(Due to weather, Stage 9 of the 2018 Dakar was canceled).
Every year at Dakar, there’s always one day where everything goes nuts and falls apart for a bunch of top-placed riders. For the 2018 edition, that day was today.
Matthias Walkner was the winner of the day – or at least, at time of writing, he was the stage winner – but the general madness started early and still might not be over.
The day got off to a bad start with Luciano Benavides crashing. The brother of Honda’s star Kevin Benavides, Luciano was lined up for a top-10 finish today, and was tapped to possibly move up to a factory ride next year. Now, he’s in hospital instead.
But it gets worse. Big brother Kevin Benavides, along with Toby Price and Antoine Meo, took a wrong turn mid-stage, and got hopelessly lost, ending up wandering around 10 km off-track. Then, Joan Barreda, Stefan Svitko and Ricky Brabec, starting late because of a staggered release, saw their tracks and followed them into their mistake, also ending off-course.
Not everyone made that mistake; Adrien Van Beveren, Gerard Farres, Pablo Quintanilla and Matthias Walkner all took the correct turn, and looked like they were headed towards building a tremendous lead, with Van Beveren leading the pack.
With the massive lead he would have built up, the race would have been Van Beveren’s to lose—but with victory almost assuredly in sight, he binned his bike only three kilometres from the end of the special, losing the front wheel in a washout. The result? A broken collarbone and banged-up chest and spine. So, instead of being the first non-KTM rider to win since before the race moved to South America, Van Beveren is in a hospital bed.
That left Walkner the winner of the stage, Quintanilla second and Farres third. While nobody doubts Farres’s ability to race, he rarely exhibits the raw speed of frontrunners like Price, Barreda and Benavides. Post-stage, he said he’d realized mid-day just how tricky the navigation was, and took the time to concentrate on finding the way. It seems to have paid off, as he’s made a tremendous jump in the standings. Quintanilla, meanwhile, is still barely in the top 10, thanks to a mechanical issue earlier in the week that killed a ton of time.
Speaking of Benavides, Price, Barreda et. al.: the Lost Patrol would have done well to follow Farres’ example, as by the time they got back on the correct route, they were all well behind Walkner, possibly torpedoing any chance of a win. To add insult to injury, Svitko crashed, possibly breaking a bone (he’s headed for X-rays); that could end his race. Later, Barreda also crashed, losing consciousness for a while, and while he’s in second now, there’s talk he might be done.
The mayhem was not limited to the male frontrunners; top female rider Laia Sanz also cracked up badly (see below). She’s still in the race, though.
Now: After all that madness, you’d think the drama might be over. But now, with everyone still angry about getting lost, and blaming it on the roadbook, there’s talk Honda might be appealing the results, and if that does happen, don’t be surprised if the day’s results are all mixed up again.
To add yet another layer of silliness, it’s also turning out that several of the day’s top riders may have missed Waypoint 7, in which case they’d get another hour added, as a penalty. If that happens, we’ll probably see Price rocket back up the standings, as he’s one of the riders who did get Waypoint 7, and stage winner Walkner is one of the riders who didn’t!
In closing: as we’ve noted already this year, rally organizer Marc Coma has been saying he wanted to bring navigation skills back into play at Dakar. Today was no doubt a wake-up call to many riders that being fast and following a rider who’s staggered start left before you isn’t enough anymore; you’ve got to navigate for yourself. There are rumours that the next few days of racing have more of the same in store, so while Walkner is sitting pretty on top now with a 39-minute lead over Joan Barreda (presuming no penalties are handed out), don’t be shocked to see a completely different podium arrangement by end of day tomorrow.
Stage 10 Top 10
- Matthias Walkner, KTM
- Pablo Quintanilla, Husqvarna, + 00:11:35
- Gerard Farres, Himoinsa, + 00:16:21
- Oriol Mena, Hero, + 00:20:45
- Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo, Honda, + 00:23:14
- Andrew Short, Husqvarna, + 00:24:13
- Mark Samuels, MEC, + 00:24:50
- Daniel Oliveras Carreras, Himoinsa, + 00:25:25
- Armand Monleon, Daming, + 00:34:18
- Juan Pedrero Garcia, Sherco, + 00:36:24
Overall Top 10
- Matthias Walkner, KTM
- Joan Barreda, Honda, + 00:39:42
- Kevin Benavides, Honda, + 00:41:23
- Gerard Farres, Himoinsa, + 00:47;46
- Toby Price, KTM, + 00:50:18
- Antoine Meo, KTM, + 01:03:35 (00:01:00 penalty)
- Ricky Brabec, Honda, + 01:21:37
- Stefan Svitko, Slovnaft, + 01:25:09 (00:01:00 penalty)
- Pablo Quintanilla, Husqvarna, + 01:30:24
- Johnny Aubert, Gas Gas, + 01:40:57 (00:19:00 penalty)