Today’s Dakar Rally stage made a 355-mile trek through some of the most beautiful parts of Morocco, starting in Er Rachidia and finishing in Ouarzazate after passing through the first sand dunes of the rally (the next couple days in southern Morocco promise more sand). The day’s highlight was the crossing of the Erg Chebbi at the start of the 206-mile special test, after which the route became more rolling.
After finishing second in yesterday’s stage, Chilean KTM rider Carlo De Gavardo won today’s special test, posting a time of three hours, 14 seconds and 17 seconds, 21 seconds faster than overall leader and teammate Richard Sainct, of France. It should be mentioned, however, that Sainct raced nearly 75 miles stuck in fourth gear! Making a big jump was yet another KTM rider, Finnish enduro great Kari Tianen, who finished third on the day and now sits third overall, five minutes and 26 seconds behind Sainct (DeGavardo is just a few seconds ahead of him).
“Starting second this morning, I eventually caught Richard up,” De Gavardo said. “He was going very fast, but I managed to stay with him and so win the special. I’m very happy, as I think I am the first South American to win a Dakar stage.”
If Sainct now appears to have yet another challenger to his crown, he doesn’t seem overly concerned. “I set a fast pace to try and pull out as much of a lead as possible,” he said. “My plan is to stay out in front, so that I can control the others going into Mauritania.”
“It was technical at the beginning, and hard going with a full fuel tank,” Roma said. “I caught up with Alfie [Cox] and Kari, but couldn’t get past them in the dust.”
BMW is not doing as well as it had hoped at this point, though the German team is known for coming on strong in the late stages of the rally. Team rider Joan Roma, from Spain, slipped to fourth overall after finishing fourth in today’s stage, and German female BMW rider Andrea Mayer had to wait for her assistance truck when her engine stopped. American BMW rider Jimmy Lewis finished today’s stage in 11th after a heavy crash, 13 minutes and 35 seconds behind Sainct, and he now sits 10th overall, 22 and a half minutes off the leader’s pace.
Not all of KTM’s news was good, however: German rider Jurgen Mayer dropped out today after crashing and breaking his collarbone.