Broadlink KTM’s Riaan van Niekerk rode a safe day to finish a comfortable 27th overall for the day 11 minutes off the pace set by Spaniard Juan Barreda on the Honda. Barreda pipped Marc coma by just 37 seconds who was again ahead of Despres by just over a minute. The racing stage was narrow and tight with some stony sections and river crossings. It was a long first day for the riders finishing off with just over 800 Km’s on the odo.
Todays stage: Tuesday 7th January: San Rafael to San Juan
Liaison sections: 292 km Special stage: 243 km
It was a dramatic 1st day of the marathon stage.
The first riders left the bivouac at 4:30am this morning to start the 292 Kilometer liaison section that would lead them to the start of their first marathon stage, that had been cut down to 243 Kilometers due to heavy rains that had damaged the race track in the past few days. Riders were warned about hotter temperatures than yesterday’s stage which saw the mercury hit 42 degrees, many riders had to withdraw due to dehydration. This was also the highest special stage of the rally, with riders crossing the pre Andes at 4200 meters passing the Aconcagua volcano, which stands at 6,962 m. The cars and bikes would split off on separate routes as the tracks would be too technical for the cars and trucks. Tonight the riders sleep in an isolated bivouac and have to service their bikes themselves. Broadlink KTM’s Riaan van Niekerk’s technical skills came into play today when the stage turned extremely technical as riders fought to summit the mountain. On one particular climb, Riaan really struggled and he said that he didn’t know how the rest of the field would get up. “the bikes don’t have any power at that altitude, I had to try twice on the one hill, my tyre is finished!” He said that the tyres have worn badly and tomorrow will be tough, riders will have to concentrate on saving their equipment and making it to the finish. Riaan said there were not many bikes at the finish and did not know that he had finished 13th on the stage and moved up in the overall rankings to 12th. A great place to be at this stage of the race.
Ruben Faria crashed heavily and has been taken to hospital for observation, he is ok, but he is out. Several of the front runners got lost today, taking the wrong vally and not being able to make the climb back up the mountain. Ben Grabham was amongst them and has lost some 2 hours on the leaders, he is still in the race and will have to fight to get back to the front. Frans Verhoeven also crashed out with a fractured arm or shoulder. Zambian Dave Reeve is also out with another leg injury, more details tomorrow.
Tomorrows stage: Wednesday 8th January: San Juan to Chilecito
Liaison section: 59 km Special stage: 352 km Liaison section: 151 km
The balance of the marathon stage will be super demanding, with super tough navigation in the beginning of the long and tough stage, the challenge will be to make the finish with already badly worn tyres.