At 4.15 AM local time, the starting time for the first biker, yesterday's winner Kurt Caselli led out the cortege along the ling stage via Paso San Francisco to return to Chile. 130 bikes have been authorised to start today. After a 392-km link stage, the bikes will tackle a 319-km special finishing in the valley of Copiapo.
With race number 40 on his bib, Riaan Van Niekerk is 13th, among the names that have resonated at the forefront of the Dakar over the last few days. He has been discrete, and the secret of his position is his consistency. He is one of the leading names on the South African endurance circuit, but his first Dakar could prove to be exceptional. The experience of Australian Rodney Faggotter is not much more extensive, but he also features in a very respectable 15th place, ahead of Jeremias Israel Esquerre and Ben Grabham, two men who have shone, to varying degrees, on the Dakar 2013.
After twentieth place, the battle is more intense. Frenchman Michael Metge currently holds this much sought after position, but behind him 10 competitors are grouped within an interval of less than an hour. In this commando, the most threatening rivals are Darryl Curtis, Stefan Svitko or Pablo Rodriguez. Joan Barreda is also part of this group, whose rear is brought up by Americain Kurt Caselli, the winner of yesterday's stage. Alain Duclos, the leading Sherco rider, and Marc Guasch, Gas-Gas team leader, also feature in this group.
There are riders, in the majority, who are taking part in the colours of KTM, Honda or Yamaha... And then there are the others, whose steeds, less common in the bivouac, attract attention. In 37th, Portugal's Mario Patrao is one of them. With his Suzuki RMZ 450 Rally, he looks like he will finish the Dakar on his very first participation: the finish is not far now... This is also what Swedish rider Thomas Berglund must be saying, on his very rare Husaberg. However, he will be frustrated at the finish, since he rubbed shoulders with the top 20 in 2007 and 2010....