The only Canadian left in the Dakar Rally, Montreal’s Patrick Trahan, is still hanging in after a brutally long (670 km) and fast day to complete Stage 5 of 14. Trahan moved up to 77th overall after an excellent 58th place in Stage 5’s special test in mountainous terrain, ranging from rocky to blindingly dusty. Only 104 riders survived to qualify to start the sixth stage.
Trahan, quoted on a release from the Honda Europe team with which he is riding, said, " ‘Dust’, that’s my short summary for the day. It was tough on your body because of the length … [I] did not make too many mistakes. There were a lot of people alongside the tracks who have had to give up because of crashes, etc. My rear brake stopped working after a fall, which was another reason to be very careful."
French ace Cyril Despres remains in firm control of the motorcycle portion of the Dakar on his KTM with a huge 37-minute lead. He got some breathing space when his closest challenger, countryman David Casteu on a Sherco, had a bad fall and was forced to retire from the rally with a leg injury. Taking over second place is Chilean rider Francisco Lopez Contardo on an Aprilia 450, who took the win on the day but still has a long way to go to catch Despres.
Third place overall is held by Helder Rodriguez of Portugal, on a Yamaha. Only six and a half minutes behind Lopez Contardo, he’s definitely putting pressure on the local rider.
Italian motorcyclist Luca Manca was critically injured during the sixth stage Thursday, suffering head injuries in a fall from his KTM bike.
Reports said he was moved to the Cobre de Calama hospital, where officials described his condition as critical and said he also had several bone fractures and other minor injuries.
Seven Canadians entered the 2010 Dakar, probably the world's toughest cross-country rally. After four of 14 stages on Wed., Jan. 6 (after which Carlos Sainz of Spain held the overall lead driving a Vollkswagen), only one Canadian – Trahan – is left.
The rally started on New Year's Day in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and makes a huge clock-wise loop across the Andes into Chile, then north through the Atacama Desert (claimed to be the world's driest location) and back south-east to Buenos Aires 17 days after the start.
Travel conditions are brutal, ranging from heavy, flour-like sand to rocky terrain, of course complicated by the drastically changing altitude of the route.
Weather has also made things worse, with temperatures ranging up into the mid 40s C, compounded with heavy rain on the third day out.
The entrants were Lawrence Hacking of Georgetown and Christian Gerouard of Ottawa, Ont., (driving a Mason Motorsports prorunner chassis, powered by a 1.9-litre Volkswagen turbodiesel with a five-speed Toyota transmission), Patrick Trahan of Montreal, B.C.'s Don Hatton and Rick Hatswell, Andrew Scott of Toronto (a transplanted Aussie) and Dirk Kessler, originally from Vancouver but now living in San Francisco.
Hacking was the first Canadian to finish the Dakar (on a bike) and was trying to double that with a four-wheel finish.
Unfortunately, Hacking and Gerouard were the first ones out, with a bizarre mechanical failure that turned out to be repairable but not within the time allowed to make it to the checkpoints at the end of the day.
Mechanic Jay Thornton said, "I saw that the center section of the crank pulley gave way. . . It looked as if one of the bolt bosses cracked and then just let go effecting the rest of the bolt pattern. . . To add to it after the pulley left the crank gear, it ruined the bolt pattern and sheared the bolts too."
Hacking was philosophical as ever, telling wheels.ca that, "We are now going to follow the rally, support the Canadian bike riders and learn as much as possible about what is takes to finish this beast."
Hatton was out of the rally on Day 3, suffering from severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and nausea, plus problems that left his times very late.
Part of it was mechanical – his bike got a batch of bad fuel (which affected many riders), which slowed him. But in addition, he'd been waved away from the start without his official time card; he then had to go back for it, which lost him time. Then he had to argue with the officials to let him continue. Unfortunately, it was all for naught by the end of the day.
Hatswell was forced to withdraw after several crashes made him late, and also injured a knee which made riding extremely difficult.
His wife blogged that, "what has been labeled one of the toughest days in Dakar history took its toll on Rick and he made the extremely tough decision that it just wasn't safe for him to continue. He had just worked too hard to go a very short distance. . . He has a couple of minor injuries but otherwise he is fine . . . extremely disappointed . . . but fine. I am more proud of him for making the right (the very tough) decision than I would have been if he finished."
Scott was forced out by time problems. Difficulties with the bad fuel caused his bike to overheat and be very slow; that coupled with delays on route to generously help others plus the inevitable falls ran him over the allowable time on Day 4.
His wife reports that "Andrew spent most of the night for special number 3, fighting the sand. Andrew's bike, like many of the competitors, over-heated in the difficult sandy terrain, especially with the heavy use of the clutch and brakes, I think. He became dehydrated and fatigued. He stopped to help others, as is his nature. Due to these factors he was unable to make the last two check points. This has place Andrew officially out of the race."
Never ready to say die, like Hacking and Girouard, Scott plans to continue riding the route (skipping the special stages) in order to act as support crew for others still in the race.
Dirk Kessler's problems are still unknown to wheels.ca; he was ranked 130 out of 148 after Stage 2, but was missing from the results of Stage 3 (where only 114 bikes were ranked).
That leaves Patrick Trahan of Montreal, who's riding a Honda and is associated with the Honda Europe team based in Belgium. It's Trahan's third attempt at the Dakar, and after four stages he's hanging in despite several crashes, including one that wrecked his navigation gear – he's nine hours behind the leaders, but 20 ahead of the final-ranked bike, which huge disparity gives you some idea of the immense difficulty of this event.
As for the overall situation, it's going to be hard to bet against either Cyril Despres (France, KTM) or David Casteu (France, Sherco) given the lead they have over the rest of the field.
2009 winner and pre-race favourite Marc Coma (Spain, KTM) suffered a major time penalty for an error on the first stage and will have a hard fight to get back into contention over the next week and a half.
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