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Weather has been pounding drought-stricken Bolivia recently, adding a further difficulty to the 2017 Dakar Rally. After seeing Stage 5 shortened because of the weather, Stage 6 was cancelled outright.

The ASO issued the following statement about the cancellation: “Considering the extreme climatic conditions and that some drivers are still on the stage course, considering that is impossible to bring the vehicles of all participants back to the bivouac and prepare the next stage in the best conditions, and considering that people of the organisation in charge of the reco of tomorrow’s stage course informed that the road is unpracticable, the 6th stage (ORURO-LA PAZ) has been cancelled.”

Stage 6 was supposed to be the longest day for Dakar competitors, with a planned 527km timed special section. That’s obviously no longer the case, with teams instead traveling by road via the liaison route – effectively giving Dakar racers the weekend off, with Sunday already scheduled to be a break from competition.

Stage 5 of the 2017 Dakar Rally was billed as another brutal challenge for the competitors still remaining. The high-altitude terrain of Bolivia certainly lived up to that expectation, but today’s special was cut in half, with severe weather interrupting the day’s gauntlet.

As such, only 219km of the planned 447km special were ridden, but that “short” distance was enough to once again upheave the overall standings, with several riders losing time from navigational errors and penalties.

Sam Sunderland took the top honors for the day, breathing hope back into KTM’s 2017 Dakar Rally. Sunderland’s victory may have only been by seven minutes, but the gaps were with the right people, as he now stands 20 minutes ahead of Pablo Quintanilla – the previous overall leader.

Quintanilla finished the stage in seventh, losing some time on a navigational error out of a river bed. The Chilean’s conservative approach perhaps did him well though, as his fellow Husqvarna teammate Pela Renet lost over 45 minutes looking for the waypoint around the 152km mark.

With less to lose, the Honda riders pushed hard in Stage 5, though it can’t be said that the results benefited from their gamble. Only Franco Caimi (Honda South America Rally Team) and Paulo Gonçalves (Monster Energy Honda Team), put a Honda in the Top 15 of the day’s rankings.

Gonçalves sits 10th overall for his efforts, one hour and eight minutes behind Sunderland, which could create some interesting “what if” thoughts for the HRC squad, after yesterday’s one-hour time penalties for fueling in a prohibited zone.

Not much has been said this year about the Yamaha Racing effort, but Stage 5 saw a strong performance from Adrien van Beveren, who finished third for the day and seized the same position overall. At just 16 minutes back in the overall standings, Van Beveren is very much in the hunt for this year’s Dakar.

Yamaha’s Xaiver de Soultrait is also in the hunt, sitting 36 minutes back in sixth place. With two KTMs, two Yamahas, and a Husqvarna all with a reasonable hand on the winner’s trophy still, this is certainly shaping up to be an interesting Dakar Rally.

Tomorrow sees the circus traveling the capital city of La Paz. With 527km of special planned, we expect to see more shuffling of the leaderboard.

The second half of the marathon stage for the 2016 Dakar Rally, where riders and teams are forbidden from working on their machines until today’s liaison stage, Stage 5 had the added challenges beyond its 642km total distance and 327km special section, which brought them into Bolivia.

The navigational challenges also increased on Stage 5, as The Dakar begins to separate the wheat from the chaff. With most of the stage at over 11,00 feet, with a peak altitude of 15,000 feet, competitors traded the hardship of rain for altitude, an equally formidable obstacle.

The racers in orange fared the best in the high mountains, as Stage 5 was dominated by KTM riders, with Toby Price taking the top honors, followed by Stefan Svitko and Matthias Walkner. This result closes Svitko and Price to under two minutes of overall leader Paul Gonçalves, who struggled on the stage with altitude sickness, losing roughly nine minutes in the process.

Marc Coma has finally chalked up his first stage win of the 2015 Dakar Rally, gaining back several minutes from the overall leader Joan Barreda.

With 10 minutes still between the two top riders from HRC and KTM, it seems Barreda is content to manage the gap, as he let Coma lead Stage 5 and followed the Spaniards tracks and navigation decisions in the difficult fesh-fesh minefield that is the Atacama Desert.

“I am happy about the stage win but the fact is that Joan enjoys a significant advantage and we will try to trim it,” said Coma. There is still a lot of race left. The second part (of the rally) is longer with the marathon stages and it will be a fight every day. We are going in the right direction and we will keep fighting.”

To call the Dakar dangerous is probably an understatement, as the rally has been fraught with stories of peril from its very inception. Often alone in some of the most remote terrain in the world, riders rely primarily on themselves for their safety, but the sport is marked with moments where participants put aside competition to help each other.

Stage 5 of the 2011 Dakar Rally had one of those stories yesterday, as KTM rider, and overall race leader Marc Coma found himself as the first person to come across an unconscious Olivier Pain on the race course. Coma, who himself had sustained a fall earlier in the day, stopped at Pain’s crash site and activated the unconscious rider’s emergency beacon. Coma stayed with with the fallen rider until his water carrier, Joan Pedrero, arrived on the scene.