As the 2017 edition of the Dakar Rally hit its halfway point, it was KTM’s Sam Sunderland who leads the rally into its second week.
Sunderland demonstrated superb navigational skill to take the stage five win in Oruro, taking advantage of his rivals’ problems on the shortened route.
Due to poor weather conditions on part of the stage, Dakar officials chose to cut down the race route to 219 kilometres due to the poor weather.
Sunderland has been riding consistently since the start of the rally and was biding his time to make the perfect strike. He brilliantly achieved his goal on Saturday, racking up his second special stage victory on the Dakar and taking command of the general standings. The Englishman was the only rider to not get lost in the Bolivian dunes, unlike Pablo Quintanilla, Xavier de Soultrait, Matthias Walkner or Joan Barreda, who all lost a lot of ground.
Sunderland crossed the stage five finish line seven minutes and seven seconds ahead of Honda rider Paulo Goncalves who was 22 seconds ahead of Yamaha’s Adrien Van Beveren.
In the quad race, Kees Koolen went flat out to grab his first stage victory on the Dakar with a big lead over the day’s runner-up Gustavo Gallego.
Riders were spared the Dakar’s sixth stage, which was to be the longest and probably the most difficult, as due to the atrocious weather the route was completely washed out.
The Dakar governing body, ASO, sent out the following from the mud-bog that was the Oruro bivouac:
“Considering the extreme climatic conditions and that some drivers are still on the stage course, considering that is impossible to bring the vehicles of all participants back to the bivouac and prepare the next stage in the best conditions and considering that people of the organisation in charge of the reco of tomorrow’s stage course informed that the road is unpracticable, the 6th stage (ORURO-LA PAZ) has been cancelled.”
Stage 6 from Oruro to La Paz with 527 kilometres of timed special stage, was set to be the longest of the twelve Dakar stages to be raced against the clock. Now, the stage scheduled from Uyuni and Salta, with 492 kilometres of special, will be the most lengthy in the Dakar 2017.
After the official cancelation, riders and teams traveled to La Paz for the rest day along the liaison route, only to receive a brilliant welcome from the fans on their arrival in the capital.
Honda’s Joan Barreda, the undisputed leader of the general standings at the close of stage four with a lead of more than 18 minutes, saw his hopes of keeping the lead cave dashed. Firstly, the official HRC rider received a one-hour time penalty for having refuelled outside the authorised zone during stage four, before having a hellish stage five and getting lost after approximately 150 km of the special. The Spaniard lost 37 minutes to the day’s winner and plunges down the general standings to 1 hour 12 minutes behind the leader and 12th position overall.
After the long ride from Oruro north to La Paz, where Sunday (local time) they have a scheduled rest day, a chance to catch their breath and take a look back at the first week. They also have to plan tactics for the second week and to carry out vital maintenance on the bikes. Saturday’s stage six is another daunting 786 km with 527 km of timed special. In fact, it is the longest stage in the 2017 edition.
Dakar bike rankings at the end of week one
- Sam Sunderland – KTM
- Pablo Quintanilla – Husqvarna
- Adrien Van Beveren – Yamaha
- Gerard Farres Guell – KTM
- Mattias Walkner – KTM