Dakar 2022: A recital by Sunderland and Al-Attiyah
Dakar 2022: A recital by Sunderland and Al-Attiyah
The penultimate special on the Dakar won praise from Carlos Sainz who enjoyed his second stage victory on this edition: “camel grass, dunes, navigation, riverbeds and stones… it was a really complete stage and quite difficult to open on”.
The loop out from Bisha and back heading due north to enter the Province of Mecca before turning round and returning to Asir, in the southwest tip of the kingdom. With a total of length of 501 kilometres, 346 km were raced against the clock, with 42% made up of sand and a third by dunes, some of which were very soft, presenting the pretenders to the crown tomorrow with the possibility of making the difference before the final effort. “The toughest stage of the Dakar,” was how it was summed at the finishing line by Pablo Quintanilla, who took advantage of it to climb into second place in the general rankings behind Sam Sunderland.
He had felt the trap closing in on him. Having perfectly analysed the situation in which he found himself yesterday, Adrien Van Beveren was duty bound to perform well to avoid his direct rivals and the rest of the pack swooping down on him. Instead, a handful of minutes spent hesitating in the search for a waypoint, after only 4 kilometres of the special, made the challenge unmanageable. The strategists who took care in calculating where to finish yesterday in order to start in a favourable position this morning were able to go full gas today. The most consistent among them this year, namely Sam Sunderland, reaped the biggest benefits and was able to regain his place at the race’s summit, whilst Pablo Quintanilla, who is also a smart tactician, climbed into second place, 6’52’’ behind the leader who can now home in on victory with a little more serenity. Matthias Walkner also leap-frogged Van Beveren, who will have to grudgingly console himself with a fourth-place finish that awaits him tomorrow because the podium is not a realistic proposition since he trails the Austrian rider by 8’15’’. In the midst of this fight for overall victory, for the record, Kevin Benavides picked up the 6th success of his career on the Dakar, a little like Carlos Sainz who lost his hopes of a podium finish much earlier in the rally.
The Spaniard’s victory, his 41st on the Dakar, did not elicit much of a response in the mind of Nasser Al-Attiyah, who boasts 44 of them and is much more preoccupied with the lead he possesses over Sébastien Loeb. After further efforts by the Frenchman to attempt to reduce his time deficit, at the finishing line he had only clawed back five minutes, which were then made obsolete by a penalty for speeding. A golden opportunity now presents itself to Al-Attiyah on the stage to Jeddah, which he will start with a cushion of 33’19’’. Paradoxically, quad rider Alexandre Giroud seems more stressed out than the Qatari in light of the forthcoming 169-km special, for which he has a lead of 2 hours and 41 minutes over Kamil Wiśniewski.
In the T3 category, Quintero’s extravaganza continued with an 11th stage win out of 12 specials, whilst “Chaleco” López nonchalantly continues his route towards the title. The road captain of the South Racing team will hit the road tomorrow with a lead of 55 minutes over his team-mate Sebastian Eriksson. Austin Jones will be scared stiff after having lost his place of general standings leader to Gerrard Farrés (see Performance of the day) over whom he will have to gain 1’41’’ in order to triumph.
In the truck race, the leader is still the Kamaz team’s Dmitry Sotnikov, with an advantage of 8’18’’ over his team-mate Eduard Nikolaev.
Performance of the day
Discretion sometimes has its virtues, including on a Dakar bivouac where there is a tendency for showing off one’s might. Gerard Farrés is the type of competitor who prefers quiet progress, but progression all the same. Indeed, during his career as a biker, for a long time the Spaniard contented himself with playing second fiddle, as a water carrier for Marc Coma in Africa and then for “Chaleco” in South America. And yet, he craftily climbed onto the final podium on his 10th participation with 3rd place in 2017, pinched for a handful of seconds from Adrien Van Beveren. Since his switch to four wheels two years ago, he has only obtained places of honour in the SSV category and has not really dazzled on the 2022 edition of the rally.
However, Farrés’ method is astounding! The Catalan driver has only won one special, on stage 7, leaving the spotlight to the Goczał brothers in particular and waiting in ambush behind Austin Jones, the major favourite in the category. Today, he took advantage of the mishaps encountered by the American, who was delayed by a broken differential, to pounce and take the lead in the general rankings. With a cushion of only 1’41’’ to protect his hopes for the title, nobody knows whether this dramatic change in events will last until the finishing line. Austin Jones is resourceful, but then again, so is Farrés…
There is nothing more frustrating than coming unstuck with the finishing line in sight. This is exactly what happened to Martin Michek today. As if that was not enough, it is the second time he has had to swallow this bitter pill. The Czech participated in his first Dakar just two years ago, but he had to throw in the towel in almost the same manner as today due to a mechanical problem on the penultimate stage.
Struck by a rare liver disease that should have required a transplant according to doctors, Michek miraculously recovered and climbed back onto his bike less than two months afterwards, with the goal of returning to the rally last year for his second participation. After a 10th place finish, he continued to improve and went on to win the FIM bajas world cup.
As a result, the KTM rider arrived at the rally this year with the firm intention of doing better than the previous attempts. Following three top ten finishes, Michek approached the day’s stage in 18th position in the general rankings, almost 2 hours behind the leader, with the status of fifth best privateer. Even though the mission to improve upon last year’s display seemed compromised, the RallyGP rider had not given up.
However, when he broke his front wheel after the second time check point, this threw a huge spanner in the works… He was able to repair his machine and resume the stage, but the outcome was disastrous: he lost more than 4 hours and 30 minutes and slid down to 37th place in the general rankings. It is a crushing blow for the leading light of the new Czech school of riders, but it is odds on that he has not had his last word on the matter. He has not lost sight of his goal of one day becoming a factory team rally rider.
Photo: ASO/Charly Lopez