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2017 Dakar, Stage 7

After Stage 5 was shortened due to rain, Stage 6 was canceled and followed by a rest day, you’d think today’s Stage 7 would have been a return to life as normal at the 2017 Dakar rally. You’d be wrong.

Once again, the day’s riding was shortened due to weather; with the canceled sections of the past few days, the ASO had scrambled to put together a revised stage today that ended in the Salar d’Uyuni salt flats. Riders who struggled through the salt during a rain storm in 2015 are probably happy to not be slogging through there in the rain today.

The winner today was Honda’s Ricky Brabec, which is no doubt a bit of a surprise to everyone, including himself, by the sound of his post-stage quotes. He was the first rider from the US to win a stage since Kurt Caselli took a stage victory in 2013.

It probably helped Brabec that it was only a 174-km special, and he’d had two days off. It’s his first stage win, and that means the team will pay him a nice bonus. Second place went to his teammate Paulo Goncalves, who made it clear from the start that he intended to make a full-on assault on the podium. However, he’s under no illusions that pure speed alone will win him the title.

“I will just try to do the best as possible every day and try to recover and be as often at the front as possible,” he said. “It is not easy to recover one hour only through speed. I need others to make mistakes with navigation.”

And that’s the reality. He’s still more than an hour back from the front, and more than 40 minutes off the podium. The Honda team won’t make a decent showing this year unless a whole lot of their competitors don’t. But given the up-and-down nature of this year’s race, that’s entirely possible.

Ricky Brabec is the first rider from the US to win a stage since Kurt Caselli. Photo: Honda

Sam Sunderland (KTM) gave up very little ground in the overall standings today, finishing in third on the stage. He gained almost six minutes on Pablo Quintanilla (KTM), further cementing his grip on first place.

The number of withdrawals has slowed down, as riders have had some time to repair their bikes in recent days, and haven’t had to flog them as hard.

However, the leader of the Malle Moto class (unassisted) is possibly facing a trip home after he reportedly ended the stage on a tow rope. Since this is the first marathon stage, where riders are allowed no outside help, Jose Kozak wouldn’t have access to spare engine parts even if he did have some packed away. Tonight, riders are restricted to using whatever parts they have with them to repair their bikes — no teammate to cannibalize bike parts from means no backup bits. Unless a rider is willing to tow him again tomorrow, Kozak may be done.

One of the day’s best results, relatively speaking, was Australian Todd Smith, who got seventh. Smith has a Honda endorsement deal back home, but was offered a ride from KTM for the rally, and is really making the most of it. Don’t be surprised to see Big Red suddenly taking more interest in his Dakar career after this race is over.

Stage 7 Results

1). Brabec, Honda
2). Goncalves, Honda, +00:01:44
3). Sunderland, KTM, +00:04:43
4). Barreda, Honda, +00:06:51
5). de Soultrait, Yamaha, +00:07:10
6). Metge, Honda, +00:08:21
7). Smith, KTM, +00:09:39
8). Walkner, KTM, +00:09:59
9). Quintanilla, Husqvarna, +00:10:28
10). Nosiglia Jager, Honda (+00:10:39)

Overall standings

1). Sunderland, KTM
2). Quintanilla, Husqvarna, +00:17:45
3). Van Beveren, Yamaha, +00:22:16
4). Farres Guell, KTM, +00:28:36
5). Walkner, KTM +00:34:17 (00:05:00 penalty)
6). de Soultrait, Yamaha, +00:38:33 (00:01:00 penalty)
7). Renet, Husqvarna, +01:02:37
8). Goncalves, Honda, +01:05:22 (00:48:20 penalty)
9). Barreda, Honda, 01:14:47 (01:01:00 penalty)
10). Duplessis, KTM, +01:15:36

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