Thursday, January 6, 2011

Stage 5 Moto Wrap Up

Drama, excitement, controversy, confusion, elation, devastation...If you enjoy all those things in combination, Stage 5 of the 2011 Dakar Rally is the stage for you.


It was a long day for the riders on the first full stage in Chile. 154 riders were slated to leave the start for a short, 36km liaison to the opening timing control, only to face a grueling 423km charge from Calama to the sea at Iquique getting their first real taste of the Atacama desert.


As the track widened from the defined roads and technical segments of Argentina into the expansive areas and salars of Chile, the navigational aspects of the rally have started to become more crucial and the more experienced navigators have shown hints of beginning to shine.


After opening the track, factory KTM pilot and overall rally leader, Marc Coma quickly and uncharacteristically dropped to sixth place at the first waypoint recovering a bit by WP3. Ever the opportunist, Chilean hero Chaleco Lopez and his Aprilia, wasted no time in taking the early lead ahead of the factory KTM of Cyril Despres and Yamaha star, Olivier Pain. Pain was not content with that however, and stormed off in a hurry to take the lead of the rally by WP3. The Yamaha pilot put a stamp on his early lead by stretching out to a comfortable 1'16" over his next closest rival, Lopez.


As this battle was forming, Coma had another uncharacteristic event, a fall near the 80km mark apparently hitting a hidden rock, damaging both his wrist and the radiator on his KTM 450 Rally. Consequently, Coma quickly dropped from the sharp end of the leader board. His downtime from the fall itself was not too long, but according to the ASO, he stopped again a few kilometers later to perform some repairs as his KTM was leaking coolant.


The battle up front tightened up with Pain maintaining the lead through the middle part of the stage from second place, Lopez. The two traded places briefly through waypoint 7 but Pain was having none of that and reclaimed the lead by waypoint 8. Shortly thereafter, Pain sustained what is being reported as a massive fall and retired from the rally with a broken arm. Chaleco was not able to capitalize on this though because it was time for the BMW of Speedbrain's Frans Verhoeven to take the spotlight and boy did he ever, pulling out a commanding lead and bringing Team Bianchi Prata's Paulo Goncalves along for the ride. Although physically separated on the track, the two riders stretched out a cushion of nearly two minutes over third place Chaleco Lopez.


Excitement gathered steam as 'Speedy' Goncalves started to gain on Verhoeven through the final waypoints towards what could be his first ever Dakar stage win. Fans and followers were on the edge of their seats as Goncalves took the lead at the last waypoint prior to the finishing approach down the beautiful, thirty degree descent to the picturesque seaside stage end. Physically first through to the end were both Chaleco and Despres with Chaleco the provisional winner, at least until the rest of the riders arrived or so I thought. A few minutes later, Verhoeven crossed the line and stunned followers by falling to a single second behind Lopez. It was all down to Goncalves at this point. He was physically quickest up through WP14, but when he crossed the finish, he had dropped a massive, by Dakar moto standards, 2'35" to Chaleco who now looked to have won the first full Chilean stage of the 2011 Dakar.


As the times from other riders refreshed, it looked as though many had encountered difficulty in the final kilometers of the stage and it looked like Chaleco would be the hero of the day. Soon after, the ASO began adjusting times crediting time back to both Marc Coma and Paulo Goncalves for having stopped and tended to the downed Olivier Pain. This time credit handed Paulo 'Speedy' Goncalves his first ever Dakar stage win and moved Coma back up to 4th place in the final standings. I am sure that if you listened closely, the world over could hear the cheers from Portugal. It was a much deserved stage win for a rider who has tried so hard.


The provisional finish for the stage shows Goncalves as the winner with a time adjusted and commanding 2'18" lead over the Aprilia of Chaleco Lopez, BMW Speedbrain's, Verhoeven in third just a second behind Lopez followed by a time adjusted Coma (+3'58"), Cyril Despres (+4'10"), Helder Rodrigues, Ruben Faria, Jonah Street, Pal Anders Ullevalsetter, and Juan Pedrero to round out the top ten. Pal Anders looks to be shaking off his early stage unease with his unfamiliar KTM and seems to be coming to grips with the riding style changes the smaller mount demands.


Another notable on stage 5 is the 22nd place finish of Quinn Cody, a Dakar rookie, navigational rally novice, but experience, top notch racer who again impresses on his first outing. Alain Duclos put in another solid stage in the hopes that the misfortunes of Stage 1 are finally behind him. Aussies Warren Strange and Jacob Smith both completed a smart run to bring it home 37th and 43rd respectively.


The big losers on the stage today were obviously Olivier Pain who fell from the lead, but also Thomas Berglund and Jes Munk who also suffered rally ending offs. Berglund suffering a broken collar bone in a fall from his Husaberg and Stage 3's hero Jes Munk who dislocated his elbow when his Aprilia went down.


The mystery today is what happened to David Casteu. The Sherco pilot hovered between 8th and 11th place through waypoint 4 only to lose a massive hour and 25 minutes between WP4 and WP5. There is still no word as to the cause with the ASO having reported simple, but repeated navigational issues. I find it hard to believe for such an experienced rider. The ASO's report is even harder to believe after studying the times and realizing the pace that Casteu undertook through the rest of the stage, eventually brining the Sherco home with a total stage time of 10h10'20" losing nearly 5 hours on this stage alone.


Stage 5 continued the trend of recent Dakar’s, lulling the competitors in with a few relatively calm easy stages, but like walking into the cage of a sleeping lion, the calm didn't last for long as the Dakar lion has now officially been awaken and is wasting no time in inflicting pain at those that dare come tempt fate.


Stage 6 is another massive, 456km stage and will be the first real taste of the famous (or infamous) Atacama dunes as the riders make their way from Iquique to Arica in northern Chile, just skirting the Peruvian border. Get some rest tonight, ice and splint those F5 fingers and be ready for tomorrows excitement, it's going to be another stunner for sure.

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