SO, WHAT’S THE STORY?
Navigation is clearly very testing at this stage in the Dakar. That’s because the riders are riding dunes with little in the way of reference points, riding off ‘cap headings’ (compass bearings). Of course those are big dunes too, and not the easiest terrain – physically very testing and a little dangerous given some big drop-offs.
Sunderland clearly has it in mind to win! Two stage wins already (a moral victory in certain camps!) show he has both speed when he wants to use it and accuracy when it comes to navigation (perhaps we shouldn’t speak too soon).
Honda is still suffering its virtual Dakar curse. The team lost its second top rider – Pablo Goncalves – just before the start due to a training accident. Bang Bang Barreda has so far done everything right but just one thing wrong – and been punished severely for that – 30-minutes is a huge disadvantage in the modern Dakar. And further misfortune – Michael Metge picked-up an hour’s penalty at the end of day three (after Honda published their day report), possibly for navigational errors (his GPS was on the blink) and so dropped from ninth to 31st. Thankfully Honda brought five riders to Dakar and so still have two riders in the top-10.
Yamaha is looking more and more like a top-flight Dakar team. Van Beveren will, given a little good fortune and hard work come back into the top-five, his teammates Franco Caimi and Xavier de Soltrait are also inside the top-10.
Anything can happen. That’s an obvious Dakar thing, but already we are seeing big gains and losses, and these will probably continue (or not). After three days it’s still a strong top-10, anyone could win it. And what about Toby Price? He’s lurking in the shadows for now, he’s quietly pulled up to fourth place but he has oodles of speed (check out the video of his Finke-winning ride on YouTube) – he’s playing a canny hand this year. It’s too early to call anything.
Two more days in the sand, then a rest (at altitude!). Day 4 is set to be something unique. The day starts with a 114km liaison. Then, apparently, a mass start from a beach (15 riders per row) into a 330km special. And that special will include 100km of sand dunes (big ones at that). Oh, and a sizeable altitude gain, going from sea level to 2000m (6000ft). Sounds tough. Day 5 then offers up another dune-based special of 266km followed by a 508km liaison that finishes high up in the mountains, where the competitors can look forward to a rest day (which they’ll probably need to acclimatize to the altitude…).
Fair to say first order of the day for all competitors is survival – a good result after that… A mass start, eh?