Going into Dakar’s second day of racing, we knew things were going to get weird. With the race’s first-ever super marathon stage starting, riders needed to preserve themselves and their bikes. They’re only allowed to spend 10 minutes working on their machines at end of Stage 2, before they start incurring penalties.
Add in some difficult navigation, and the result was plenty of riders taking their time, leaving Ross Branch to swoop in for the stage win. Ross who? He rides a KTM for BAS Dakar KTM Racing Team, and is a well-known MX and enduro racer in Africa. He hasn’t been a factor in Dakar in recent years (although he finished top-20 and was top rookie in the past), and maybe today’s victory was a fluke, but we are definitely seeing some changes due to the new race location.
After Branch came Sam Sunderland (KTM); his performance on the day was good enough to move him into first overall in the rally, but he isn’t having an easy time of it. His post-stage interview went on about how difficult the race has been so far, and he’s one of this year’s favourites, due to his familiarity with the terrain. Just imagine how tough it’s been for everyone else?
Third on the stage went to Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna), moving him up to second overall.
There’s been some crashing and banging already, with some big-name riders taking their lumps. Laia Sanz, usually the top female rider and a top-15 threat, is having a tough go of it, with a big crash on her Gas Gas today (she changed teams, leaving KTM in the off-season to ride for subsidiary Gas Gas). She’ll have to start tomorrow with a banged-up body and banged-up bike, thanks to the super marathon rules.
And, there’s also word Bolivian rider Daniel Nosiglia Jager, who nailed a respectable 11th in last year’s Dakar, is already out after having a nasty crash and ending up in hospital to have his noggin checked out.
And then there’s this gem from Andrew Short (Husqvarna) via Twitter:
“Stage 2 was really good for me right until the end when I had a big get off. Ended up P 10 on the day after collecting myself. Smashed my bike really bad and also my body. Around k345 of the 367k special. Happy to be walking and talking. Might need @max25steffens to overnight some helmets to Saudi if I keep crashing at this rate . Massive thanks to @rossbranchbw for picking me up off the ground and letting me follow him to the end. He also won the stage today which is amazing. Today was the super marathon stage also so there is no mechanical work or assistance. Really not ideal but this is what makes Rally so fun and challenging. Especially @dakarrally . Going to try and repair my bike on the clock tomorrow and do my best to try and get the roadbook tower working again so I know where to go.”
In other words, if Short is to repair his bike and carry on, it has to be done while the race clock is ticking tomorrow.
No wonder, then, that Yamaha’s riders took a very careful approach today, with Xavier de Soultrait finishing ninth as the team’s top racer. The team’s management seems to be aware that, after only two stages in, it’s not looking very impressive this year (de Soultrait is its highest-ranked rider at 11th overall). The team actually issued a press release today that basically said their strategy was to not push hard during the super marathon stage. Maybe we’ll see a big turnaround in the team’s fortunes tomorrow? Or maybe not. Either way, KTM is still the top factory team at this point, with Husqvarna nipping away at its heels.
2020 Dakar Stage 2 results
1. Ross Branch, KTM
2. Sam Sunderland, KTM, + 00:01:24
3. Pablo Quintanilla, Husqvarna, + 00:02:21
4. Kevin Benavides, Honda, + 00:03:40
5. Luciano Benavides, KTM, +00:03:44
6. Joan Barreda, Honda, + 00:04:57
7. Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo, Honda, +00:05:58 (00:01:00 penalty)
8. Matthias Walkner, KTM, + 00:05:59
9. Xavier de Soultrait, Yamaha, + 00:06:08
10. Andrew Short, Husqvarna, + 00:07:00
1.Sam Sunderland, KTM
2. Pablo Quintanilla, Husqvarna, + 00:01:18
3. Kevin Benavides, Honda, + 00:01:32
4. Matthias Walkner, KTM, + 00:02:00
5. Ricky Brabec, Honda, + 00:04:11
6. Ross Branch, KTM, 00:04:19
7. Luciano Benavides, KTM, + 00:06:01
8. Joan Barreda, Honda, + 00:06:09
9. Toby Price, KTM, +00:07:34 (00:02:00 penalty)
10. Andrew Short, Husqvarna, + 00:09:24