There’s always a day at the Dakar Rally that turns the standings on end, and today, only three stages in, we saw that happen, out of nowhere. In the words of Ron Burgundy:
At the start of the day, we saw Joan Barreda (Honda) in the lead of the standings, followed closely by KTM’s Matthias Walkner. At day’s end, Barreda is now completely out of the race, and Walkner appears to be out of contention for the win, after taking the victory last year.
Everything started looking like business as normal. The stage was 798 km in total, with a 331-km timed special, through mixed terrain, including dunes.
Barreda opened hard, with Honda’s Ricky Brabec also laying down a blistering pace, and Walkner up around the front as well. Then, following the trackers, it became obvious the front-runners were in trouble. Walkner and Brabec started losing significant time, and Barreda just plain stopped at the 143-km mark. And stayed stopped. And didn’t get going. And, after a while, he ended up withdrawing on what’s only the second day of real racing.
Barreda has a win-it-or-bin-it reputation, but that’s an extremely early exit, especially considering the great lengths he’s gone to continue in the past. So what happened?
It appears, piecing together details from his Twitter feed and online video, that Barreda had one of his worst bad-luck stories yet. He was riding in a foggy area with low visibility and put his bike down a ravine that he couldn’t ride out of. Barreda isn’t banged up too badly, but the bike suffered terminal damage—Barreda said the machine was impossible to retrieve from the hole, so even if he’d bodged the machine together, he never could have gotten back on the trail. The word is that the bike was actually airlifted out by helicopter.
Barreda said Walkner and Brabec almost ended down the ravine with him, but managed to avoid disaster at the last second. Walkner’s story backed up Barreda’s; the KTM star said visibility was limited to five meters or less, which hindered proper navigation (there’s a very good visual explanation of what probably happened here).
Meanwhile, the other front-runners from Monday were all experiencing their own difficulties, with several riders making serious navigational mistakes between the fourth and fifth sections of the route. When the dust settled, it was Yamaha’s Xavier de Soultrait (aka “Soul Train”) who won the day, followed very closely by Husqvarna rider Pablo Quintanilla.
Why all the mayhem? Normally, when you see this much carnage, it’s due to bad weather, or asinine organizational decisions to run the bikes through a salt flat or something similarly stupid.
Turns out the ASO was indeed likely somewhat responsible, as they’ve cracked down on the amount of map preparations that teams can do (yes, this race actually has professional map readers who help the riders). Supposedly, riders on the wealthier teams, who are used to significant navigational help, suffered setbacks today because of the decision. That would explain why riders like de Soultrait and Quintanilla, who are used to doing more of their own map work as they come from small-budget teams, were able to achieve success.
Of course, the usual bad luck struck some riders as well. Yamaha star Adrien Van Beveren lost significant time due to a broken clutch cable, and longtime Dakar stalwart Juan Pedrero (now riding for KTM after years at the Sherco factory team) also had some mechanical trouble early in the stage, which set him back far enough that he’s likely looking pretty far out of the chase.
But those guys can take heart, as almost all the other stars had a bad day as well, and given the unpredictability of the race, the 10th place runner could be atop the heap tomorrow. But for now, Quintanilla’s great day puts him on top of the standings, followed by Honda’s Kevin Benavides and then KTM’s Sam Sunderland.
Stage 3 results
- Xavier de Soultrait, Yamaha
- Pablo Quintanilla, Husqvarna, + 00:00:15
- Kevin Benavides, Honda, + 00:02:37
- Adrien Van Beveren, Yamaha, + 00:06:42
- Sam Sunderland, KTM, + 00:08:26
- Paulo Goncalves, Honda, + 00:09:31
- Stefan Svitko, Slovnaft/KTM, + 00:10:50
- Oriol Mena, Hero, + 00:11:15
- Toby Price, KTM, + 00:14:16
- Michael Metge, Sherco, + 00:14:45
Overall Top 10
- Pablo Quintanilla, Husqvarna
- Kevin Benavides, Honda, +00:11:23
- Sam Sunderland, KTM, + 00:12:12
- Adrien Van Beveren, Yamaha, + 00:13:29
- Toby Price, KTM, + 00:15:17
- Xavier de Soultrait, Yamaha, + 00:16:52
- Ricky Brabec, Honda, + 00:18:02
- Matthias Walkner, KTM, + 00:21:14
- Paulo Goncalves, Honda, + 00:25:11
- Andrew Short, Husqvarna, + 00:29:15