Today's offroad action came thick and fast on a shortened Stage Five at the 2017 Dakar Rally as torrential rain added to the hazards out on the course. With the previous stage claiming the high-profile retirements of Carlos Sainz (ESP) and Toby Price (AUS) it was up to those championship hopefuls still in the race to make their mark.
In the car category we saw a second stage win of the week for Sébastien Loeb (FRA) who took advantage of a favourable starting position to reel in his rivals. Loeb’s team-mate Cyril Despres (FRA) paid the price of opening the road when he ran into navigational difficulty while fellow PEUGEOT 3008 DKR driver Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA) fared better over the 219km of timed racing. Peterhansel’s solid ride sees the 12-time Dakar winner top the general classification with just one stage to go until the Rest Day in La Paz. Monsieur Dakar’s closest challenger is stage winner Loeb with just a minute separating the team-mates. Completing the Team Peugeot Total 1-2-3 on the leaderboard is Despres who is less than five minutes off the summit.
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Meanwhile Giniel de Villiers (ZAF) of Toyota Gazoo Racing suffered another difficult day with navigational mistakes costing him 30 minutes on race leader Peterhansel. It's more tough news for Toyota following Nasser Al-Attiyah crashing out of the race earlier in the week. The drama in today’s bike race started before a single engine had revved into life with overnight leader Joan Barreda (ESP) and his Honda team-mates each receiving a one-hour penalty for refuelling outside the permitted zone on Stage Four. Barreda’s day turned even worse when racing got underway as the Spaniard found himself lost on the stage along with a number of high-profile riders including Matthias Walkner (AUT) of the Red Bull KTM Factory Team.
The biker with the coolest head on day five was without doubt Sam Sunderland (GBR) who joined Loeb in collecting his second stage win of the contest. As an added bonus Sunderland now takes the overall lead as he looks forward to contesting Stage Six for the first time in his Dakar career. All of the British biker’s previous Dakar attempts have finished in the first week of the race.
The battle for glory in the truck class is building into a classic contest as the second week of racing approaches. Reigning champion Gerard De Rooy (NDL) has fought back from mechanical mishaps on the opening stages to hold the overall lead after five stages. However, Eduard Nikolaev (RUS) of Team Kamaz Master is just a couple of minutes behind and his Russian team-mates Dmitry Sotnikov and Ayrat Mardeev are also in touch with De Rooy. Kamaz clearly have power in numbers and will be drawing up tactics of how to take advantage of this situation in the Oruro bivouac tonight.
Maintaining his consistent attack on the top of the quad race was Ignacio Casale (CHL) who picked up another Top 10 result on the stage amid testing conditions. Casale may have slipped off the overall podium but from fourth position in the general classification he still has plenty to fight for on the stages to come. There’s over 500km of timed racing on the menu again tomorrow with little scope to stop and admire Lake Titicaca and other hotspots on the Bolivian landscape. There’s dunes to be cleared before reaching La Paz and a very well deserved Rest Day.