It was time for the Bikes and Quads turn to race back to Iquique, Chile, while Cars and Trucks took a rest. If you thought the journey to Bolivia was tough, the trek back was victorious for a few, disastrous for others and a test of determination for all the riders. The skies opened over Uyuni making for muddy terrain, a wet salt flat and other perils along with the high altitude. The start of the special was delayed because of the salt flat’s condition. Whether or not the stage should have been cancelled will be debated for years to come. Somehow Transportes Artisa’s #31 Pablo Quintanilla managed to have a good day. The Chilean rider secured his very first stage win and broke into the top three overall riders. He said, “The bike suffered on the stage and the electrical circuit did too. It was very tough: the altitude, the entire day on the bike, but I’m happy to be back in Chile. We’ll have a look with the mechanics to make sure we can start tomorrow in good condition. I’m happy with my race.”
Team HRC’s #2 Joan Barreda Bort is feeling the total opposite as his Dakar Rally hopes crumbled after leading the race for six stages. The Spaniard pulled no punches at the day’s end saying, “In the end it’s been collateral damage, and a disgrace what they’ve made us do today; to race in a sea. It was out of place. All the work on all the projects that we’ve done has gone down the pan. To make a decision like that just wasn’t right. Today you couldn’t see a thing; visibility was zero. We were floating around on top of the water. They ordered us to start and this is what happened; my Dakar is over.” #7 Paulo Goncalves supported his team leader’s protests saying, “The riders didn’t want to race for safety reasons, but the rally got underway and ended up causing a massive amount of problems for many riders. Some of them had to be rescued with hypothermia. It was too dangerous.” Team HRC isn’t completely out of the running since Goncalves has now moved up to 2nd overall and will be chasing to close his 00:09:11 gap behind new leader #1 Marc Coma of the Red Bull KTM Factory Team. Another bright spot for the Honda team is #29 Laia Sanz who was 5th fastest and now holds 9th overall. “Today was a really hard day” she said, “At the beginning some riders didn’t want to start because it was dangerous and cold, but in the end for me it was a good stage.”
The only other non-KTM rider in the top ten was #14 Alain Duclos. He’s represented the Sherco TVS Rally Factory Team quite well this year. His lowest overall spot so far in the race has been 12th. This Dakar Rally veteran was performing consistently last year as well until an engine failure ended his race early. Another strong rider is #10 Juan Pedrero Garcia from the Pont Grup-Yamaha-JVO Racing who was fastest on the stage and produced his best result so far. The Yamaha Factory Team has struggled to be competitive this year, now compounded by the withdrawals of #17 Michael Metge and #19 Alessandro Botturi on this stage. The Red Bull KTM Factory Team is also down a man with #4 Jordi Viladoms’ engine failure.
The Quad class are short of two riders after the marathon in Bolivia as well including #255 Sebastian Halpern who never dropped below the top ten. They returned to Iquique and apparently brought a Bolivian storm into the leader board….or was that storm Chilean? Defending champion #250 Ignacio Casale was second-fastest and reclaimed the overall lead from #251 Rafal Sonik. The battle is still in full swing because Sonik is only 00:06:49 behind and one false move on Casale’s part could cost him the race. Uruguay’s #252 Sergio Lafuente is solidly in 3rd overall while Argentine wunderkind #261 Jeremias González Ferioli won the stage. He’s solidly in 4th and almost two hours away from Lafuente, so not really a threat to anyone. However to be the fastest rider after a marathon stage like this is worthy of commendation. It’s hard to call this stage a separation of wheat from the chaff with such experienced and dedicated riders who simply couldn’t fight such powerful forces of nature. There’s always next year, guys.
Tune into NBC Sports Network’s “The Dakar Rally” with Leigh Diffey, and get your daily recap right here as soon as solid information becomes available. The Dakar Rally’s official online resources are also a great way to keep tabs on your favorite racers in real time:
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