Friday, January 14, 2011

Stage 10 Moto Wrap Up

After a near flawless run to victory on Stage 9, Jonah Street kicked off the morning’s proceedings fresh as a daisy. Perhaps ‘fresh as a daisy’ is a gross over statement of the conditions with the riders having, by the start of the now infamous Fiambala Stage, already completed a border crossing and a liaison in the order of several hundred kilometers. The stage designation of Copiapo to Chilecito is also somewhat misleading. Perhaps ‘Copiapo to Chilecito by way of Hell in a hand basket’ would be a more appropriate moniker for a stage that is quickly gaining a reputation to be feared, a reputation of swallowing riders, destroying whatever hopes they may have had for good stage times, and then spitting them out, bruised and battered, if they are lucky, at the stage finish.


With only a 176km special on the stage, it shouldn’t have been so bad, but numbers are tricky little devils. Sometimes those numbers are misleading as well. Every one of those kilometers would become a battle in themselves and only those riders with the drive to win the war will breach the defenses to take the hill that is the finish of stage 10.


Indeed, ‘misleading’ will look to become the best description to define the day that was Stage10 of the 2011 Dakar Rally. The Fiambala stage treats the competitors with contempt and as trespassers who dare attempt to tame her. The stage wasted little time in punishing first on track, Jonah Street. In a self admitted ‘rookie mistake’, Jonah missed the first waypoint and squandered valuable time finding it. As evident by the times at that first waypoint, the previous day’s hero had taken over 34 minutes to find it to Helder Rodrigues’ 21 minutes for the same distance. Helder repeated his stage 9 performance by rocketing to an early lead from his lowly, 11th place start position. The Portuguese Yamaha pilot was followed in close order by the regulars of the sharp end of the timing sheets. Frenchman, Cyril Despres on his KTM 450 Rally trailed Rodrigues by a scant 14” with team mate and water carrier, Ruben Faria of Portugal a further 26” back in third place. 4th place was occupied by Francisco ‘Chaleco’ Lopez of neighboring Chile, with American Quinn Cody hot on his heels just 1’01” back from the lead.


Of course this was early in the stage, but 9th place starter and overall rally leader, Marc Coma must have felt a bit left out from the lead pack because as the riders blasted through the second timing waypoint, it was Coma who grabbed the headlines as the stage leader relegating Rodrigues to 4th. Rodrigues however, was not to be denied the top position and took that back promptly from Coma by waypoint 3. From then, the timing positions remained fairly static. Some jostling for position briefly saw Quinn Cody and his Honda rise to 3rd place at waypoint 4, but the newcomer was put back in his place by the wily veterans with Quinn settling in about the 5th position on stage up towards the end.


Stage 9 dark horse surprise, Daniel Gouet, the young Chilean, showed that his good result was not simply an inheritance gifted through the misfortunes of others. Gouet took charge of his Honda CRF450X from a 6th place starting position and began an undulating rhythm up and down the time sheets to eventually end up in a very respectable 15th place only 37:43” off the lead finisher.


At this point, it may be expected that Helder Rodrigues rolled into the finish of the short stage in the lead followed by the current crop of rally heavyweights, however, lest we forget the ‘misleading’ aspect of Fiambala for it was she that would have the last laugh. Just in the short distance between the final waypoint and the finish of the stage, the expected results changed drastically as a plethora of riders became lost in a tricky navigation section. Let’s clarify that. Not lost, but “very, very lost” as Jonah Street described it after the stage. Quinn Cody was having a stellar performance on the day and, due to his later starting time, had hooked up with Jonah on the piste with the two riding together. As they became more and more lost, Quinn was looking to Jonah, a Dakar veteran, for guidance on where to go.


Eventually, they found their way in to the finish, but both had dropped over 90 minutes to the lead position and stage 10 winner, Spaniard Marc Coma on his KTM. Cody and Street finished in 50th and 51st positions on the stage which was by any terms, a disastrous result.


Early in the stage, Yamaha’s Helder Rodrigues repeated his stage 9 performance by taking the lead. Unfortunately, he also repeated his end of stage 9 performance by getting lost as well. Almost exactly as he had done at the end of stage 9, Helder again lost over 27 minutes from the lead time to finish a very disappointing 10th place. Not all results were disappointing though. Riders such as Azevedo (BRA), Pizzolito (ARG), and Stanovnik (SVN) were the beneficiaries of the misfortunes of others by moving up several positions from the final waypoint to the end of the stage, with Stanovnik jumping from 9th to 4th place for the finish.


The top ten results were: 1st - Coma (KTM), 2nd – Despres (KTM) +9:56”, 3rd – Faria (KTM) +13:22”, 4th – Stanovnik (KTM) +21:26”, 5th – Lopez Contardo (APR) +21:43”, 6th – Knuiman (KTM) +22:11”, 7th – Pizzolito (HON) +22:16”, 8th – Pedrero Garcia (KTM) +24:40”, 9th – Duclos (APR) +26:56”, and in 10th – Rodrigues (YAM) +27:46”


Stage 10 was marred by the withdrawal of notables such as Tina Meier, Ronnie Bodinger, and Vicente de Benedictis Neto. Germany’s iron woman, Meier rode the massive liaison from Copiapo to Fiambala in such pain, that she could not bear to take the start. She withdrew after consulting the medical staff. Depending on which report is accurate, Tina was the victim of kidney stones or a severe gastro-intestinal illness. Either way it is amazing the fortitude that these competitors have, to carry on until the absolute limit has been reached.


As if the timed stage itself was not torturous enough, drama continued on the final liaison into Chilecito. While riding behind one of the assistance trucks, a massive dust cloud was kicked up. Jonah, not being able to see clearly in the dust, clouded into a gas tank the size of a washing machine in the middle of the road. He was thrown from his bike, but was largely unhurt. Enraged, Jonah threw the tank off the road so no one else would hit it and then clamored on to track down the trucks that were in front of him on the road. When admitting that they had seen the tank in the road, Jonah could only shake his head in disbelief that they wouldn’t have stopped to pick it up, thereby preventing anyone else from hitting it like Jonah did, when he asked them why they didn’t do that, his question was met with only silence.


Stage 10 was a dream for few and a nightmare for most. As the rally really begins to wind down to its completion, many riders are simply giving up on competition and turning an eye towards survival. The recent stages have bested many, but still nearly one hundred riders continue to battle on towards Buenos Aires and the humble, understated finishers medal that means so much to so many. Don’t be misled by the simple time results at the end of each stage. This Dakar has been jam packed with amazing stories though and through. 


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