From high, dry mountains to the wet hills of Argentina, Dakar has taken a turn in terrain since leaving Chile, and with it has come chaos. It was torrential rains and swelling rivers that stopped today’s stage early with the Cars still out in the mud. Race organizers have not clarified the point at which competitors’ clocks were stopped, however, and depending on their eventual decision (which may not come for hours) big changes could occur in the category’s standings: Mini’s Stéphane Peterhansel spent several minutes off-course trying to ford a stream while rival Nasser Al-Attiyah sped away on the proper track in his Qatar Red Bull buggy. Should the ASO governing body decide that time was called after Peterhansel’s mistake, his considerable lead could evaporate.
But the winner in Bikes is definite: Joan Barreda. The Husqvarna man impressed once again on a day when flawless navigation was called for, and though he suffered a race-ruining breakdown early on the Spaniard can take comfort in his third individual win.
“I navigated quite well and I'm happy to add another stage win to my tally.”
Barreda’s successes become less of a surprise with every such victory, but the rest of the top five genuinely astounded. American Honda rider Johnny Campbell used his orienteering skills perfected over decades of running (and winning) the Baja 1000 to find his way to second, while Slovakian outsider Ivan Jakes tracked to third. Pedro Bianchi Prate took fourth for Husqvarna and Vincent Guindani fifth; all of those personal best finishes.
So where were the big names? Mostly, lost. Olivier Pain, the leader going into this extra-long “Marathon Stage,” fell off of the top step of the podium with a costly navigational error.
“A terribly difficult day,” Pain said. “I made a mistake. I was the big loser. Of course, I knew it wasn't all wrapped up yet; but there will be further surprises during the second week.”
“I could have pulled off a big coup today,” Despres explained. “Because I almost took the right trail at the entrance of the río, but all the tracks went left, so in the end I followed them and came upon everyone riding around… and looking at each other. When this happens, I only look at my road book and the landscape I didn't see some riders break away and I had to make a U-turn 500 m from the right trail, but that's the way it is... There are good days, less good days and great days, and I'm waiting for a great day!”
So David Casteu happily accepted the Bikes lead going into the Rest Day in Tucuman. If he falters on his outmoded Yamaha when the rally resumes, though, Despres could get the great day he wants.
In Quads, rookie Sarel van Biljon won his first stage over leader Marcos Patronelli, though the Argentine remains untouchable in the general standings.
The Trucks stage was cancelled today, so the three-man teams will benefit from two days without racing.