Photo: Flavien Duhamel/Red Bull Content Pool
Going into Stage 8 of the Dakar, there were two big questions: Could Honda’s Joan Barreda stay in the rally, and would KTM turn up the heat?
The answers were yes and yes. Despite Barreda’s potentially race-ending knee injury in Stage 7, he managed to stay aboard the bike and race today, and ended up racing with the leaders for much of the special, although he did lose time against Toby Price (KTM). But that wasn’t enough to win the day.
The stage victory went to KTM’s Antoine Meo, with Honda’s Ricky Brabec in second and Toby Price in third. This is significant on several levels; it shows Meo can consistently run at the front, and it shows Brabec can also run at the front. Was he held back for the early stages, in case another Honda rider needed parts during the marathon stage? Or is this section, the same area he won a stage last year, just suitable to his riding talent? Does this performance mean another team might look at Brabec more seriously, and give him a chance he isn’t getting with Honda? Probably not, due to team politics; an American rider doesn’t bring much in the way of media attention or sponsorships, sadly.
As for Toby Price, today was a day he needed to start clawing back time from the leaders, and he started to do so. But after his third-place finish, he’s still fourth overall, 00:07:35 back from first; that’s not insurmountable, but with Stage 9 canceled due to rain, he’s running out of time to catch up.
The Stage 9 cancellation means riders will still have to ride the liaison to the start of Stage 10, but they won’t be racing the special stage, as there was a landslide across part of the route. Some riders will probably welcome the cancellation, as the long highway ride might be tiring, but not as tiring as bashing through tight mountain tracks. Others, like Meo, saw their strategies disrupted, and now must rework their plans.
The day’s racing went quite badly for Xavier de Soultrait; the Yamaha factory rider, who’s quickly becoming a crowd favourite and turning into a Dakar star, crashed in the special at the 171 km mark. Rumour is he has a broken left elbow and knee; with Yamaha’s Franco Caimi also out, their factory team is starting to look mucho weak, just when the extra manpower could have been very handy in the final stages.
Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna) also had a bad day, finishing 40th after suffering serious bike trouble. It’s a huge blow for him, as this is the second year in a row he’s won the FIM’s Cross Country Rally championship but missed out on a Dakar win. He’s currently in 12th overall, and it’s pretty much impossible to see him getting a podium at this point.
One other crash from today, a weird one: Laia Sanz, the female KTM star, hit a llama. She’s fine; the bike’s a bit banged up, but she was able to carry on, earning a top-10 finish for the day—no mean feat, considering the special was just under 500 km long, and the second part of a marathon stage, on top of her encounter with the local wildlife.
Stage 8 Top 10
- Antoine Meo, KTM
- Ricky Brabec, Honda, + 00:01:08
- Toby Price, KTM, + 00:02:45
- Kevin Benavides, Honda, + 00:05:52
- Stefan Svitko, Slovnaft, + 00:06:46
- Matthias Walkner, KTM, + 00:07:00
- Adrien Van Beveren, Yamaha, + 00:08:44
- Joan Barreda, + 00:12:00
- Gerard Farres Guell, Himoinsa, + 00:13:16
- Laia Sanz, KTM, + 00:14;15
Overall Top 10
- Adrien Van Beveren, Yamaha
- Kevin Benavides, Honda, + 00:00:22
- Matthias Walkner, KTM, + 00:06:34 (00:01:00 penalty)
- Toby Price, KTM, + 00:07:35
- Joan Barreda, Honda, + 00:08:01
- Antoine Meo, KTM, + 00:09;56 (00:01:00 penalty)
- Stefan Svitko, Slovnaft, + 00:31:55 (00:01:00 penalty)
- Ricky Brabec, Honda, + 00:31:58
- Gerard Farres Guell, Himoinsa, + 00:37:59
- Johnny Aubert, Gas Gas, + 01:10:02 (00:04:00 penalty)