A Race of Attrition
03-Jan-2012 | Christopher Doyle
Many described the stage as Erzberg-ish…rough and rocky, very technical, and in the words of American rider, Ned Suesse aboard the #81 KTM, “absolutely beautiful”, however, this was a beauty not without a price.
The stage began with an impressive push by the Portuguese armada. Good showings early by Ruben Faria, Paolo Goncalves, and Helder Rodrigues put the three riders squarely in the top ten through the early waypoints. As to be expected, the early leaders pulled away into a race of their own as KTM riders, Cyril Despres and Marc Coma exchanged the lead from waypoint to waypoint.
Strong too was the Sherco of Frans Verhoeven shaking off niggling problems from Stages 1 and 2 to storm up through the placements.
From 5th place at WP1 up to 3rd through WP’s 2 and 3, Verhoeven was intent on putting his stamp on the overall standings. However, this was a race between Despres and Coma and then all the rest. Steady pace by the Husqvarna rider, Paolo Goncalves and Helder Rodrigues on his Yamaha, kept the two Portuguese riders in 4th and 5th places respectively through each waypoint as their countryman, Ruben Faria began to fade from his original pace finishing up the stage a disappointing 17th place.
The stage included an additional loop at the end that was exclusively for the bikes and quads. This loop may have proven to be the turning point for the first half of the Dakar as Coma made a critical mistake in missing the entrance to this loop and continuing on towards the finish in San Juan. In the end, this mistake cost Coma precious time against his KTM rival, Despres, as the Spaniard gave up 13’04” from the lead. Of the navigation error, eventual stage winner, Cyril Despres said, “It’s good for my position, even if I’m never happy about other people’s setbacks.”
The Stormer of the stage was Frans Verhoeven who also capitalized on Coma’s mistake to put the Sherco on the second step of the stage podium, in a very welcomed, trouble free run. Locked into 4th and 5th respectively for the entire stage, Goncalves and Rodrigues moved up to finish the stage in 3rd and 4th thanks also to Coma’s mistake. Additional beneficiaries were Alain Duclos with a solid run to 5th on his Aprilia and David Casteu in 6th, the Frenchman keeping to his race strategy of solid, top ten results without stressing man or machine. As we know, 7th place fell to Marc Coma, a somewhat disappointing stage for Chaleco Lopez saw the Chilean star bring his Aprilia home in 8th place, but more significantly, a huge 17’59” back from Cyril Despres. Rounding out the top ten were Gerard Farres Guell in 9th and Pal Anders Ullevalsetter in 10th. However it was discovered well after the stage the penalties were pending.
The stage was not without both controversy and adversity. Controversy in a missed waypoint by Ullevalsetter, who commented after the stage that he and “at least a dozen” other riders had missed the same waypoint. The Norwegian promising to protest if penalties were assigned and assigned they were. 40 minute penalties were handed out through the evening dropping Ullevalsetter and many others down the overall rankings. Laia Sanz, the only woman rider remaining in the rally after the stage 3 withdrawal of Rosa Romero Font who was refused permission to continue having been towed in by a non-competitor, also expressed annoyance at being assessed a penalty for missing the waypoint.
The application of the penalties affected the stage results by moving both Alain Duclos and Pal Anders Ullevalsetter well down and thereby elevating both Olivier Pain and Jordi Viladoms into 9th and 10th finishes respectively. Top rookie honors go to Italian, Alessandro Botturi running a masterful stage into 11th place.
Stage adversity affected the leader board as well. A scary crash along the rutted route spun Speedbrain Husqvarna rider, Joan Barreda completely around early in the stage but the Spaniard was able to quickly recover and carry on only to incur a chain problem later in the stage dashing his hopes for a promising finish.
A more devastating crash by American, Quinn Cody ended his rally. The American Baja star hit a rock in a dip with his back wheel. With the suspension already compressed, the rock pitched the back of the bike skyward sending Cody over the hand bars at a very high speed and his Honda cartwheeling down the track. Luckily Joan Pedrero was just behind Cody and was brilliant in stopping and helping Quinn to the side of the road, the American suffering a smashed face requiring 10 stitches and a broken collarbone, perhaps lucky considering the video of the crash.
Of the incident, Pedrero was quoted in saying that he was deeply affected by what he witnessed and that he found it difficult to continue on the pace.
The misfortunes of Americans Jonah Street, forced to withdrawal after Stage 2 and Quinn Cody became the fortunes of now top American, Ned Suesse aboard the #81 KTM. In a call to Rally RAIDio after the stage, Ned expressed how enjoyable, yet deeply technical the stage was.
Late finishers from Dakar Team GB/Team Desert Rose, Tobias Younger and Jago Pickering endured a lengthy stage to bring it home and live to fight another day.
Stage 3 proved a difficult one, the technicality of it perhaps suiting Cyril Despres’ riding style better than that of Marc Coma. Coma’s mistake allows Despres a bit of breathing room but don not expect the Frenchman to be anything less than relentless in keeping up the pressure. Coma has been in this position before and seems to thrive when the odds go against him.
Stage 4 from San Juan to Chilecito should prove to be a breathtaking display of a man intent on regaining lost time. Expect a blistering pace along the mixed, stony and dirt track as the bivouac makes its way to the familiarity of Chilecito.
Stage 4 Preview:
1 - DESPRES (FRA) - KTM - 03:48:38
2 - VERHOEVEN (NLD) - SHERCO - +00:08:37
3 - GONCALVES (PRT) - HUSQVARNA - +00:08:39
4 - RODRIGUES (PRT) - YAMAHA - +00:10:03
5 - CASTEU (FRA) - YAMAHA - +00:11:42
6 - COMA (ESP) - KTM - +00:13:04
7 - LOPEZ (CHL) - APRILIA - +00:17:59
8 - FARRES GUELL (ESP) - KTM - +00:18:19
9 - PAIN (FRA) - YAMAHA - +00:19:01
10 - VILADOMS (ESP) - KTM - +00:19:08
1 - DESPRES (FRA) - KTM - 07:31:42
2 - COMA (ESP) - KTM - +00:10:12
3 - CASTEU (FRA) - YAMAHA - +00:17:16
4 - LOPEZ (CHL) - APRILIA - +00:17:37
5 - RODRIGUES (PRT) - YAMAHA +00:19:49
6 - GONCALVES (PRT) - HUSQVARNA - +00:26:00
7 - PIZZOLITO (ARG) - HONDA - +00:27:21
8 - VILADOMS (ESP) - KTM - +00:28:26
9 - PEDRERO GARCIA (ESP) - KTM - +00:29:01
10 - FARRES GUELL (ESP) - KTM - +00:31:00