Team HRC keeps options wide-open in Bolivia as a lightning Paulo Gonçalves claims 7th stage honours. Epic stage finish for Joan Barreda, who breaks handlebars in a fall and yet fights on to retain leadership.
Portuguese Paulo Gonçalves was victorious as the Dakar 2015 riders rolled into Uyuni, Bolivia with its parc fermé where the bikes will be isolated overnight. The rules governing the end of the first marathon stage specify that, where necessary, machines can only be repaired by the actual competitors themselves.
The mountainous zones that led from Chile to Bolivia amounted to a tough test for bikes and riders alike. The altitude of over 3600 metres for the 321 kilometres were taxing enough, but add in dire meteorological conditions which included rain and snow in Uyuni, and the result was dusty tracks turned into a veritable quagmire.
Gonçalves hit hard from the outset, keeping up an even pace through most of the race, and forcing a more ferocious final stretch, that saw the Team HRC ace finish the special stage with the best time. As yesterday’s winner, Hélder Rodrigues, was first away and open the road until shortly after CP1 where he was overtaken by Walkner. He was reached by team-mate Gonçalves too, and the two rode the rest of the stage side by side.
Joan Barreda got off to a fine start in the timed special, but as the stage played out, he took a tumble, and managed to break the handlebars into two. Nevertheless, with 120 kilometres still to go, the never-say-die Spaniard dug deep and limited the time conceded to arch-rival Coma to a mere six minutes. The Honda ace’s cushion allows him, however, to stay ahead in the general rankings.
It was a relatively laid-back and trouble-free stage for Jeremías Israel and Laia Sanz. Both posted top twenty finishes, preferring to not take any unnecessary risks in such adverse conditions.
Honda South America Rally Team got their second week of competition underway with a nice, steady pace. Daniel Gouet and Javier Pizzolito were once again the best of the bunch; scoring 23rd and 25th place finishes respectively. Jean Azevedo claimed 31st.