Route: Lima – Pisco
Terrain: 100% sand
Words: Georgia Wells
Images: dakar.com/Joaquim Rodrigues/Pablo Quintanilla
As promised, the opening stage of the 2018 Dakar Rally, threw the competitors in at the deep end and provided plenty of intrigue. Despite the lively welcome from fans in Peru’s capital, and the trip across the amazing Paracas National Park, there was little time for the riders to enjoy the atmosphere as the opening day of action would prove to require maximum concentration. A 241km liaison down the picturesque coastline lead to a short but challenging 31km special, and shockingly three riders would not reach the day’s finish in Pisco.
Thanks to the ‘reverse order’ start, 47 year old Frenchman Bruno Scheurer had the slightly un-nerving honour of leading the way for the 167 riders in this year’s field. But before they could even reach the start of the special the ‘dream of a lifetime’ was over for one competitor; Germany’s Juergen Droessiger collided with a car belonging to a member of the public on the road section. The 53 year old, who was competing in his first ever Dakar after years of building up funds, broke his hand in the crash and was forced out of the rally. In another cruel twist of fate on Stage 1, Portuguese favourite Joaquim Rodrigues suffered a heavy crash whilst landing from a dune jump, he was evacuated via the medical helicopter and was later found to have fractured his L5 vertebra, he is now recovering in hospital. The Dakar looks like it’s not going to pull any punches this year, and you have to feel for those who retire so early on in the event.
For last year’s winner, Sam Sunderland, there was thankfully a much smoother start to proceedings and the 28 year old Brit was able to put in a measured performance to take the Stage 1 win by 33 seconds.
Sam Sunderland (GB, KTM. 1st place):
“I had a great time today, the departure podium was good fun, then we had a 200km liaison to the special. The 30km loop through the dunes went well – the bike felt good and I feel really comfortable. Although it was just a short one today, it’s always good to get a stage win. Tomorrow will be tougher, but if I can stay consistent and not make any mistakes I’m hoping for another good result.”
Next up were Yamaha’s Adrien Van Beveren and Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla, who both managed error free days to keep Sunderland in their sights. Joan Barreda and Xavier de Soultrait completed the Top 5 on Day 1.
Many riders confessed upon reaching Pisco’s bivouac that they had taken a “slow and steady” approach to the day’s stage, with many admitting they felt unsafe on the unpredictable terrain which consisted largely of dazzling white sand and sharply shelved dunes.
Red Bull KTM’s Laia Sanz completed the special in 12th place overall, but although the Spanish superstar was happy with her result, she felt uncomfortable with the conditions.
Laia Sanz (ESP, KTM. 12th place):
“The stage was short but complicated, some of the dunes were ‘cut’ and the sun was very high, making it difficult to see very well. Tomorrow we’ll start the real race!”
This sentiment was echoed by Sanz’s compatriot, Ivan Cervantes, who said the bikers had started the stage at an awkward time with the midday sun making it hard to distinguish where the best lines and potential pit falls were among the bright white sand.
For Stage 2 the riders will leave Pisco, cover 279km, and return to Pisco in the first ‘loop stage’ of the event. In contrast to the rally opener, the second day will see a very short liaison of just 12km followed by a long special. Canyons in the morning will give way to dunes in the afternoon, leaving the bikers uneasy and aware of the need to take it steady and pace themselves.
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