Route: La Paz – Uyuni
Terrain: Mud, dirt tracks.
Words: Georgia Wells
After Friday’s well deserved Rest Day, the 2018 Dakar Rally began again in earnest for Stage 7. The run from La Paz to Uyuni made up the first part of a Marathon stage, which meant at the end of the day all the riders had to go to a remote bivouac where their bikes could not be worked on by mechanics. If issues are encountered, or general maintenance needs to be carried out, the riders may work on their own bikes or receive help from other competitors, but they must otherwise fend for themselves until the end of Stage 8.
Marathon stages always pose a conundrum for the riders, who often need to push to make up time or defend their positions, but are wary of the danger of damaging their bikes and having to carry out repair jobs on their own.
However, this thought didn’t appear to cross the mind of Honda’s Joan Barreda! The Spaniard, who is known as ‘BangBang’, began pushing early on Stage 7 and his phenomenal pace saw him pull out a big lead on most of his rivals. Carrying this kind of speed, whilst natural to the ever-spectacular Barreda, always carries risk and as the stage wore on BangBang began to lose time. He still topped the stage by two minutes and fifty one seconds and it seemed at first that he might have eased off to allow a safe run into the Uyuni bivouac, but sadly the reason for the drop in form became abundantly clear; he was nursing a leg injury.
Joan Barreda (ESP, Honda. 1st stage/3rd overall):
“I was really going for it at the start but at around the 300 kilometre mark I had a really bad fall. I thought I had broken my knee, the pain made me slow down. It looks really bad, and I can’t put weight on it, but the doctors have just told me that it’s not broken, it’s just damaged and with a lot of fluid around it. We have to wait and see!”
Incredibly, Barreda rode for over 100km after sustaining the injury, AND still managed to win the day. This proves just how desperately Joan, who is competing in his 8th Dakar, wants to finally win. Upon his arrival in the Uyuni bivouac it was obvious just how much pain he was in. And while some think he may try to start Stage 8, it seems a near impossible task – especially as the route contains the longest special of the rally and several dunes to traverse.
There was more bad news for Honda late in the day as Michael Metge retired after breaking his wheel on the stage.
On the plus side, however, Kevin Benavides is still doing an excellent job for the brand, and although he had issues with his throttle during the stage, he still arrived in third place, maintaining second overall. Provided he can fix his bike issue, Honda’s hopes will now rest on his shoulders.
Yamaha’s Adrien Van Beveren also enjoyed another strong day despite the race leaving his favoured sandy terrain. The Frenchman may have only finished second on the stage, but this was still enough to propel him back into the rally lead by three minutes and fourteen seconds. Competing in his third Dakar, the youngster was clearly thrilled to regain the lead after losing it on Stage 6.
Adrien Van Beveren (FRA, Yamaha. 2nd stage/1st overall):
“I just try to give my best every day and ride in a clever and sensible way. You have to absolutely avoid mistakes and crashes on the Marathon because no-one can help you. My Yamaha is great on these technical tracks, the feeling is amazing!”
In an unfortunate contrast of fortunes, Van Beveren’s team-mate Franco Caimi suffered irreparable mechanical issues at kilometre 242 and the rally is now over for the Argentinian who finished 7th last year in his first Dakar. He was running 35th overall.
Aside from the 4500m altitude, the main theme of the terrain on Stage 7 was mud, the dirt tracks quickly became extremely slippery as rain closed in around the mountains. KTM riders Toby Price and Antoine Meo decided to take a sensible approach to the day’s action – something which neither rider is usually known for! The pair finished 4th and 9th respectively and kept themselves up the leaderboard for a potential attack down the line.
Toby Price (AUS, KTM. 4th stage/5th overall): “It was rad being able to ride together with Antoine, moving forward as team-mates! We took our time to make sure we nailed the navigation, and conditions were slippery but I’m feeling more comfortable every day.”
Similarly their team-mate Laia Sanz, who finished 19th on the stage, commented on the difficulty of riding in the mud, especially on the Marathon…
Laia Sanz (ESP, KTM. 19th stage/18th overall):
“It has been a super tough Marathon stage! There were so many kilometres of mud! Today it’s important to keep the bike safe, and I managed to do that, so I’m happy!”
Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla also had a problem-free day, completing the Top 5 on the stage and creeping up the overall standings; back to 8th after losing half an hour on Stage 5.
Once the riders have completed their repairs they can enjoy the camaraderie and cordiality of Uyuni’s Marathon bivouac. The factory riders usually sleep in motorhomes during the rally, but on the Marathon they share accommodation with the other competitors – and even close rivals can be found supporting each other. They’ll need all the encouragement they can get when they enter Stage 8; a whopping special of 500km is always bound to create a shake-up in the leaderboard, but even more so when it’s held at high altitudes. With the Top 10 separated by just 33 minutes, things could be about to get very serious….
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