Route: San Juan de Marcona – Arequipa
Terrain: Mixed; sand (84%), hardpack.
Words: Georgia Wells
Images: Dakar/ASO/HRC/KTM Images/PhotosDakar.com
The run to Arequipa in southern Peru is one of the most magnificent routes of the Dakar’s 10 year history in South America. The fascinating Nazca Lines aren’t far from the stage’s start in San Juan de Marcona and the incredible Duna Grande dunes made for some stunning sights as the riders fought their way through the special.
After the retirement of Sam Sunderland on Stage 4, Stage 5 had a feeling of “just get through it” among the remaining riders. The fifth consecutive day in the sand was even more difficult than anyone expected and several top riders reported getting stuck in ‘quicksand’ and losing time due to navigational errors and mechanical issues.
Following their one-two result on the loop stage, Yamaha pairing Adrien Van Beveren and Xavier de Soultrait opened the road on Stage 5. The team-mates decided to stick together throughout the day, and despite struggling with the soft sand they were able to complete the stage in 5th and 6th, allowing an impressive Van Beveren, who appeared to be riding with a more measured approach than usual, to keep hold of his lead by just one minute!
Xavier de Soultrait (FRA, Yamaha. 6th stage/5th overall):
“It was great that we were able to help each other. The second half of the stage was really hard, I have never seen sand so soft! It was quicksand and you would just sink in!”
Adrien Van Beveren (FRA, Yamaha. 5th stage/1st overall):
“I have not seen sand like that before! Sometimes I had to paddle with my legs because it was so soft and loose, it was an amazing special! Even though the guys behind me gained time on me, I’m pleased with my performance. I started to push at the end of the special and that was enough to keep my lead.”
With this, the young Frenchman becomes the first rider this year to hold the lead for two consecutive days. He’ll no doubt be keen to extend that one minute advantage as quickly as possible on Stage 6.
Remaining KTM riders – Antoine Meo, Toby Price, Matthias Walkner and Laia Sanz – all managed strong performances on the road to Arequipa. Former World Enduro Champion Meo achieved his best stage result of the rally so far, 4th place. Price continued his ‘under the radar’ riding to come home in 7th on the day, with Sanz not far behind him in 14th. But the top rider in the orange team is currently Matthias Walkner. The Austrian was fast and focused and with it he put in a time good enough for 2nd place on the day, keeping himself firmly in overall rally contention – just one minute and fourteen seconds off.
Matthias Walkner (AUT, KTM. 2nd stage/3rd overall):
“They promised us that it would be ‘the hardest Dakar ever’ and they were right! Every day is long and demanding, and there’s still a long way to go!”
Meanwhile, Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla suffered a very disappointing day as he lost almost thirty minutes following a mechanical issue, dropping him from second overall to ninth. But, thanks to his level headedness when faced with the lost time, he is still a feasible rally winner and is remaining incredibly upbeat….
Pablo Quintanilla (CHL, Husqvarna. 16th stage/9th overall):
“This is just what the race is like, we all face obstacles and difficulties. I’m going to stay calm, strong, and focused on my goal, which is to win this race and bring the victory to Chile! So let’s go!”
You can’t really argue with that kind of determination! Quintanilla may be slightly overlooked by some, but by winning two FIM Rallies titles back-to-back he has already proven that he’s more than capable of taking Husqvarna to the top spot in Cordoba in 10 days’ time.
But on Stage 5 there was one man who nobody could get anywhere near, who was flying from the moment he started the stage until the finish, some 751km later. Honda’s Joan Barreda was out to show that his Day 3 disaster, where he could only manage 28th on stage following a navigational nightmare, was just a minor blip in what could be a stellar year for the Spaniard. While others around him suffered with the sand and minor mistakes, Barreda kept his relentless pace to the finish line, taking a whopping ten minutes out of his rivals over the three hours and twenty minutes of competitive riding.
Joan Barreda (ESP, Honda. 1st stage/4th overall):
“If I get opportunities like today when I feel like I can gain an advantage, I have to take the chance! I’m trying to be careful, but I’m trying to win too.”
As the rally leaves Peru and heads to Bolivia there is already an air of excitement surrounding the race for the win. Whilst the loss of Sam Sunderland has come as a big blow, it has also shaken up the standings and given fresh hope to Japanese brands Honda and Yamaha. The Top 3 in the overall rankings – Van Beveren, Benavides, and Walkner – are separated by just one minute and fourteen seconds. While Barreda and de Soultrait, in 4th and 5th, have just eight seconds between them.
Keep an eye out for the likes of Dakar stalwart Gerard Farres, who now sits in 8th overall and will be quietly chipping away at the race leaders. Just fifteen minutes down, the genial Spaniard who rides for Himoinsa KTM has all the skills to repeat his podium of last year.
But there will scarcely be time for the riders to dream of podium celebrations as Stage 6 is set to be another extremely tough one. The move into Bolivia’s captial, La Paz, will involve some extremely high altitude mountain passes coupled with some much faster sections than we’ve seen so far, and a picturesque pass by Lake Titicaca. The goal for many will be to make it through to Friday’s Rest Day unscathed and on track. It’s all going to be happening on Stage 6!
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