The bikes had a serious shake up as they came out of the mountains and hit the final dunes in the 2017 Dakar Rally. All competitors had just spent days struggling with rain, extreme cold, and the thin air of the mountains. While Stage 10 began with the cold and altitude, they quickly bashed their way down and into exactly what you should expect if you know geography: extreme heat. After all, this is January south of the equator. Temps were exceeding 120°F (50°C) and, while these are obviously brutal conditions, they are doubly so after days of being bundled up and wearing rain gear. But before the heat could wreak havoc, navigation did. The day’s “Top Moment” video explains better than words can, as you watch the top names in the field wander through the first special like drunken cats:
Joan Barreda, Matthias Walkner and Michael Metge lost their way early, but it was race leader Sam Sunderland who probably made the biggest error. Yet, after giving up almost 17 minutes to Pablo Quintanilla, the Chilean rider himself became hopelessly lost. The mess continued and it was actually hard to navigate the lack of navigation. One rider after another was stopped on the course or lost. Was it mechanical? A wreck? Navigation errors? Most inexplicable was second place overall rider Quintanilla. And it didn’t make sense until near the very end of the stage when he literally lost consciousness.
Pablo had been in a fog from the heat, half delirious and struggling to find his way. He stopped at one point for what was supposed to be a mechanical problem. Then he stopped again. Then he was lost again. Eventually, an hour behind, he collapsed (fortunately) near medical personnel. Although at least one source reports that Pablo fell and suffered head trauma, this cannot be corroborated.
The race was an absolute cluster to try and figure out using just the live timing. Dakar is one of several large motorsports events that reminds you America is not the greatest country in the world. The rally is so fantastic and yet coverage here is so pathetic the only way to track it is following the live feed on Argentinian TV. If your Spanish is no good you must supplement with heavy doses of forum posts and Twitter feeds from mechanics and journalists who are in the bivouac. On the plus side, TrackingDakar.nl is a donation based website with much more accurate timing and scoring than the official website.
Now where were we? Yes, the top rally riders of the world were lost in the desert and losing consciousness from the 120+ temperatures. I could probably tell you a Nazi U-boat surfaced from beneath the sands and began machine-gunning the top riders, since that is about the only thing we haven’t had this year. I reckon we can stick to the script though, and just say that the fewest mistakes (and therefore the stage win) go to Joan Barreda. The Honda rider would actually be the overall leader if not for the one hour penalty he and teammates received for refueling in a neutralization zone early in the rally.
Speaking of one hour penalties, Frenchman Michael Metge picked up one by allegedly missing a waypoint, pushing him from 2nd to 24th on the stage. As a factory Honda rider himself, he also has a penalty already for illegal refueling, but somehow ends the day in 17th overall. Still, he should be in 8th and there are only two stages left. That’s sour grapes for anyone to swallow.
As the order stands now Sam Sunderland dodged a bullet by making mistakes no worse than his rivals. He also lost his nearest competitor when Pablo Quintanilla dropped out. That leaves Mattias Walkner in 2nd and 30 minutes adrift, meaning Sunderland actually increased his lead. Gerard Farres jumps onto the podium from fifth place.
The cast iron lunatics of the bike class had some action in their class within a class as well. Toomas Triisa remains miles ahead of the other MM guys, more than doubling his lead from 50 minutes to over two hours. If they piss test this guy they are going to find 10w30. He is a cyborg. Obviously some of it had to do with flawless navigation but this no doubt had much to do with conditioning. I don’t know how hot it gets in Estonia but I doubt it breaks 50C too often. Lyndon Poskitt lost even more time on Stage 10, slipping further away from Jose Julian Kozac in 2nd place. While only about 20 minutes separate the two, Stage 11 will be the last chance for these competitors to sort out the podium. Stage 01 and Stage 12 are classically nothing more than a parade; less than 100 miles total and with a special stage even shorter. It is a chance to ride wheelies and let the helicopters get proper footage for the factory teams.
The Malle Moto riders are obviously pushing against their limit. Lyndon Poskitt is filming a documentary as part of his three-years-and-going series Races To Places and his daily updates show a tired man, holding fast. But they are in the home stretch. Defeat will try and snatch victory from their jaws, but if they can just keep doing the same thing they have been doing… for two more days… Dakar will be done.
One final internet treasure to share before I sign off: BARTH Racing has a 360° camera and is not afraid to use it. They toured one of the stage bivouacs and give a look around the facilities. At the 1:01 mark the drop in to see “the biggest punkers of Dakar..” the Malle Moto pits. Using the 360 feature and high resolution you can see the tents and the Malle Moto truck that carries the racers boxes. Each day when the riders come in they have to find this truck and wait for their box to be offloaded in order to get at their supplies and tent. They also need the next days road book, SD cards, a power washer for the bike, perhaps medical attention… some food would be nice, right?
Have a gander: