DAKAR 2019 REPORT #1

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes… It’s a new style Dakar Rally for 2019, although stuff like the riders, the bikes, the dunes – they don’t change. But the format – this could prove pivotal.

Thursday 10th January 2019

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).

Landmark year?

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.

Keeping safe?

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.

So it’s different

It does feel like a different race this year. Maybe some are reading it better than others. Like Sam Sunderland who’s usually a firecracker of a rider, but looks like he’s concentrating on his navigation this year, so staying close, but taking his time. As well, Stage 4 is the start of a two-day marathon section of the rally (when there’s no teams assistance) and that too may slow the riders this year, even with the mass start scheduled for Stage 5.

So does the Dakar now resemble two International Six (Five) Day Enduros back to back? Not really, but its nature is certainly evolving. It’ll be interesting to see how the shape of the event changes in the coming days. Is this the making of a new classic era, or are we in the opening kilometres of a developmental cul de sac?

RUST predictions for the coming days: ahhh yes, this is lottery time – but let’s give it a go. We fancy Pablo Quintanilla big time, he’s consistent, strong, level-headed, never too showy but always there. Gotta back our homeboy Sam Sunderland, too – like we said, he looks calmer this year and looks like he’s riding to a strategy. We’d like to see Yamaha do it; Adrien Van Beveren is going steady while teammate Xavier de Soultrait says he’s also going steady yet looks anything but – albeit its working for him with that third stage win. And by heck we’d like to see Honda lose that Dakar monkey from their back. Their presence brings much to race and surely there should be some reward coming one day soon for all their efforts…

We’ll keep watching.

 

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