Dakar ’23 daily notebook: Bang Bang’s big 30 and no gentleman’s agreements
Enduro21’s daily Dakar Rally notebook from the bivouac in Ha’il, Saudi Arabia looks at the struggles in the sand on stage four, Bang Bang Barreda’s record and why Dakar ain’t no Tour de France.
It was another trek out the bivouac and onto the stage for us this morning. When the light did eventually start to appear in the sky, yesterday’s heavy rainstorms had left their mark and though it was sunny, a bloody cold wind was blowing (shorts were a bad idea).
The race headed out on a loop into lands where ancient Neolithic civilisations once inscribed drawings on the rocks in huge mountainous outcrops in an otherwise featureless desert.
Air bags deployed and the wrong goggles
In the present day, the sand was wet and energy-sapping, compounding the physical element plus taking more of a toll on the bikes (and fuel consumption). Deserts like this are littered with hidden ways to crash and riders talked about the sand being firm one minute and sucking the life out their wheels the next, causing crashes.
Daniel Sanders and Skyler Howes were riding together for a chunk of the day and the American hit one of those sudden patches of wet sand which chucked him over the bars twice he said, one time deploying his airbag. Skyler landed on his back and it took the wind out of his sails but it was good to see the camaraderie was there between two leading riders as Chucky stopped to check he was ok.
It doesn’t help when you choose the wrong goggle lens either – Daniel Sanders complained it was hard to decipher the shape of the sand in some places because it was too bright. His mistake he said.
What a difference a year makes
At a same point of the rally last year riders were really showing how bad that yo-yo effect could be. Top three-placed riders one day were struggling to get inside the top 20 the next. Leaders suffered, dropped loads of time while those behind blitzed it.
The top four from stage three went on to finish 38th, 30th, 25th and 21st respectively on stage four 12 months ago.
This year the tables have turned, and it could be that time bonus idea is working. The top four from stage three yesterday finished 8th, 11th, 3rd and 7th respectively today. That’s quite a change and in fact most the top 10 is the same, the positions have changed but the same riders are there.
This must be proof the new bonus rules are working to an extent, surely? It’s the same guys in there year on year and this is what we wanted to see, a competitive race each day.
Long gone are the days of Dakar where the lead two or three riders, as it was, could take it easy for a day or two, relying on a bit of a gentleman’s agreement between competitors. Don’t expect anyone here to back off on the final day like they do in the Tour de France, this one’s going to the wire.
A rival to Peterhansel and Despres
Any rider getting 10 or more Dakar’s under their belts rightly gets a ‘Legend’ logo next to their name in the official documents and rally website. There are a few but the number of stage winners is a more elite club.
Joan Barreda is not only in the club of multiple stage winners he’s knocking on the door of the greatest of all. Today’s stage saw the Spaniard tick off his 30th career Dakar stage win which puts him just three behind legends Stephane Peterhansel and Cyril Despres.
There’s no doubt, and no disrespect is meant by saying this, that Joan could easily have collected more wins by now since he started winning at the 33rd Dakar 12 years ago.
A few less inexplicable errors (running out of fuel for example) and crashes while trying too hard when he didn’t really need to have certainly robbed him of more, even the Dakar title. He’s not called “bang bang” for nothing.
The Spaniard is a wizard on a bike and watching his speed and technique can leave you gobsmacked. He has also battled with the very best over a long period for that elusive Dakar win including Marc Coma and Toby Price.
The best rider not to win the Dakar? Possibly and the truth is he could still win this thing yet, or notch-up some more stage wins and take that title.
South African strip search
Our daily check in on the Originals class tonight catches class leader Charan Moore getting a bit serious with the strip down. The problem today is a fuel pump not working Charan explained, shaking the dregs out the rear tanks to get at the offending pump.
Last night their lives were pretty terrible with the heavy storms wreaking havoc to the end of their stage. When they got into camp and had to fix their bike sin a howling gale and rain you felt for them big time.
Most of them ended up sleeping inside buildings instead of their supposed tent accommodation. Dakar organisers do have a heart after all!
It’s a long one
Another quick fact to bear in mind is the distance they are covering in this 45th edition of Dakar – almost 5000 kilometres. Toby Price pointed out at today’s finish that the days are long, hard and though he feels good on his KTM, by the rest day after stage eight they will have covered just 300km short of the 2022 Dakar’s total distance.
They’ll have another six stages after that, 14 stages in total. These riders are machines.
Photo Credit: Enduro21 + A.S.O. Eric Vargiolu + Rally Zone + Fred Le Floch