Photo: Adrien Van Beveren/Facebook
The only constant in the Dakar rally is change, and that was proven again today when KTM factory rider Sam Sunderland crashed out, requiring a helicopter ride to hospital.
Sunderland had won the first and third stages handily, but now he’s out, and Yamaha’s Adrien Van Beveren leads the pack.
Van Beveren won the stage, which once again proved to be a tricky navigational nightmare. Rally organizers have mixed things up a lot this year, sending riders over the same terrain multiple times, or starting cars first instead of the bikes, or starting all the bikes at once in a mass start (as seen below—this beach section introduced some new hazards to Dakar, especially for Michael Metge, who ended up having to stop, losing time to clean his goggles out after the rider in front filled his eyes with stinging saltwater).
Many riders were confused today, including a pack of frontrunners who missed a key turn. However, as it was many of the fastest racers in that pack of riders, nobody gained significant time because of the error.
Having all the racers together may have been a good thing for Sutherland, as it meant there was someone to see his problems and call rally emergency staff. Sunderland crashed into a hole, getting a compression injury to his back; after the crash, he pushed on another 10 km, but had to quit due to back pain and a loss of feeling in his legs. Hopefully he’ll be right soon enough, and back to racing. It’s not the first time he’s crashed out of Dakar, and he certainly seemed to have what it took to win again this year.
In some ways, this is starting to look like last year’s rally, where the favourite (in that case, KTM’s Toby Price) crashed out on Stage 4, opening up the title chase considerably. Now, Toby Price is the KTM factory team’s best hope, but he seems a bit off his usual pace and not in top shape, perhaps due to spending nine months off the bike due to physical rehab. However, he’s sitting sixth overall, and it’s not impossible to imagine him rocketing back up the rankings.
But given the resurgence of the Yamaha factory team (finishing 1-2 on the stage), KTM is likely facing its toughest Dakar challenge in years. After finishing the day’s riding Adrien Van Beveren’s quotes once again showed why he looks like the favourite to win this year: “ …The Dakar will not be won over 100 kilometres. I told myself I had to be calm and wait for the moment to pass the riders in front of me … I pushed a bit, but, you know, to win the special by ten seconds or by one minute, it’s better to win by one minute.” In other words, he realizes he has to work out that perfect balance of speed and caution, and he seems to be doing a good job so far.
While Van Beveren has set himself up as the man to beat tomorrow, his teammate Xavier de Soultrait is also proving last year’s results were not a fluke. Soultrait finished second behind Van Beveren, so you know he’s fast, but he’s also showing a showmanship that might make him a fan favourite in years to come. Almost every time you see helicopter footage of de Soultrait, he’s pulling an effortless wheelie across a sand dune; he has flair, and the fans (both local, in-person viewers, and TV/Internet viewers from around the world) are starting to love him for it.
Stage 4 Top 10
- Adrien Van Beveren, Yamaha
- Xavier de Soultrait, Yamaha, + 00:05:01
- Matthias Walkner, KTM, + 00:07:10
- Pablo Quintanilla, Husqvarna, + 00:07:32
- Stefan Svitko, Slovnaft, +00:07:45
- Daniel Oliveras Carreras, Himoinsa, +00:08:39
- Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo, Honda, + 00:08:45
- Kevin Benavides, Honda, + 00:09:14
- Joan Barreda, Honda, 00:10:00
- Gerard Farres Guell, Himoinsa, + 00:10:11
Top 10 Overall
- Adrien Van Beveren, Yamaha
- Pablo Quintanilla, Husqvarna, + 00:01:55
- Kevin Benavides, Honda, + 00:03:15
- Matthias Walkner, KTM, + 00:05:23
- Xavier de Soultrait, Yamaha, + 00:07:34
- Toby Price, KTM, + 00:10:14
- Jose Ignecio Cornejo Florimo, Honda, + 00:12:06
- Franco Caimi, Yamaha, + 00:12:48
- Gerard Farres Guell, Himoinsa, + 00:13:05
- Antoine Meo, KTM, + 00:13:47