Ignacio Casale (pictured, from Stage 4) is back on top.
His second-place finish in Monday’s Stage 8 of the Dakar Rally (Uyuni – Iquique) to 19-year-old Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli has propelled him to the overall lead in the quad category once again.
Casale finished almost eight minutes back of Ferioli, but his main competition – the man seeking to take his Dakar title away, Poland’s Rafal Sonik – entered the bivouac almost a half an hour behind him in eighth.
And what had been a 22-minute edge for Sonik after Sunday has completely flipped to a six-minute, 49-second lead for Casale just one day later.
It was especially satisfying for Casale, who said he had to ride the final kilometers of Sunday’s stage with fuel in his left boot and then fix his quad until late that night in the bivouac.
“[Sunday] was a nightmare,” Casale explained. “I’ve never experienced anything like that on a quad or a bike, the cold, the mud, the water…It was very tough and very unpleasant. The quad suffered and I had to do a fair bit of soldering. Yesterday was very complicated.
“This morning, I woke up with a bit more motivation. I’d repaired the quad. We set off early but nobody wanted to start. It was cold. In the end, we set off. There was water on the salt lake and it was majestic. From the start, I felt good and fast. I think I’ve ridden a good special.
“I’ve regained time on my rivals, Rafal Sonik and [third-place overall] Sergio Lafuente. I’m happy about that, because I went to sleep late yesterday. I worked very hard to prepare the quad. In the evening when I arrived in Uyuni, I really just wanted to go home…In the end, today was a great stage and I want to be Number 1 again.”
And right now, that is where he’s at. But if Casale’s motivation has been re-fired, you have to think Sonik’s own has done the same.
A post on Sonik’s Facebook page acknowledged that he had lost the overall lead but one phrase stands out: “The game is over.”
With five stages to go, their duel is now officially on.