Just when it seemed as though Red Bull KTM's Cyril Despres was making a bid to take off and hide in this year's Dakar Rally, things changed a bit today in stage four with a new overall leader and the man who has thus far proven to have the best pace in the rally back on top of a stage.
Stage four, which included a 266-mile special, took the field from Nazca to Arequipa in Peru and it was won by Husqvarna Rallye Team By Speedbrain's Joan Barreda, the Spaniard bouncing back after yesterday's 44th-place finish when broken spokes in a wheel cost him dearly. Today's win was the second stage win of this year's race for Barreda and his Husky and it jumped him from 18th overall to fourth. He is five minutes and 38 seconds behind the overall leader.
And that overall leader is now Olivier Pain, the Yamaha rider finishing second to Barreda today and jumping from fourth to first. The Frenchman is leading fellow Frenchman and Yamaha rider David Casteau by two minutes and 24 seconds in the overall standings. Casteau finished third today - his best effort of this year's rally thus far.
"I caught up with the group towards the end of the special because they strayed a bit off track and, being behind them, at the top of the valley, I was able to take the shortest route and make up a lot of time," Pain said. "I've been riding at my pace from the beginning, with no pressure, just to have fun, and doing my best not to fall because the rally's just begun. I don't want to get overexcited about my place in the overall, the rally's still long and my objective is to finish in the top 10 every day, and I hope to continue doing this well until the end."
The man everyone fears the most - Despres - dropped from first to third in the overall standings after ending today's stage in 15th place - over 17 minutes behind Barreda. Despres doesn't seem concerned, as he's just three minutes and nine seconds off the overall lead.
"Chaleco [Francesco Lopez, who ended up 19th in the stage] rode quite strongly at the beginning of the special, but I caught up with him and then turned on the afterburners," Despres said. "It was a bit of a déjà vu with yesterday and the day before yesterday. I later backed off a bit and those who started further back seized the opportunity to gain some time. It's not the first time this happens, but don't worry about me, I'm racing my way. I've been riding at a high pace for three days, but not flat out, which helps me to save energy and avoid pushing the motorcycle to the limit. When you start at the back and go like crazy all day long, you ride in the dust, so if you later have mechanical problems, it won't be down to just bad luck... The rally's still long and I ride at my pace."
Stage winner Barreda jumped up to fourth in the overall standings with Jordi Viladoms fifth on the Tamarugal XC Husqvarna TE 449RR. Viladoms has made a steady climb up the overall standings - from 23rd to ninth, to eighth and now to fifth.
One rider who struggled today was Pal Anders Ullevalseter, the Norwegian rider who ended yesterday's stage third in the overall standings. Today he fell down to 11th overall after finishing 25th in the stage.
American Kurt Caselli was 17th in today's stage and it cost him one spot in the overall standings. After four stages of his debut Dakar, Caselli is 20th overall, but just five minutes from getting himself back in the top 15.
Honda's Johnny Campbell rebounded from yesterday's disaster to finish 38th in stage four. That moved him up to 100th overall as he gained 45 spots in the standings. Campbell is taking part in his second Dakar rally on a motorcycle, the Californian last racing a bike in the race back in 2001 when he finished eighth overall.