It was the longest stage of the 2019 Dakar today, 838 km in total, with Husqvarna factory rider Pablo Quintanilla the winner on the day, followed by Kevin Benavides (Honda) and Matthias Walkner (KTM).
It’s good news for all three; Quintanilla has been the man to beat in the FIM’s Cross Country Rally series for years now, but has been unable to clinch the Dakar race. Today’s win puts him atop the standings once again, and he’s looking the closest to a win that he ever has. Benavides, meanwhile, is climbing the top 10 rankings on results like this, and is proving he’s more than just a sturdy water-carrier. And for Walkner, reportedly riding on a severely injured ankle, the chance to keep in the game is important, even as the competition thins out.
And, the competition is thinning out. Today, Lorenzo Santolino, Sherco’s top rider and the fastest rookie this year, fell only 33 km into the special and ended up needing a medevac out.
Sam Sunderland (KTM) also took a tumble, but it was down the rankings, not into the sand. He lost a big chunk of time early in the day, and some wondered if he was struggling in the role of opening the course. Nope, he just had rear brake problems. His solution? Remove the caliper, and keep on riding. So he’s still in it, but far from a threat for the win right now.
Skyler Howes, the well-known riding instructor who’s been putting in a great show on the Klimciw team this year, exited the rally today after separating his shoulder twice in the first 50 km. That’s after already separating it earlier in the race, so he’s put up a tough show to make it this far.
One rider who’s sticking in it, but is probably insane for doing so, is Toby Price (KTM). It was up in the air whether Price would actually be able to race this year, after he recently fractured his wrist, but he’s staying at it. “I’m still in a lot of pain. It’s getting worse,” he said today, and you know that if a barmy Aussie racer says it’s bad, it’s got to be really, really bad. Big ups to him, if he can actually pull off a finish. He’s definitely not showing the alien-like speed he has in other years, though, although he’s moved up to third overall. But he’s got extra motivation to stick to it—more on that in a minute.
One of the weirdest stories of this year is Ricky Brabec (Honda), who slid to second overall today. Brabec posted on social media that someone messed with his bike’s suspension overnight, running his compression clicker in. Skullduggery indeed, and while we doubt the culprit will be found, at least it wasn’t anything too dangerous.
Another weird story today: Xavier de Soultrait has been fairly solid for Yamaha this year, but today he only managed 11th overall. Yamaha’s story? Soul Train was suffering from seasickness from bashing through the dunes. Seasickness in the desert? Sounds like something you’d only have to worry about if you were aboard a prairie schooner.
And one final crazy story: Despite the terrible pain Price seems to be riding through, he’s got very solid motivation to push on—at least, if he wants to keep his mullet.
Price is famous for his business-in-the-front, party-in-the-back hairstyle, but it’s at risk, as he’s made a bet with fellow KTM factory rider Laia Sanz. She’s made a bet that if she gets a top 15 finish, she gets to cut his hair, while if he gets a top 5 finish, he gets to lay a big old kiss on her (reportedly of five seconds duration! So that’s how they do things in Australia …)
Anyway—it’s all down to business now, with only four stages left. As Yamaha’s Adrien Van Beveren said today, “This race is all about managing your risks and keeping it on two wheels.” There’s going to be some jockeying for the top spot in the next four days, but the real, final victory is now likely going to go to the rider who can win by making the least mistakes, not by showing the most speed.
Stage 6 results
- Pablo Quintanilla, Husqvarna
- Kevin Benavides, Honda, + 00:01:52
- Matthias Walkner, KTM, + 00:04:21
- Toby Price, KTM, + 00:04:48
- Adrien Van Beveren, Yamaha, + 00:05:31
- Ricky Brabec, Honda, + 00:07:30
- Stefan Svitko, Slovnaft, + 00:08:20
- Andrew Short, Husqvarna, + 00:13:54
- Luciano Benavides, KTM, + 00:15:13
- Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo, Honda, + 00:21:47
Overall Top 10
- Pablo Quintanilla, Husqvarna
- Ricky Brabec, Honda, + 00:04:38
- Toby Price, KTM + 00:05:17
- Kevin Benavides, Honda, + 00:08:01
- Adrien Van Beveren, Yamaha, + 00:09:15
- Matthias Walkner, KTM, + 00:10:46 (00:03:00 penalty)
- Sam Sunderland, KTM, + 00:21:06 (00:02:00 penalty)
- Stefan Svitko, Slovnaft, + 00:31:56
- Xavier de Soultrait, Yamaha, + 00:38:04
- Andrew Short, Husqvarna, + 00:38:56