Things can change in a blink of an eye at the Dakar Rally and today’s mix of dunes and altitude delivered another dramatic twist in the tale. A crash for reigning bike race champ Toby Price (AUS) saw the defence of his title end as he was airlifted from the stage with a broken femur. In the car race Team Peugeot Total showed impressive dominance over their rivals despite suffering a few scares of their own.
12 months ago Toby Price was celebrating becoming the first Australian to win the Dakar as he won the two-wheel contest by 40 minutes. Today the Dakar has shown Price the other side of the coin with a crash shortly before the end of the 416km timed special stage causing a broken left leg and an early retirement from the race. Price had been on for the eighth stage win of his Dakar career when misfortune struck. We all wish him a speedy recovery from his injury.
There was a silver lining for the Red Bull KTM Factory Team with Price’s team-mate Matthias Walkner (AUT) winning Stage Four. Walkner and fellow KTM rider Sam Sunderland (GBR) both currently sit around 25 minutes behind bike race leader Joan Barreda (ESP). Stefan Svitko (SVK) is a further seven minutes behind the KTM Factory pair after four days of intense racing. Elsewhere in the standings Yamaha Factory Team rider Hélder Rodrigues is up to 12th overall after a solid performance on the dunes.
The overnight news that Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT) had been forced to retire caused a stir in the San Salvador de Jujuy bivouac. However, for the car crews remaining in the race it was straight down to business this morning. Team Peugeot Total once again put the foot down on their title defence with Cyril Despres (FRA) becoming the French marque’s third different stage winner of the past three days.
It was not such smooth sailing for the rest of Peugeot’s D-ream Team with Carlos Sainz (ESP), Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA) and Sébastien Loeb (FRA) all battling hard to keep pace with the front of the race. While Despres’ fellow Frenchmen were able to stay in touch with the lead the news was not so good for Sainz. The Spaniard rolled his PEUGEOT 3008 DKR and lost over two hours while stuck on the stage. Sainz’s car will be assessed by Peugeot mechanics in the bivouac after suffering considerable damage (see the car in today’s News Cut).
After his first-ever four-wheel Dakar stage win Despres is now the new leader of the car race with a 4m08s advantage over Peugeot team-mate Peterhansel. Loeb is a couple minutes further back in fourth place overall.
A four-pronged attack by Team Kamaz Master saw the Russians exert considerable influence over the truck stage. A return to form for Ayrat Mardeev and further great efforts by Dmitry Sotnikov, Anton Shibalov and Eduard Nikolaev have Kamaz riding high in the truck category.
Race fans in Bolivia had a memorable result to celebrate as local hero Walter Nosiglia (BOL) rode to victory in the quads. The stage proved trickier for Nosiglia’s fellow South American Ignacio Casale (CHL) who was among many competitors struggling to get a grip on the navigation challenges that came early in the day. Despite the difficulties Casale is only 28s behind new quad race leader Sergey Karyakin (RUS).
If today’s tests of navigation and tough terrain were a strain on the Dakar convoy then the news for tomorrow is no better. Competitors will be moving across the Bolivian Altoplano with the altitude peaking at 4,500 metres above sea-level. The 500km of timed racing will take place over a variety of surfaces including two sections of dunes. There’s a feeling in the Tupiza bivouac tonight that we have really reached the main dishes of the 2017 Dakar Rally.
Cyril Despres #307: It’s pretty amazing to win a stage after only three Dakars in a car. It was a long day; it was a tough day. We started in some small dunes at high altitude and the car had maybe 20, 30 or 40 percent less power. It wasn’t easy to avoid getting stuck. After the beginning we were leading, then Carlos (Sainz) overtook us after 6 km and we followed him for the whole day. But unfortunately on a twisty track he made a mistake and he rolled the car.
Stéphane Peterhansel #300: For us it was a really bad day. On the last note for the navigation, we got completely lost. It was necessary to stop, open the map and check the position, then try to find a solution. After, I was completely off-track to try to find the way point. I went into a big hole in a river and got stuck for twenty minutes. I damaged the steering a little bit and we broke a wheel. So, it’s not really a good day, but compared to Carlos, maybe it’s a little bit better.
Sébastien Loeb #309: It was very complicated. For me, everything went well with the navigation everywhere. It was OK, but we had trouble with the engine which stopped during the stage. We lost about thirty minutes, I think. Then we found a solution to fix it and we could push again, so I pushed really hard. All the stage we tried to catch up some time and now we are here, so that’s the most important thing. We’re still in the fight for the win, that’s good news.
Matthias Walkner #16: If we are fair, we have to say that the others started first and I started eleventh. I had it much easier because I could see more tracks. I felt pretty good on the bike, but I didn’t think it was enough for victory. The bad thing is that Toby crashed. I stopped with him until they (the medical team) told me that he was not going to be able to continue. Health is the most important thing and I hope that he’s OK.
Sam Sunderland #14: I think it was a tricky area again at the start. I made a few circles there, which was a bit frustrating. I think that’s what the organisers want, to make it more difficult. My speed was good for the rest of the day, but I just need to avoid those navigation mistakes. It’s really difficult to focus we’ve just raced for 430km, plus we were awake at 3:30 this morning. It’s not easy; it’s pretty heavy.
Hélder Rodrigues #5: I’ve not made a fast start to this Dakar. Yesterday I spent a lot of time in the dust and this cost me time. Today was a little bit better and it has improved my result in the overall classification. On this stage I stopped to help a rider who had crashed and I called the helicopter for him.