The mayhem continues in Saudi Arabia, with a combination of crashes, general bad luck and organizational ineptitude making for a messy 504-km Stage 3.
Ross Branch, who surprised everyone with a tough win in Stage 2, lost all his momentum when he hurt his shoulder, falling 90 km into today’s special. He was able to continue riding, but has dropped back down the standings (from first to 21st!), with a lot of ground to make up. However, he slogged it out for 325 km today with the injury, and no doubt he’s tough enough for more.
He was better off than Adrien Van Beveren, though. The Yamaha factory rider only made it three klicks into the special before having a massive crash on-camera (see below). He’s done for 2020, after putting up a fairly average showing in the first two stages. His removal from the race means Yamaha’s lost one of its best chances to get a podium this year.
To make things worse, Yamaha’s other great hope, Xavier de Soultrait, also crashed. Unlike Van Beveren, he was only going 15 km/h and avoided serious injury, but he shredded his arm in the spill, having to jury-rig a tourniquet to finish the stage, losing time.
The bad luck extended to the Hero factory team (riding what’s basically a re-badged BMW-era Husqvarna machine). After signing veteran Paulo Goncalves, long known to be one of the savviest riders at Dakar, it looked like Hero was taking this race very seriously. Alas, Goncalves’ engine blew up today, leaving him the victim of yet another mechanical breakdown. He’s had terrible luck with mechanicals the past few years, and it’s a bummer to see him taken out this early.
Speaking of mechanicals—bike breakdowns have also been the curse of Ricky Brabec’s existence the past few years, but so far, his Honda’s held together. It’s held together well enough that Brabec was able to win the stage and take first overall, despite some last-minute skullduggery on the part of the organizers. Turns out there was some issues with a waypoint. As per the organizers, “Due to a technical problem that affected the GPS of the bikers, the race stewards have decided to modify the results recorded at the finishing line of the special. The results for the stage will be established using the times achieved at way-point 53, after 389 km of the initially planned route.”
Rather than screw over the majority of the field, the ASO simply neutralized the final waypoint results and called the special’s results at the preceding waypoint. That chewed away some of Brabec’s lead, but still left him a bit of a cushion.
He’s now backed up by, his teammate, the steady Kevin Benavides, in second overall, who’s made the transformation from South America to Saudi Arabia just fine. Joan Barreda Bort and Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo are in fourth and fifth, which means that despite how improbable it sounds, there are four Honda factory riders in the top five.
There’s plenty of time for that to change, and no doubt savvy riders like KTM’s Toby Price and Sam Sunderland can make up a lot of time as the race progresses. However, this is the smartest ride the Honda team has made as a whole for many years, and if their bikes and riders can hold together, it looks like 2020 will finally see Big Red’s Dakar team gain some respect.
But KTM’s still very much in it. Matthias Walkner holds down third, Price is in sixth, Luciano Benavides is seventh, and Sunderland is ninth. History tells us that any one of those riders could be on the podium, or maybe even win the whole thing. It does seem, though, that this year’s rule changes regarding mapbook work are slowing Team Orange down a bit. The advantage has gone to teams with riders who can navigate on the fly, not desk jockeys who are using GPS imagery to help the racers shave time off their course.
2020 Dakar Overall Standings
1. Ricky Brabec, Honda
2. Kevin Benavides, Honda, + 00:04:43
3. Matthias Walkner, KTM, + 00:06:02
4. Joan Barreda Bort, Honda, + 00:11:02
5. Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo, Honda, + 00:11:19 (00:01:00 penalty)
6. Toby Price, KTM, + 00:11:58 (00:02:00 penalty)
7. Pablo Quintanilla, Husqvarna, + 00:12:37
8. Luciano Benavides, KTM, + 00:14:20
9. Sam Sunderland, KTM, + 00:17:10
10: Xavier de Soultrait, Yamaha, + 00:19:55
Stage 3 results
1. Ricky Brabec, Honda
2. Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo, Honda, + 00:05:56
3. Kevin Benavides, Honda, + 00:07:22
4. Matthias Walkner, KTM, + 00:08:13
5. Toby Price, KTM, + 00:08:35
6. Joan Barreda Bort, Honda, + 00:09:04
7. Luciano Benavides, KTM, + 00:12:30
8. Xavier de Soultrait, Yamaha, + 00:13:55
9. Pablo Quintanilla, Husqvarna, + 00:15:30
10: Skyler Howes, Klymciw, + 00:15:43