The fifth and final stage in Peru was just like the ones that preceded it.
The cars and trucks —racing on their own separate course— went through another day in hell. The Peruvian south and its mountainous dunes showed no mercy, but the competitors got to take a breather with a stretch on the beach prior to the long transfer to Arequipa
Full steam ahead for Joan Barreda. The Honda rider —far from the overall lead on Wednesday morning— rocketed nine places up the general classification with an impressive victory, with more than 10 minutes to spare over Matthias Walkner and Kevin Benavides.
Adrien van Beveren held onto the overall lead by a wafer-thin margin, while Pablo Quintanilla lost ground.
In the car category, Stephane Peterhansel brought his experience to bear and danced around the final dunes in Peru to cap an impeccable performance with his first win of the year ahead of Bernhard ten Brinke.
He now has a margin of more than 30 minutes over Carlos Sainz in the general classification.
Meanwhile, Nicolas Cavigliasso shone in the quad category by claiming his first Dakar win in what was only his fifth stage in the rally.
He is worth keeping an eye on over the next few days, just like Eduard Nikolayev, who claimed his third stage in the truck category and put clear daylight between him and the second-place in the overall.
Performance of the day
Antoine Meo has good reason to be happy after finishing fourth last Wednesday.
The off-road prodigy set the race on fire in 2016 with two stage wins in his first Dakar, but he also sustained a hand injury that kept him off his official KTM for a year and a half.
Furthermore, his recovery was hampered by several bouts of surgery. The Frenchman, relieved to regain his form at the Dakar, is hoping to keep getting stronger as the race goes on.
A crushing blow
Tuesday's stage winner Sébastien Loeb
found out how quickly joy can turn to ashes.
The final stage on the dunes of Peru buried the hopes of the former WRC driver, who was forced to withdraw from his third Dakar after spending over two hours stuck in the sand.
Co-driver Daniel Elena was too much in pain to start the second special after hurting his tailbone on the descent from a dune.
Stat of the day
Boasting a margin of more than 40 minutes over Alexis Hernandez in the quad classification after just five stages, Ignacio Casale is head and shoulders above the rest of the field.
The Chilean rider is fully in control and has claimed three victories and two second-places in five stages so far, despite the category having more entrants than ever at the start in Lima (49).
Defending champion Sergey Karyakin calling it quits as a result of a broken wrist will only make things easier for Casale.