The incredible odyssey of 'Bang Bang' Joan Barreda: before 'I left that I doubled' in the Dakar

Seventh stage of the Dakar, on the way to Al Dawadimi. The helicopter followed Joan Barreda and, at that moment, the man from Castellón waved. The best sign for those who had come to the stage with a Spartan spirit. At dawn on Friday, his team gave him a walk to applause when, limping and in pain, he got out of his caravan to slowly and carefully get on his motorcycle. His clavicle was broken as a result of the fall two days before the rest day. Barreda continued to rebel against that fate that the Dakar seems to deny him. If motorcycle riders are of a different breed among motor sportsmen, Barreda is positioning itself in a category apart in this issue.

Last week, the Honda rider marked another milestone in his career and on the Dakar: 29 stage wins, just four out of two legends, Stephane Peterhansel Y Cyril Then, who with 33 lead the motorcycle category. Already last year it surpassed Marc Coma (25) and this to Jordi Arcarons. But unlike the first three, Barreda has not yet achieved the final victory in a test that has thrown him all kinds of obstacles and misfortunes.

But in that seventh stage Barreda achieved the feat of finishing third, just over eight minutes behind the leader, re-engaging in the fight for victory. Gritting his teeth and pain (“to tears”) he also completed the eighth on Monday suffering another fall that made him see the stars for a few moments, because the clavicle came out again. Although the toughest race in the world does not want to be conquered by ‘Bang Bang’, the pilot is not willing to be defeated by it despite the troubles he is experiencing.

Bouncing between the stones

Already in the first stage he had a fall that caused tendinitis. The Castellón lost forty minutes due to the error of the road book as Ricky Bravec, Toby Price or last year’s winner, Kevin Benavides. The ballast forced him to attack more than he might have needed in some key stages. Barreda achieved two more victories and rejoined the group of leaders. Opening the track on the fifth day and with a hellish pace, ‘Bang Bang ‘bounced between stones when he fell when he looked at the’ tripmaster ‘to confirm the route. The fall was of such caliber that his companion, Pablo Quintanilla, who was sailing with him, wanted to warn the medical helicopter. The Chilean was so impressed that he picked up his pace for the rest of the stage. Barreda continued clenching his teeth and arrived in pain and suffering at the finish line. The question at night was to see if Barreda could continue in the race. He had broken his clavicle.

The team modified his driving posture to find a position where pain from the injury would be relieved. On the bike he had to tighten his body so as not to feel it. His mechanics softened the suspensions to cushion the impacts and so he returned to the race. But on Monday he came out again through the horns of his motorcycle when it dug into a dune and even the machine fell on him. He had to drive with one hand for a long time. Incredibly, he came within four and a half minutes of the winner of the day, Sam Sunderland. And that he lost a little over ten minutes … due to a navigation error. Barreda is fifth before the ninth stage, fourteen and a half minutes ahead. Two great stages remain as decisive, especially the eleventh. In his conditions, ‘Bang Bang’ only seeks to finish but, as difficult and incredible as it may seem, he can still win that Dakar that he resists so much.

Opportunities are over

During the rest of the year, Joan Barreda maintains a low profile for the general public. With Honda he has maintained mutual loyalty since 2014. He is one of the best drivers of the last decade in the Dakar. Few can follow his very high average pace, the one that some reproach him to justify some of the falls that have diminished his chances of victory and have loaded him with a huge catalog of injuries. The Dakar has punished his body and mind for several years. It is incredible that fifth place is his best result, in 2017.

Barreda arrived at the Dakar in 2011, but dropped out on the second day. Since then, has won stages in all editions. Between the reliability, the crashes, the odd misunderstanding and a good dose of bad fortune at key moments, the Dakar has been slipping away year after year. At 39, he has few opportunities left. In 2022 he is revolting like a maniac against Dakar itself. Certainly, Barreda himself acknowledges that he had arrived magnificently prepared for the event of the year, and on board the winning team of the last two editions. Hence his brutal spirit of rebellion against the test and his cruelty towards the Spaniard. Because ‘Bang Bang’ is literally turning to tears.

Even salt in the engine

A Honda leader since 2014 and for several years, Barreda led the Japanese brand in the Dakar when their mounts were not up to the mark of KTM. That first year he won five stages but finished seventh due to a problem in the fork of his engine due to a crash. In 2015, in the mythical stage of the Salar de Uyuni, salt entered its engine and the breakdown made him lose three and a half hours when he was leading the test. In 2016 the engine broke again. When he opted for victory the following year, he was sanctioned with an hour penalty for a refueling not allowed, as well as other drivers of the brand. The sanction would be withdrawn months later, but the damage had already been done. It was the year of his best classification.

In 2018 he retired when he was second due to knee and wrist problems. In 2019, the third stage went off course when he lost his way and fell off a cliff of rocks when I was a leader. In 2020, he arrived at the Dakar conditioned by a cracked rib in a pre-race accident. In the last edition he had reduced the differences in the absence of two stages to just 15 minutes behind the leader, Kevin Benavides, when a calculation error prevented him from refueling and he ran out of gas, adding another abandonment.

The history of Barreda in the Dakar is worthy of the cruel spirit of the event, which has particularly affected the Spaniard from Castellón. He once said that he would like to tell his children that one day he won the Dakar despite so many vicissitudes and problems. It would be a miracle if ‘Bang Bang’ could win this Dakar under its current conditions. He has several days of suffering left. If for an amateur ending is ecstasy, for Joan Barreda it will mean that, in his own way, he will also have defeated the toughest race in the world.

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