition this year, Tunisia may sound like a newcomer in the North African rally scene… except, its organizers have been organizing the Morocco Desert Challenge for well over a decade now, and that experience transfers over to Tunisia.

Tunisia Desert Challenge // Cross Country ADV

According to Duson, TDC isn’t simply a copy of the MDC: the Tunisia edition is all about dunes, dunes, and more dunes. Overall, the competitors cover 2,500 km of desert in eight days, and the rally already has a reputation of being extremely brutal. So much so that this year, it has claimed the life of motorcycle pilot Matthieu de Saint-Exupery who, despite the best efforts to rescue and resuscitate him, tragically passed away due to heat exhaustion.

Extreme conditions aside, Tunisia Desert Challenge is also known for very short liaisons, and this year, the organizers have added the “TDC Classic” category aimed at vehicles older than twenty years.

First Female to Finish the TDC

This year’s TDC proved extremely challenging: Alessandro Botturi, the Italian rally-raid champion with two Africa Eco Race wins under his belt, commented that this was one of the toughest races he’s ever experienced. Day Three saw sixteen riders stuck in the El Borma dunes so badly they all had to be rescued, and out of 55 motorcycle pilots who lined up at the start line, only 40 made it to the finish line.

Among them was Vanessa Ruck aka the Girl on a Bike who became the first female to ever enter – and finish – the Tunisia Desert Challenge.

Tunisia Desert Challenge // Cross Country ADV

“During the 4th stage, the bad luck continued as my bike malfunctioned at 10.30 AM so I was stranded. Miles from anywhere, deep in the dunes the temperatures peaked at 45 degrees. At these temperatures, the body starts to shut down and even with water, severe dehydration and heat exhaustion is just a matter of time. I had water as thankfully passing cars, trucks, and buggies gave me some, but by 5pm I was bad. I called for an emergency evacuation and when they saw me, they were clearly scared. I was terrified. I had been trying not to breathe in the hot sand but it felt like my head was going to explode. I was delirious and was put on a drip.  One competitor sadly died due to the heat as they didn’t activate emergency support from the organisers, I’m glad I found the strength to hit the button”, Vanessa shared. Despite receiving a hefty time penalty after being rescued, Vanessa finished 35th overall – just a few positions below the legendary Pol Tarres.

Who Can Race the Tunisia Desert Challenge?

The TDC is a serious desert race, and attempting it as your first rally might not be the best idea – but, as many other rally raids, Tunisia Desert Challenge offers the Raid category for rally racing amateurs where riders aren’t timed and cover 70% of the rally route. This is a fantastic option for riders wanting to try out a desert rally but not yet ready for a full-on, timed race. The entry fees start at 3,350 euros, and while it’s not exactly pocket change, it’s still nowhere near as prohibitive as most North African rally prices.

Images: Photovision/Rallymaniacs/Tunisia Desert Challenge

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