Dakar: Barreda angry over decision to start Stage 8 in raw conditions

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After an electrical problem effectively finished his bid to win the Dakar Rally in Monday’s Stage 8, Joan Barreda has criticized the race organizers’ decision to begin the stage in what he saw as abysmal conditions.

Rainfall yesterday at the Uyuni (Bolivia) salt flats caused the start to be delayed but eventually, the riders were told that they would be going ahead with their journey through them.

But the flats were still damp, and the resulting salt water mix proved hazardous for many riders’ vehicles.

Also complicating matters were cold temperatures, which caused at least one rider, Gerard Farres Guell, to suffer from hypothermia and be taken away by medical personnel.

Fortunately, Guell appears to be alright. But Barreda is not alright with what he feels was a bad call by the organizers.

“In the end, it’s been collateral damage, and a disgrace what they’ve made us do today – to race in a sea,” Barreda said in a Honda release after losing more than three hours on Monday.

“It was out of place. All the work on all the projects that we’ve done has gone down the pan. To make a decision like that just wasn’t right.

“Today, you couldn’t see a thing. Visibility was zero. We were floating around on top of the water. They ordered us to start and this is what happened. My Dakar is over.”

Barreda’s teammates on the factory Honda squad, Team HRC, empathized with his frustrations.

Laia Sanz, who soldiered to a fifth place finish, said she would have preferred not to have gone ahead with the start and that “the conditions were not for racing.”

Paulo Goncalves, the new second-place man in the overall standings, claimed the riders didn’t want to race for safety reasons: “It was too dangerous. We shouldn’t have run today,” he said.

Jeremias Israel crashed after he had crossed the salt flats and ended up towing Barreda to the finish at a much reduced speed. To him, he feels the decision to start on Monday has marred the whole event.

“This race should never have been disputed,” he said. “It was a compromise, but with those conditions, the start was too dangerous…It’s a pity that a stage like this one has destroyed a race that had been so interesting.”

Finally, there was Helder Rodrigues, who also suffered from electrical issues. He attempted to sum it all up.

“It’s been a really difficult day for the team,” he said. “We had problems and we’ve lost it all: My place in the overall standings, Joan’s leadership [in the overall standings]…It’s been really hard.

“The salt has been disastrous for the bikes and has broken up everything. I want to carry on, win some stages and help the team to finish with the best result possible.”

Eli Tomac’s near-perfect season ended perfectly

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From the start, Eli Tomac wanted to go into the season-ending race at Ironman Raceway with the 2020 red plate already in his possession. That final race has been know to devolve into muddy conditions and it is best not to leave things to chance.

For a rider with an almost perfect record of overall podium finishes, one would not have thought there would be much drama at the end of Round 11 at Budds Creek, but it took until the last lap of the final moto for Tomac to achieve his goal.

One reason was that Tomac’s near-perfect season was not so perfect. From the very beginning at Hangtown, Tomac struggled with poor starts to his events. Getting a bad jump out of the gate and finishing fourth in Moto 1 that weekend was not the auspicious beginning he wanted in search of his third consecutive 450 outdoor championship.

The hallmark of Tomac’s season has been overcoming bad starts. He rode through the field at Hangtown and nearly stood on the podium. Then he won Moto 2 and finished second overall. It was his first of nine consecutive overall podiums. Tomac came back the following week for a perfect sweep at Pala.

In Round 3, Tomac once again got off to a bad start. He finished fifth in Moto 1 at Thunder Valley – and then won Moto 2 in a duplication of his opening round.

In Round 5, Tomac had his worst performance until that time. He finished seventh in Moto 1. Nearly halfway through the season, a pattern was firmly established with his Moto 2 win.

Vanessa O’Brien, Kawasaki USA

One should recall that the hallmark of Tomac’s season was strong finishes. Four the next four weeks Tomac failed to podium only one time in a moto. On that occasion, he would stumble in Moto 2 at Spring Creek in Round 8 before scoring his second perfect race at Washougal.

And that is where it got interesting. Tomac left Washougal with a 50-point advantage over Marvin Musquin. It was just the scenario Tomac had seesawed his way through the season to achieve. But it was too good to be true.

In most of his previous bad performances, there was an extenuating circumstance for Tomac’s bad start: a fall or an off course excursion. This time, he simply rode an uninspired race and finished seventh again to match his worst single moto performance. He could not fully rebound in Moto 2 and finished third.

For the first time in 2019, Tomac failed to stand on the overall podium in fourth. Worse still, he lost 10 points to Musquin and no longer had his one-race cushion.

But this is a season of recovery for Tomac. At Budds Creek last week it was reported that Tomac’s lackluster performance in Washington was due to his overdoing his chores on his Colorado ranch. Rested and restored, Tomac scored his third perfect race with Moto 1 & 2 wins. And this time, he looked sharper than he had in any previous race.

Tomac did all the could do by winning both motos, but in the closing laps at Budds Creek he needed a little help to clinch the title. As it turned out, Tomac needed the perfect performance to clinch his third consecutive championship.

In Moto 1, he narrowly edged Ken Roczen and Musquin, to give the three championship contenders a sweep of the top three spots; that was not enough to regain his cushion.

Roczen was close enough to force Tomac into The Ironman needing to score points to permanently affix the red plate on his Kawasaki in 2020, but just as Tomac’s season has been marked by second half improvements, Roczen’s has been marred by a lack of performance in the second motos.

Musquin passed Roczen late in Moto 2 last week and could have extended the drama one more week if he could have caught second-place Jason Anderson. Musquin could not erase an 11-second deficit to the runner-up and now Tomac’s almost perfect season has a distinctly perfect feel to it.

Vanessa O’Brien, Kawasaki USA

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