It looks like the Dakar Rally’s organizers are second-guessing themselves. After cutting 100 kilometres from Stage 5, due to complaints over the day’s difficulty, ASO officials did the same for Stage 6. The timed special section went from 448 kilometres to 348 kilometres, and the racers were late getting out the gate while organizers sorted it all out.
By day’s end, Honda factory man Joan Barreda had taken yet another stage win, only 13 seconds up on Yamaha’s Ross Branch and 53 seconds up on KTM’s Daniel Sanders.
Sanders seems to be the breakout star at Dakar this year. He’s come on the scene with no Dakar history and been a consistent top-10 finisher so far. It’s similar to Toby Price’s mysterious entrance from the Australian wastelands in 2014; most of the rally world was unfamiliar with him, and Price ended up taking third overall.
Sanders seems to be able to harness the power of his mullet in much the same fashion, and could certainly end up on the podium himself this year.
Price is the overall leader at this year’s Dakar, but the spread from him to 10th-place Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna) is barely over 15 minutes. It’s incredibly tight, considering we’re half-way through the race. In some years, there’s been a 15-minute spread between first and second step on the podium. Throw in a few penalties, some bad luck, and some good luck, and everyone in the top 10 right now has a good chance at the podium, and an outside chance at the overall win.
As for Barreda, today’s winner: Despite never taking the event’s overall victory, he’s certainly setting himself up for a lasting legacy. It might not be the legacy he wants, as his win-it-or-bin-it has resulted in a lot of destroyed bikes, and a lot of early exits. He takes a lot of snide comments from the peanut gallery, as a result. But, Barreda is probably looking at his best chance in years for an overall win, and he hasn’t had the usual list of crack-ups this year. Usually, he racks up a few medium crashes before he gets the big one, and so far, we haven’t heard about that in 2021. Maybe, finally, he’s going to prove his true potential?
Now, it’s rest day for the race, and there’s going to be lots of banging the bikes back into shape, because the marathon stage comes next, with a 471-kilometre special.
Marathon stages are often the ultimate test of a Dakar rider and bike, as they’re unable to have outside help for mechanical work on the night after the opening day of the marathon. If there’s wrenching to do, they’ve got to do it themselves. For that reason, riders need to keep their machine in top shape. It’s the stage that can make or break a Dakar attempt.
So far, Andrew Short’s fuel-related exit (Yamaha), Jamie McCanney’s mechanical breakdown (Yamaha) CS Santosh’s crash (Hero) make them the only factory riders who’ve exited the rally. There’s been the usual list of backmarkers and mid-pack riders exiting, though. Two more bit the dust this morning; Sara Jugla and Alexandre Bispo spent the night out in the desert, and were unable to reach the start line on time this morning. However, thanks to the Dakar Experience class, they’ll now be able to re-enter, they just won’t get a finisher’s medal.
That’s got to be tough, but at least they’re riding with the spirit of classic Dakar racing. Sleeping under the stars, working together to overcome the tough times of the race; it’s good to see Jugla, Bispo and others like them able to at least continue, even without the finisher’s medal. In many cases, they’ve given everything to be there, and who knows? They may learn enough that, if they can afford to return, they’ll earn that finisher’s medal next year.
Dakar, Stage 6 rankings
- Kevin Benavides, Honda, 03H 45′ 27”
- Ross Branch, Yamaha, 03H 45′ 40” (+ 00H 00′ 13”)
- Daniel Sanders, KTM, 03H 46′ 20” (+ 00H 00′ 53”)
- Ricky Brabec, Honda, 03H 47′ 51” (+ 00H 02′ 24”)
- Matthias Walkner, KTM, 03H 48′ 41” (+ 00H 03′ 14”)
- Adrien Van Beveren, Yamaha, 03H 49′ 00” (+ 00H 03′ 33”)
- Toby Price, KTM, 03H 49′ 21” (+ 00H 03′ 54”)
- Joaquim Rodrigues, Hero, 03H 50′ 02” (+ 00H 04′ 35”)
- Sam Sunderland, KTM, 03H 51′ 21” (+ 00H 05′ 54”)
- Pablo Quintanilla, Husqvarna, 03H 51′ 55” (+ 00H 06′ 28”)
Dakar, overall rankings
- Toby Price, KTM, 24H 08′ 43”
- Kevin Benavides, Honda, 24H 10′ 59” (+ 00H 02′ 16′) (00H 02′ 00” penalty)
- Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo, Honda, 24H 11′ 40” (+ 00H 02′ 57”)
- Ross Branch, Yamaha, 24H 12′ 24” (+ 00H 03′ 41”) ( 00H 01′ 00” penalty)
- Xavier de Soultrait, HT Rally, 24H 12′ 24” (+ 00H 03′ 41”)
- Sam Sunderland, KTM, 24H 13′ 06” (+ 00H 04′ 23”)
- Joan Barreda, Honda, 24H 15′ 08” (+ 00H 06′ 25”)
- Lorenzo Santolino, Sherco, 24H 22′ 29” (+ 00H 13′ 46”)
- Skyler Howes, Bas Dakar, 24H 23′ 55” (+ 00H 15′ 12′) (00H 06′ 00” penalty)
- Pablo Quintanilla, Husqvarna, 24H 23′ 56” (+ 00H 15′ 13”)