Stage 5 win for KTM’s Sam Sunderland for overall lead

Dakar 2017, KTM Red Bull Factory Racing, Sam Sunderland, Matthias Walkner

Sam Sunderland finished ahead of Paulo Goncalves of Portugal and French rider Adrien Van Beveren, who were just 22 seconds apart. The day was another game changer following the drama in Stage 4 when Toby Price, last year’s winner crashed and retired with a broken leg and Joan Barreda, the overall leader picked up a one-hour penalty. Sunderland now has a 12-minute advantage in the overall standings over Chilean rider Pablo Quintanilla, while Van Beveren is 16.07 minutes off the leading time.

Sunderland said it had been a heavy day and that the declining weather conditions had created visibility problems and additional hazards. “It was a tough day even though the second part was cancelled, we still had 300 km in the rain and cold. I started off today with a good feeling and I tried to really focus on the navigation. There were one or two really tricky places. It would be fast and then there would be a difficult part, then fast again, so you had to change the rhythm a lot. Now I have to try to stay calm and focused because it’s only day five. It was a heavy day but the bike was awesome and the team is great. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

On Thursday, after the stage, Sunderland remarked that he was finding the navigation very difficult, but he was one of the few riders that did not falter on Friday. His Austrian factory teammate Matthias Walkner opened the stage and looked as though he was about to take an early lead when he too made a mistake at the 170 km mark. Sunderland hit the front, just over an hour into the timed special but by then Walker had lost some 10 minutes. He was not the only one. It was a day where most of the top riders had trouble with the conditions and navigation, and one that introduced a new set of names to the top of both the stage and overall results.

Walkner finished his day down the order at 20th place after having lost 33.06 minutes. He is now fifth overall, 29 minutes behind Sunderland.

Walkner: “Actually the stage was pretty good up until km 170. But then we had to leave the main road and the instructions were so unclear that I got lost. It was difficult in the beginning with the rivers and then at the end in the dunes. It was raining like hell and so hard to see, and to see the road book that I think it was a good decision to cancel the second part.”

Since entering Bolivia on Thursday, riders not only have new ground to cover but also have to accustom themselves and their machinery to altitudes over 3,500 meters. On Saturday they continue north to La Paz, the Bolivian capital, but to arrive safely ahead of the rest day on Sunday they still have to ride another 786 km, of which 527 km is timed special. Organizers have added another layer of difficulty onto their challenge by giving them the longest stage on the day before the rest day.