The rest day is over, and now the Dakar riders are mid-way through the marathon stage. And now, the skullduggery begins, with Toby Price (KTM) looking like he’s probably lost his chance at a win, thanks to the rulebook.
In the marathon stage, riders have no access to their team’s mechanical support squad at day’s end. They’re given 10 minutes to work on their bike, and then it gets wheeled away and kept under watch overnight. They can’t access their machines for further wrenching, until the start of the next day.
That’s bad news for Price, who somehow finished the day on a tire with the sidewall shredded all to pieces. Duct tape and zip-ties got him to day’s finish, but it’s obviously no solution for tomorrow.
In the old days, the answer would have been easy: Price could have grabbed a rear tire, and maybe a rim, from some other rider who’s out of the hunt for the win. That was a big part of the old “water carrier” role: Providing spare parts for a teammate in trouble, without aiming at the overall victory. Thing is, most teams don’t have a water carrier anymore. That idea went out the door during the race’s South American days, when teams loaded up on potential winners, instead of a mix of winners and support riders.
Given Price’s teammate Matthias Walkner is realistically well off the podium, thanks to clutch troubles earlier in the race, he could have taken over this role for KTM, donating his rear rim and tire. Except, there’s that pesky six-tire rule for the factory riders this year. The elite racers are limited to six tires for the race, and if they use a tire that’s not stamped with their ID number, they get a half-hour penalty. However, it’s unclear if factory riders can swap between each other. After all, cannibalizing a teammate’s bike is one of the oldest stories at Dakar.
The other age-old story is, teams trying to figure out what the rulebook actually allows. So now, KTM is likely asking the organizers if Price can take Walkner’s tire tomorrow without also taking on a half-hour penalty.
But even if Price does get a half-hour penalty, it’s pretty much inevitable that he’ll have a disastrous mechanical failure if he doesn’t get a new tire. In that respect, he really has no choice.
To sum it all up, it’s the perfect Dakar scenario: Danger, repairs done under tough conditions, and confusion over the rules.
Ricky Brabec won Stage 7, but he’s still only in 8th overall. Still, all of Honda’s best riders are in the top 10 now, with no big-name withdrawals, while several of their top competitors have either dropped out or suffered disastrous mechanicals.
If Price suffers a major penalty tomorrow, that leaves Sam Sunderland as the only KTM rider who’s a threat at first-place overall. Husqvarna’s riders will be the biggest threat then, as they’ve got the experience and equipment that make a major difference at Dakar.
What about Yamaha? Well, Ross Branch was looking like he had a decent chance at the podium, and then this happened (in case you missed it in the first clip):
You can’t blame him for being heartbroken; he’s most likely lost his chance at a top-three finish, although he battled back a lot of the time he lost, and he’s only dropped to 15th overall. By the way, on social media, Branch said “I’m so happy that i had the @alpinestars airbag vest on for today. It really does its job keeping us safe with the high speed crashes!” He might be out of contention for the win, but maybe that A-Stars vest is the reason he’s still in the race at all, and not headed home with a broken collarbone?
Finally: Let’s leave you with this look at David Knight. Knighter, an off-road legend, is finding Dakar extremely challenging. That should give you a good idea of just how tough this race is!
Dakar, Stage 7 rankings
- Ricky Brabec, Honda, 04H 37′ 44”
- Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo, Honda, 04H 39′ 51” (+ 00H 02′ 07”)
- Skyler Howes, Bas Dakar, 04H 40′ 03” (+ 00H 02′ 19”)
- Sam Sunderland, KTM, 04H 40′ 36” (+ 00H 02′ 52”)
- Daniel Sanders, KTM, 04H 40′ 58” (+ 00H 03′ 14”)
- Xavier de Soultrait, HT Rally Raid, 04H 41′ 41” (+ 00H 03′ 57”)
- Toby Price, KTM, 04H 42′ 49” (+ 00H 05′ 05”)
- Luciano Benavides, Husqvarna, 04H 43′ 33” (+ 00H 05′ 49”)
- Joaquim Rodrigues, Hero, 04H 43′ 39” (+ 00H 05′ 55”)
- Franco Caimi, Yamaha, 04H 44′ 30” (+ 00H 06′ 46”)
Dakar, overall rankings
- Jose Ignaco Cornejo Florimo, Honda, 28H 51′ 31”
- Toby Price, KTM, 28H 51′ 32” (+ 00H 00′ 01”)
- Sam Sunderland, KTM, 28H 53′ 42” (+ 00H 02′ 11”)
- Xavier de Soultrait, HT Rally Raid, 28H 54′ 05” (+ 00H 02′ 34”)
- Kevin Benavides, Honda, 28H 59′ 00” (+ 00H 07′ 29”) (00H 02′ 00” penalty)
- Joan Barreda, 29H 01′ 49” (+ 00H 10′ 18”)
- Skyler Howes, Bas Dakar, 29H 03′ 58” (+ 00H 12′ 27”) (00H 06′ 00” penalty)
- Ricky Brabec, Honda, 29H 06′ 23” (+ 00H 14′ 52”)
- Daniel Sanders, KTM, 29H 07′ 42” (+ 00H 16′ 11”) (00H 07′ 00” penalty)
- Luciano Benavides, Husqvarna, 29H 08′ 38” (+ 00H 17′ 07”) (00H 01′ 00” penalty)