What’s the headline news? Pablo Quintanilla leads on his Rockstar Husqvarna after three stages. But as usual this early in the Dakar it could be anyone’s game, and that’s been the case this year: three stages, three winners. Hey, there’s even a British race leader – yep, Max Hunt leads the Originals by Motul (formerly the Malle Moto category, for those running without team assistance).
Certainly this feels like a landmark moment in Dakar history. Dakar in 2019 is about as short and sharp as it’s ever been. Shorter – just 5000km. Briefer – just 10 days. And more compact – all in the one country, Peru. But probably no less demanding given that 70% of the going is sand, and much of that is dunes.
Safety has been top of the list on Dakar discussion over the past year as speeds again look giddying and it doesn’t take much imagination to see big injuries coming off big crashes. Yet a lot of the terrain looks fast again and there’s no end of footage of the riders going top speed along the Pacific coast beaches, snaking and weaving as they fall between ruts. And those dunes have plenty of sneaky drop-offs. It doesn’t look safer. Yet maybe it is. One thing that is probably slowing down the riders is the navigation, which has got trickier.
And now after the third stage with Matthias Walkner and Ricky Brabec each losing over 20 minutes after getting lost in the dunes, there’s a sense less haste equals more speed. Walkner had probably foreseen his own fate there, for in his stage two victory interview he’d lamented that his success meant he’d be course opening on stage three – never an easy task. Yeah, in 2019 the riders are perhaps seeing that placing high, but not winning stages (a trick from the old days of Dakar) is a decent strategy.