The death of one of the riders overshadowed the seventh day of the 2013 Dakar. Thomas Bourgin died in a freak road accident before the special stage had even started. There was no celebration at the end of the first marathon.
As the Dakar Rally reached its peak in the high Andes Mountains, Kurt Caselli achieved his own, taking an incredible first stage win on the descent into Salta, Argentina. In the Cars category, Stéphane Peterhansel extended his overall lead with the fastest time, but the day was overshadowed by the death of French Bike rider Thomas Bourgin.
The thin air of the mountains was a new physical challenge for the weary Bike riders, but KTM’s Kurt Caselli took it on and won by over a minute from Francisco Lopez. The winner seemed calm about his momentous achievement, though:
“Everything for me was fine,” he said. “I'm learning the navigation better and I can understand it. This is my first Dakar so I'm just learning a lot.”
Olivier Pain followed Caselli in third to keep the top spot overall for Yamaha, but the big story in those standings was Cyril Despres’ transmission issues that left him without a fifth gear for most of the stage. His time drops him from second to fifth place. Thus, Lopez has inherited second with David Casteu third.
“I think it's a good position for tomorrow,” Lopez said after the stage. “Now I'll work on my motorcycle, but there are no problems. I'm very happy with today.”
Red Bull buggy rival Nasser Al-Attiyah’s time: two minutes slower. So the bright green Mini will lead the Cars into Argentina, a Red Bull buggy just behind and Giniel de Villiers’ Toyota Hilux third.
“I have to admit that for the first 130 km, we were flat out,” Peterhansel told reporters after returning to flat land in Salta. “There was nothing to do, just 15 or 30 bends and we were driving at 150 kmph on average. After that, the last 90 km were interesting, rather twisty with some rocks, but very technical, so we were able to enjoy ourselves and gain a few seconds more over Nasser.”
Some other interesting news from the Cars front is Robby Gordon’s sheer speed. Though many hours behind, the American has thrown his Hummer at the Chilean mountains with fury and racked up good results, including a third-fastest stage time today.
“I'm still mad at myself from day four,” Gordon said, referring to his major crash on that stage. “If we hadn't done that, we'd be third place in the rally right now.”
In Quads, distant category leader Marcos Patronelli lost out on the stage to yet another talented Dakar upstart, Can-Am’s Sebastian Palma. This comes after his defeat to Ignacio Casale yesterday, but Patronelli is not likely to be worried; he still holds an hour-plus lead.
De Rooy still had something to say about his fellow participants, though: “These stupid buggies, they don't let me past! I'd been pushing them for a long time and they didn't let me past. In a fast section they passed me, but then in a bad section, they're too slow.”
His buggy problem is the least of the Iveco camp’s concerns; one day after Hans Stacey rolled his truck and limped home, he failed to make the start.