At the start of the Dakar race, there’s usually a few days of mayhem, but as time passes, the same names usually rise to the top every year.
That proved true again yesterday, as Marc Coma took a very healthy grip on first place. After a convincing win yesterday, Coma has rocketed to a 00:41:10 lead over Honda’s Joan Barreda Bort. Second for the day was Jordi Viladoms (KTM), who’s now in fourth overall. Helder Rodrigues was third (Honda), and relative unknowns Riann Van Niekerk (KTM) and Juan Carlos Salvatierra (Speedbrain) were fourth and fifth respectively.
There was plenty of bad news to go around yesterday; Cyril Despres saw his chance at first place effectively vanish. Already far behind Coma and Barreda Bort, Despres missed a checkpoint and almost ran out of gas yesterday. He’s in 12th place now, 2:23:01 back of first-place Coma, and he’s also got an hour penalty.
Honda riders had it even worse, though. On the previous day, Sam Sunderland went from hero to zero late in Stage 4, as his motor grenaded, forcing him to withdraw. He said “The Dakar is a tough race and I definitely got to experience the tough side but also winning a stage was a great feeling!” Hopefully he will return next year and challenge for the top again.
Paulo Goncalves also ran into big trouble on his Honda. He led the race halfway through the stage, when his Honda (he races for the Speedbrain team) burst into flames.
“In the boiling temperatures I suddenly felt my feet getting hot, and I saw that my bike was burning. I jumped off and tried to extinguish the fire with sand, but I could not fight it, the bike burnt down completely,” Goncalves said. “I am extremely disappointed, after all the hard work during the year to be out of the race in this way.”
You can watch Goncalves’ heartbreak in a clip below. The rider who cruises by is Joan Pedrero – Goncalves said “I think there was nothing else to do, he still tried to help, and thanks, but I think it would be late after seeing the flames take the bike.”
Sunderland looked like he might be a threat this year, and Goncalves is always a potential to at least take a top-three position, so their elimination means Coma’s job likely just got much easier. Honda looked like a major threat in the first few days of this race, but now they’re dropping quickly.
The top five standings now see Francisco Lopez Contardo (KTM) in third, after Coma and Barreda Bort, then last-minute KTM addition Viladoms in fourth, then Alain Duclos, who continues to use the tortoise approach on his Sherco, in fifth. In fact, considering Duclos’ steady pace, it wouldn’t be a shocker to see him on the podium at the end, considering the rate that competitors are dropping out.