Route: Uyuni – Tupiza
Terrain: Mud, mountains, dunes.
Words: Georgia Wells
The second half of the Marathon contained the longest special on the whole rally at 498km. After a night in the remote bivouac, having carried out all basic maintenance alone and without the assistance of their teams, the riders headed into the high altitude dunes, through rain storms, and onto muddy tracks on the way to Tupiza, Bolivia’s final stop.
While the day was going to be a challenge for all the remaining competitors, it was especially so for Honda’s Joan Barreda. The hard-charging Spaniard picked up a knee injury on Stage 7, which was so severe that he said he could “see stars” every time he tried to bear weight on his leg. Luckily, doctors present at the Uyuni bivouac were able to check for fractures and displacements, and it turned out that his knee was still in one piece but with a large volume of fluid encasing it. Even after the injury was drained and rested, it will still extremely painful, and Joan wasn’t sure if he could start Sunday’s stage.
But sure enough, ‘BangBang’ was on the startline for Stage 8, and he began the day with extremely impressive pace. Although he lost time throughout the day he still came home in 8th, a mere 12 minutes behind the fastest rider!
Joan Barreda (ESP, Honda. 8th stage/5th overall):
“I suffered a lot in the first part of the day, but I’m OK. If I could have a few days to recover then I could do a lot more. But racing is like this and I must continue!”
Sadly Stage 8 saw the exit of one of the rally’s top riders; Xavier de Soultrait crashed at kilometre 147 and immediately knew something was badly wrong with his elbow and knee. But fuelled by adrenaline the Frenchman ‘popped’ his elbow back into place and set off for another 15km before the pain became excruciating and he was forced to stop.
Xavier de Soultrait (FRA, Yamaha. DNF):
“The bike fell on its side and I was sliding with it, I hit some kind of metal pipe. I thought I was OK, but I’m definitely not.”
A statement from his team later revealed the extent of the damage – a displaced double fracture of the elbow, and a rupture of the anterior and posterior ligaments of the knee. He was said to be “suffering a lot”. The news came as a huge blow, not only for Xavier, who had been running 6th overall, but also for his factory Yamaha squad, who also lost Franco Caimi to mechanical failure on the first half of the Marathon.
30th place Txomin Arana also suffered an enormous crash on Stage 8. The Spaniard was diagnosed with cervical spine trauma, a broken elbow, and broken hand. Thankfully, Ivan Cervantes was quick to react when he found Arana stricken on the stage and stayed with him until medical crews arrived.
Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla also saw his chance of a podium slip away as he lost time with a broken wheel….
Pablo Quintanilla (CHI, Husqvarna. 40th stage/12th overall):
“Just when you least expect it, everything changes! A problem with my rear wheel meant my chain got stuck. Big thanks to my team-mate, Andrew Short, who arrived to help me. I lost more than an hour, but the important thing is that I’m fine, so I won’t give up on a good result!”
Back at the front, an intense and thrilling fight for the stage win was playing out between KTM’s Antoine Meo and Honda’s Ricky Brabec, despite the long special the pair were separated by just 10 seconds as they began to close in on the finish line. In the end it was former Enduro champion Meo who had the upper hand in the slippery and muddy conditions, pulling out 1 minute and 8 seconds on Brabec. The rivals arrived into the bivouac together and there was great sportsmanship between them as they congratulated each other on the hard-fought battle.
Meo’s stage victory signified a strong day for KTM in general as they continue their quest for their 17th consecutive crown. Toby Price finished 3rd on the day, Matthias Walkner 6th, and Laia Sanz 10th. The orange squad now have three riders in the Top 6 overall.
But despite the best efforts of Honda and KTM, Yamaha’s Adrien Van Beveren managed to hold onto a slim margin of just 22 seconds at the head of the standings!
Adrien Van Beveren (FRA, Yamaha. 7th stage/1st overall):
“Today was the Dakar in all its glory! The stage was long and very slippery, it required a lot of concentration! But I’m really happy to finish the Marathon like this, and my bike was a real delight to ride.”
The Top 5, which is made up of five different nationalities, remain very close in the overall standings, with just 8 minutes between them. It’s impossible to pick a winner amongst the field, and with Toby Price (4th) the only man to have won the rally before, we are quite likely to see a new winner on the top step in Cordoba in six days’ time.
It was announced on Sunday that Stage 9 from Tupiza to Salta, the first stop in Argentina, has been cancelled due to weather conditions. This will come as a relief to the injured Barreda, and possibly to Van Beveren who is clinging onto his rally lead. But the loss of 242 competitive kilometres will be disappointing to those trying to reel in their rivals. For Kevin Benavides (2nd overall) and his younger brother Luciano (16th overall) the easy run into Salta will be very much appreciated as they will receive a hero’s welcome from their hometown fans.
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