After two days where navigation was not an issue, the Dakar now ups the difficulty level and begins to show the differences in quality between the competitors. The opening stretches of the third stage played out off-piste with sand and tricky fords. The were even some trial-like tracks which left many of the less-skilled aspirants trailing behind. Later, the landscape began to resemble that of the previous stages as the route approached the neutralization section. The timed special restarted at over 3,500 metres in altitude and continued uphill all the way to Jujuy.
Shortly after setting off, Paulo Gonçalves managed to overtake the two adversaries who had started out ahead, the Portuguese rider opening the track until approximately the first waypoint. Gonçalves led the field from kilometre 30 to 180. Paulo crossed the line to post the fifth fastest time on the day.
But it was Joan Barreda who stole the show on today’s stage. The Spaniard rode the Honda CRF450 RALLY at a blistering pace, with flawless navigation, to romp home with a massive surplus over the pursuing pack. In addition to the day’s first prize ‘Bang Bang’ now commands at the top of the overall standings.
Frenchman Michael Metge, who dropped time yesterday to be able to accompany his team-mates, successfully clawed back the time to finish among the top fifteen on the day. American Ricky Brabec, proving very consistent thus far in the rally, placed in the top ten and establishes himself ninth overall.
The team now gets down to the preparations for the coming days that will feature the rally’s first dunes at altitude. Tomorrow’s stage concludes in the new camp at Tupiza, Bolivia’s first location in this edition of the Dakar.