Joan Barreda’s challenge for victory in this year’s Dakar Rally lies in tatters after the Spaniard lost five hours on Friday’s stage with engine problems.
The Honda rider, who began the South American event as one of the favourites in the motorcycle class, was running third overall prior to the start of the sixth stage, having won two of the preceding three stages before both were taken away for speeding penalties.
But an unspecified engine problem caused Barreda’s bike to grind to a halt 202 kilometres into the 542km stage, forcing him to wait for the arrival of teammate Paolo Ceci for assistance.
“Barreda was stopped at the 202km because of a motor problem, the kind that you can’t fix,” said Ceci, who was originally designated as rally leader Paulo Goncalves’ water-carrier.
“I saw him from afar, he stopped me - the [other Honda riders] in front didn’t see him, but I’m here to work for the team.”
The Italian was able to tow Barreda’s bike for a short distance, but the harshness of the terrain meant the duo had to await further help.
“We managed to fix it just to tow it,” continued Ceci, “but the rope snapped at least 10 times because the special wasn’t easy, there were terrible sand dunes. After that, a quad rider was kind enough to help us.”
Goncalves' new water-carrier
Barreda ultimately made it to the finish line in Uyuni five hours behind stage winner Toby Price, relegating him to 70th place overall and extinguishing any hopes of challenging for victory.
“It’s a sad day for me,” said the Spaniard at the Uyuni bivouac.
“The motor broke, we don’t know what happened; it’s not normal with us. I don’t know what else to say.
“Sport has moments like this, there is nothing else to do but to think about the next one."
Having been ruled out of contention for the win, Barreda’s focus will now switch to helping teammate Goncalves see off the threat of the factory KTM riders and seal victory for Honda.
“The fact that Barreda can get to camp this evening is what matters, because tomorrow he will be the first water-carrier for Goncalves,” said Ceci.
“He is the fastest one and is the one who can run closest to him.”
Being a ‘priority’ rider, Barreda will be among the first 20 riders to tackle Saturday’s 336km Uyuni-Salta stage, making him the ideal wingman for Goncalves as Honda seeks to end 15 years of KTM domination in the Dakar.
Interviews by Luis Ramirez and Elisabetta Carracciolo