Dakar Stage 10 update

Following a landslide which blocked the road about 100 km to the north of Salta, the Dakar competitors were unable to enter the last part of the stage 8 liaison taking the field from Uyuni to Argentina. Competitors would have taken six to seven hours to get to Salta on the alternate route, compared with approximately two and a half hours on the original one. The organisers therefore decided to cancel stage 9 from Salta to Chilecito.

Two people died and forty families were displaced as a result of the natural disaster which hit the village of Volcán, to the north of Salta. The direction of the Dakar put its medical and logistical resources at the disposal of local authorities in keeping with the spirit of the rally.

Instead of scrambling to get the ninth stage underway, organisers instead dedicated the January 11 to regrouping all Dakar participants (competitors, assistance crews, organisation logistics, medical services, broadcasting assets, etc.) at the bivouac in Chilecito to restart the race under the best possible conditions.

Stage 10 traversed the gap between Chilecito and San Juan, a distance of 751 km, including 449 km of timed special. It continued to challenge riders with difficult navigation but with the first section, being more akin to trials than a conventional rally stage.

As well as only two stages to make the difference in the general standings, the tension ramped up another notch today; all the more so since the trial-like start to the stage really tested the physical capabilities of the competitors, at least as much as the hot weather, which made its return to the race after the cool temperatures at higher altitude. The end of the day was marked by much quicker tracks, but just as tricky navigation, which led to dramatic turns of events in the general standings…

Winning the stage was Honda powerhouse Joan Barreda, just edging ahead of KTM’s Stefan Svitko who rode to the point of exhaustion on the stage. Argentinian rider Franco Caimi rode home in third place. Štefan Svitko, extremely tired at the finishing line, collapsed after only several kilometres of the link stage. The third placed finisher of stage 10 was taken by ambulance to hospital in San Juan.

Initially Barreda was the second place finisher of the day, but a penalty for missing a waypoint cost teammate Michael Metge the stage win, pushing him back to 24th position.

“Today has been a very good stage, said Barreda. “In the first part, where I had to be very careful, something wasn’t right. Several riders got lost in an area with a ford where one of the notes indicated a dead-end. I was trying it out until Michael Metge showed up and confirmed the position. I did a little cross country before I found the right route. From there we pushed hard and the last part of the day featured a bumpy track in the style of American Bajas. It was great fun.”

Red Bull KTM rider Sam Sunderland cruise to the finish in 12th place 17minutes and six seconds behind Barreda, but continues to hold the overall lead going into tomorrow’s 11th stage.

“I started out thinking I’ve got a bit of a lead so I just wanted to take it easy and stick to my road book and try to start with a good rhythm. Sunderland commented. “Then after about 40 km it was very confusing in some of the riverbeds. I went into the wrong valley and I got a bit stressed but I managed to correct pretty fast. Then I made another mistake. It was really hard.”

It was a tough day for overall 2nd place holder, Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla, who was counting on the tenth stage in order to put pressure on Sunderland, the overall leader. However, a catastrophic start to the stage during which the Husqvarna rider sought the correct direction for more than an hour, then a heavy fall on the second part of the special put an end to his dreams. Disorientated after a head injury, Quintanilla was finally forced to drop out of the rally for a third time.

It wasn’t the only drama of the day, with leading Peugeot driver Stephane Peterhansel colliding with Simon Marcic and his KTM 450 Rally 83 kilometres into the stage. Peterhansel stayed with the injured Marcic, who later was confirmed out of the rally with an open tibia-fibia fracture, and managed to finish the stage in good position, though he may yet be penalised for his collision with Marcic.

Tomorrow is the penultimate stage of the 9,000 km epic through Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina, takes riders from San Juan to Rio Cuarto over 754 km, of which 288 km is under the clock.  The first part of the timed special takes in the dunes of San Juan.