Dakar 2018, Stage 3 report: “Sunderland Stuns in the Sand”
Route: Pisco – San Juan de Marcona.
Words: Georgia Wells
The third stage of the 2018 Dakar Rally saw a big shake-up in the results, serious time lost for some of the main contenders, and an extremely challenging day of riding.
The 5am start was slightly more appealing than what was to follow; 502km in high temperatures and on terrain which was ready to catch out anyone who let their concentration lapse. In fact, most of the riders came off their bikes at some point throughout the long day, with Adrien Van Beveren offering one of the more spectacular get-offs when he flew over the handlebars and landed head first in a patch of fesh-fesh (extremely soft sand). Luckily most people, Van Beveren included, escaped unscathed from their frustrating falls.
Honda’s Joan Barreda had the job of opening the road and, despite there being zero tracks to follow in the sand, he made a strong start. But as the Spaniard began to feel the pressure of wanting the stage win, mistakes crept in. Two navigational errors in the special cost him dearly and he could only manage 28th place. A stark contrast from Stage 2 for the speedy Spaniard, where he had been on flying form and taken the rally lead.
Joan Barreda (ESP, Honda. 28th stage/14th overall):
“I went fifteen kilometres in the wrong direction before I realised something was not right. Of course, I then had to come fifteen kilometres back again! I wasted too much time and it was a mistake I shouldn’t have made. But I’ll go out tomorrow and give my best!”
Following Barreda’s error, Husqvarna rider Pablo Quintanilla looked likely to take the stage victory. The Chilean kept the top time for much of the day, until he in turn made his own mistake. But his solid day moved him into 3rd overall, perfect progress in his Dakar podium quest.
After a quiet couple of days, Toby Price began to really settle into the rally on Stage 3. The popular Aussie won the Dakar in 2016 and his skills and technique almost saw him take the stage win, but a small crash caused damage to his roadbook and he had to settle for 3rd.
Former Enduro rider Kevin Benavides was extremely impressive on the run into San Juan de Marcona. Carving his Honda through the sand and riding the dunes like a surfer, Benavides was ready to head the standings before he got stuck in fesh-fesh and then lost his way. Nevertheless, the Argentinian still arrived in 2nd place – both on the stage and overall.
But one rider took everyone by surprise on Stage 3, Britain’s Sam Sunderland seemingly came from nowhere, remaining consistent and steady whilst others made mistakes all around him. KTM’s reigning rider topped the standings by 3 minutes on the day and now leads the rally by 4 minutes and 38 seconds. He was, understandably, in high spirits as he reached the bivouac; the dominant stage win made all the more satisfying when the four riders behind him were separated by just a few seconds.
Sam Sunderland (GB, KTM. 1st stage/1st overall):
“I had one crash today, but one out of a potential one thousand! This is what the Dakar is like. The bike was feeling really good and I’m staying focused.”
Stage 4 will host the second loop of the rally, and it is set to be another ‘standings shaker’. The 330km special includes a sizeable section of fresh dunes, one of the longest stretches of competitive sand riding the Dakar has ever seen. Those who lost time on Stage 3 will be desperate to claw it back, but Stage 4 will not be the place to do so. Pitfalls and surprises will be waiting for the riders from the very beginning, where they will participate in a mass start in groups of 15. The theme for Stage 4 will be “expect the unexpected, and then some…”