Ross Branch #18 on his way to fourth on stage four.
PHOTO CREDIT: Yamaha Racing.
After the drama from yesterday as well as the extremely close racing in the motorbike category, we were certainly very eager to kick of the stage today. This is what occurred:
Honda back at it
Winning yesterday’s stage, Toby Price (KTM) once again had the duty of opening the special today. It was therefore inevitable that the Australian would lose some time. However, the KTM rider lost just under 15 minutes today as he lost the lead early in the stage by means of navigational errors.
It was then Joan Barreda Bort (Honda) who took over the lead, ready for a second 2021 stage win. After two difficult days, the Spaniard crossed the line, 6 minutes ahead of Yamaha rider, Ross Branch.
Yesterday’s overall leader, Howes (BAS KTM) struggled with the conditions and would eventually lose the overall lead, thanks to a 13 minute deficit to Barreda.
Overall, this means that the lead swaps once more, with Barreda now slotting into second; 15 seconds shy from the lead, which Xavier De Soultrait (Husqvarna) now holds. This is an extremely close margin.
A further three minutes and 9 seconds sees Kevin Benavides (Honda) in third, followed by the consistent Yamaha of Branch, 1 minute further.
Less than 5 minutes separate the top 5
With Howes slotting into fifth place overall after today’s stage, the top 5 are separated by a mere 4:26 minutes. With key stages still remaining, it is anyone’s win to take, with KTM not far behind.
Toyota powering ahead
With a one-two position on yesterday’s stage, Toyota Gazoo Racing looked to have a tough day as Nasser Al-Attiyah and Henk Lategan would open the road for the others.
Yet, this did not deter the leading Toyota’s as they once again dominated the stage, with Al-Attiyah and Lategan trading fastest times throughout the stage. Separated by a mere 44 seconds at 298km, everyone held their breath to see which Toyota would cross the finish line first.
Yesterday, Al-Attiyah made it clear that he would attack Peterhansel on the 5th and 6th stage. With only five minutes between the leading duo, anything could happen.
Yet, today, Al Attiyah already punched hard by winning his third consecutive stage and the fourth of the 2021 edition. The two X-Raid Mini’s of Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz fought back hard but just missed out on a stage win by a mere 11 seconds. This moved Lategan to third on the stage, with Sainz almost 3 minutes behind.
Sainz did, however, threaten Al-Attiyah’s stage lead at seven points, but seemed to have backed off towards the finish. Is this perhaps a strategic plan to allow the Toyota’s to open the road tomorrow?
Both Brian Baragwanath (Century Racing) and Giniel de Villiers (Toyota Gazoo Racing) also drove at a steady pace, with both losing over 12 minutes to Al-Attiyah on the stage.
This means that Al-Attiyah would once again open the road tomorrow, a recipe that proved to work over the past three days. Just under 5 minutes now separate the Toyota and the Mini. It is anyone’s guess.