Photo: Laia Sanz/Facebook
After the bike-busting Stage Eight, the Dakar race looked very different this morning. Former front-runners were now dropped far down in the rankings, and it appeared that Honda couldn’t win the series. At the end of Stage Nine, it appears Big Red is still in the running, but KTM’s tightening grip is forcing everyone else down the rankings.
But, whether a rider is wearing orange and black or red and white, they have to thank their mechanics; without the support of their crews, many racers would likely have been unable to continue after the salty slop encrusted their machines in Stage Eight.
Helder Rodrigues won Stage Nine, with teammate Paulo Goncalves in second and Marc Coma (KTM) in third. Coma maintains his first-place overall lead, but it’s not a comfortable margin by any means. The slightest screw-up, and the cautious Goncalves could take advantage and beat him.
In fact, Goncalves’ caution is the greatest thing Honda has going for them at this moment. Joan Barreda is undoubtedly faster, but he hasn’t a hope of a podium; even a top-10 finish could be tough, as he now has 01:35:00 in penalties, and he’s also two hours back of 10th place.
“I will ride day-by-day like I have done from the beginning,” Goncalves said, “We’ll always keep fighting. The strategy is to try and keep the bike safe, only that”.
Rodrigues is 40 minutes back of 10thin 12th. So, it looks as if Goncalves and Laia Sanz (who’s currently in eighth) are Big Red’s best hopes. Speaking of Sanz, she was 12th in Stage Nine; it seems that’s where she naturally fits into the pack, but as the pack gets whittled down and she sneaks the odd top-five performance in, she might finish far higher than expected this year.
She gave a shoutout to her team via Facebook today, expressing her thankfulness for their overnight repairs to her machine. The praise was well-deserved. Barreda’s mechanics were also busy; they replaced his engine. It’s a smart move, as he won’t win the race at this point, but with a fresh motor, he might take more stage wins.
For a while, it seemed Alain Duclos might have a stab at the top five, if not a podium; he’s consistent on his Sherco – never a threat to win, but solid and dependable. Unfortunately, he ran into trouble today and had to be towed by his teammate. He’s slipped from the top 10 all the way to 22nd. Matthias Walkner (KTM) also had a bad day, missing a waypoint and getting a 40-minute penalty. Another KTM front-runner, Ruben Faria, also slipped down the rankings after an error and incurred a 40-minute penalty.
Although there was lots of worry that more racers would drop out today due to delayed damage from Stage Eight, at this point there are only three withdrawals from Stage Nine, none of them big names.
Right now, KTM has seven riders in the top 10, and 13 in the top 20. Team Orange has dominated the rally for many years now, and their 450 Rally machine is still the bike to beat. Even if Coma crashes out, Pablo Quintanilla, Toby Price or Stefan Svitko are all capable of winning the rally. They’re sitting in third, fourth and fifth respectively.
“I don’t know whether I’m fighting for the title,” Quintanilla said after Stage Nine. “I’m just riding my own race and trying to keep my wits about me. In any case, there are still plenty of kilometers to be covered before the finish.”
However, those kilometers are lessening day-by-day. There are only four days left, and if anyone wants to take Marc Coma’s crown, they’ll have to make their move soon.
Want some more photos of Stage Nine Dakar action? Check out this link here.
Dakar 2015 : Bike rankings after Stage 9
1. Coma (KTM) – 34:05:00
2. Goncalves (Honda) – 34:10:28 (00:05:28)
3. Quintanilla (KTM) – 34:31:52 (00:26:52)
4. Price (KTM) – 34:36:31 (00:31:31)
5. Svitko (KTM) – 34:45:36 (00:40:36)
6. Casteau (KTM) – 29:25:46 (00:34:34)
7. Faria (Sherco) – 35:46:22 (01:41:22) (00:40:00 penalty)
8. Sanz (Honda) – 35:59:37 (01:54:37)
9. Jakes (KTM) – 36:23:31 (02:18:31)
10. Pain (Yamaha) – 36:41:13 (02:36:13)