Dakar 2018, Stage 11 report: Tactics and tenacity
Route: Belen – Fiambala (Marathon Pt.1)
Words: Georgia Wells.
Ahead of the Stage 11 start we heard the sad news of Rosa Romero’s retirement from the race. The Spanish superwoman had been on course to take 2nd in the Women’s Class in her 7th Dakar before disaster struck. She severed her femoral artery in a crash, but amazingly rejoined the race and rode the remaining 140km to the stage finish! Upon her arrival her team noticed a huge amount of blood covering her bike and called in the medics who immediately placed 8 stitches in the cut. Rosa had been keen to continue her rally, but doctors advised the wound was highly likely to become infected. Hats off to Rosa for her incredible courage; riding through such pain, risking potentially fatal levels of blood loss, and suffering until the end of the long stage in 40 degree heat. She deserves a medal for that alone.
Another rider who couldn’t start on Wednesday morning was Yamaha’s Alessandro Botturi. The Italian who is affectionately known as ‘Bottu’ was another victim of the now infamous Stage 10, crashing close to the finish he broke a rib and the intense pain saw him exit his 7th Dakar. This was more bad news for Yamaha, who now only have one rider left in the race after already losing Van Beveren, Caimi, and De Soultrait.
Similarly Slovakia’s Stefan Svitko suffered after a sizeable crash on Stage 10 and although he started on Wednesday morning it wasn’t long before he was forced to give up. A real blow for the popular Svitko, who was running as high as 5th overall before his accident.
But the biggest name to exit the rally on the 11th day was Joan ‘BangBang’ Barreda. The brave Spaniard had sustained a nasty knee injury on Stage 7 but continued to ride, despite being unable to walk following the crash. Another small off on Wednesday morning set him back, and when trying to make up time he became badly lost. After more than 5 hours of competitive riding on the previous stage plus a liaison of 424km, Barreda was completely exhausted, and although he tried hard to get through the day he eventually had to admit defeat.
Joan Barreda (ESP, Honda. DNF):
“My knee is completely unstable, so I have been sitting in a bad position on the bike and it made me crash again today. I was losing too much time and everything just became too difficult, so I had to stop, it was too risky.”
Barreda’s exit from the rally is not just a shame for himself and Honda, but also for the many BangBang fans who would have dearly loved to see the Spaniard fight for the podium which he so deserves. The mere fact that Joan chose to exit the rally whilst running in 2nd overall, implies that the injury must be very severe and debilitating. His amazing perseverance and determination during this rally will not be forgotten.
The bikers started Stage 11, the first half of another Marathon pairing, alongside the top runners from the other classes in a ‘mixed start’. And it was quite an intimidating sight to have trucks and cars bearing down on the bikes for the first few kilometres of the stage. This also meant that the terrain, which was mostly soft sand, became even more tricky as it became churned up.
GasGas’ Johnny Aubert initially took charge before easing off later in the day, however the French former Enduro rider is putting together a strong rally and now sits 7th overall. In fact, despite the sand, the special seemed to suit the many Enduro riders in the field with Kevin Benavides, Antoine Meo, Oriol Mena, and Juan Pedrero all coming home in the Top 10.
Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla lost yet more time with his second mechanical issue of the rally, this time a broken fuel pump which required him to manually move fuel from one tank to another using a makeshift funnel and pipe. The young Chilean, who is usually one of the most upbeat riders in the race, was sorely disappointed to lose yet another hour and fall out of contention once again. He has been disadvantaged this year by having just one team-mate to help him – rookie Andrew Short. Rival teams generally have several riders running a quick pace who can stop to help each other more efficiently. Pablo is now in danger of being passed by his compatriot, ‘Nacho’ Cornejo who is running an excellent rally in 9th overall.
KTM’s Matthias Walkner was first to start the stage and the Austrian took a cautious approach, keen to protect his 40-minute overall lead. Initially daunted by having cars all around him, he later used it to his advantage.
Matthias Walkner (AUT, KTM. 5th stage/1st overall):
“Navigation was hard towards the end and I caught up to a car, it turned out to be Stephane Peterhansel so I decided it could be better to follow him! That worked out well and I kept my overall lead.”
But it was Walkner’s team-mate, Toby Price, who finally had his time to shine. The Australian was running a high pace and finally seemed comfortable with pushing for a stage victory. He beat Kevin Benavides to the top spot by 1 minute and 38 seconds.
With his strong performance, and the unfortunate exit of Joan Barreda, Price now moves into 3rd overall, although still 39 minutes from the front.
Toby Price (AUS, KTM. 1st stage/3rd overall):
“I’ve been riding conservatively for the whole of the first week, and so far this week, then yesterday was an awful day and it threw a spanner in the works. So today I pushed a bit more and I’m really happy to get my first stage win of 2018!”
Antoine Meo also enjoyed a strong day in the KTM camp, 3rd on the stage and now 5th overall. Laia Sanz suffered her second big crash in as many days and said she was in a lot of pain, however, the ‘Queen of the Dakar’ still managed to move into 13th overall.
So the orange team have reverted to their usual Dakar dominance, now with four riders in the top five. Honda’s Kevin Benavides (2nd overall) is the only man capable of spoiling the party for the ever successful squad, and at 32 minutes down, it’s going to be far from easy.
Thursday’s Stage 12, the second half of the Marathon, has been cancelled for safety reasons. This allows the riders some much needed rest after two intensely difficult days, but will also make it harder for people to gain time or positions. Although this year has taught us that anything could still happen yet….