‘Marathon mud bath’ takes out riders

2015-01-14 00:00

OF the five South African riders who started the Dakar last weekend, only two are still in the race — solo rider Albert Hintehaus on his KTM, and Willem Saaijman on his Yamaha Raptor quad.

Both riders are in the rear, just aiming to finish. Before yesterday’s marathon 451 km race, they had to strip and clean their bikes from the frames up after Monday’s Stage 8, which was a marathon mud bath over salt pans that had received 15 cm of rain overnight.

The muddy brine knocked out most of the top riders in the Dakar, including South Africa’s Riaan van Niekerk, riding for KTM Broadlink.

Van Niekerk’s Dakar ended at Kilometre 365 after he got salt into the airbox. By then the brine had worked its way into the electrical systems and radiators of all the bikes, most of which had to be push-started at the first refuel. Race leader Joan Barreda lost three hours to electric issues, allowing Marc Coma to regain the lead.

Among the cars, first placed Qatari driver Nasser Al-Attiyah is leading Imperial Toyota’s Giniel de Villiers by about 20 seconds overall.

Al-Attiyah yesterday said he needed 30 minutes with an oxygen face mask to recover from the altitude sickness he had suffered during the high stages in Bolivia on Monday.

“I vomited three times and Matthieu [Baumel] asked me to stop. But no, I didn’t want to lose any time.

“I wasn’t able to eat anything yesterday, I only had a soup and a cup of green tea,” said the champion racer, who went on to finish fastest ­despite losing a wheel.

Today’s racing sees different special stages for the riders (371 km) and drivers (359 km) but both groups first have to stay awake over five hours of low-speed liaison sections.

The navigators will have to be especially sharp on these slow sections to ensure the drivers don’t exceed the speed limits by as much as a kilometre or — worse — fall asleep.

By now everyone is fatigued after 11 days of endurance racing and at this point of the Dakar, a slide into tree on a tar road is as likely to end a race as a mechanical failure in the desert.

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