Dakar can be the cruelest of races, and that was evident all through Stage 9 today.
First, look at KTM’s Toby Price. In an amazing feat of bodge mechanicking, Price managed to earn a second on Stage 8, racing the day with a nasty gash through his rear tire’s sidewall. He’s a modern-day Dakar legend, earning a podium in his rookie year, winning two overall titles since, never finishing off the podium when he finishes.
Price will not finish the 2021 Dakar, as he’s crashed out with a broken collarbone. Judging from the early reports, it looked far worse at first, but his family seems to think he’ll be OK soon enough. After all, broken bones are old-hat for Price; his neck is titanium-reinforced, he snapped his femur in the 2017 race, and he raced the whole 2019 rally with a broken wrist, and won.
He’s a tough guy, but thanks to his tough luck, KTM’s Sam Sunderland is now the factory squad’s only hope at a win, with Matthias Walkner’s earlier clutch problems ruling him out of contention.
On to Ross Branch! The Yamaha factory rider had his own horrible bad luck in Stage 7, when his chain tangled itself around his swingarm after a jump. Branch sucked it up, and despite losing massive time, earned two spots back in Stage 8, and looked like a top-10 finisher for sure. He’s gutsy, and makes back time when it counts.
Unless his engine fails, that is. Branch’s Yamahammer went kaput on Stage 9, and he’s out. That puts Branch, Franco Caimi and Jamie McCanney out with engine breakdowns now, leaving Adrien Van Beveren as the only Yamaha factory rider.
It’s a terrible look on the team; KTM’s only had the one breakdown so far (Walkner), and there’s muttering that was due to him wanting a non-standard clutch setup. Honda, so far, has no breakdowns. Yamaha’s lost three riders due to breakdowns (Andrew Short exited with bad fuel, not the team’s fault). Branch said Yamaha’s offer to join the factory team was the reason he was able to race Dakar this year, but if he’d stuck with the KTM-based Bas Dakar team, he’d probably be looking at a top-10, maybe top-5 finish. Instead, he’s going home.
This all goes back to Yamaha’s chronic lack of funding. The Dakar factory team isn’t really a factory team; it’s an effort from Yamaha Europe, mostly through Yamaha France. Its budget is wayyyyy behind KTM and Honda, probably closer to Hero and Sherco, or maybe even the HT Rally/Speedbrain/Bas Dakar privateer teams. Yamaha used to dominate Dakar, but unless the factory starts to chip in more money to bike development, it’s going to slip into irrelevance. The riders are good, but the bikes just aren’t holding together.
One other notable exit: Luciano Benavides, Kevin’s brother and rider for the Husqvarna factory team, is also out, with a broken arm.
As for the stage itself, Honda’s Kevin Benavides won, followed by teammates Ricky Brabec and Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo. Joan Barreda Bort might have ended up fourth, but he banged himself up in a crash early in the stage, and ended up riding through a bit of a stupor for a while, he said. That could also explain a costly navigation error he made.
Instead, KTM’s Sunderland nabbed fourth. He had his own big crash on the day, smashing his roadbook equipment, and was only able to finish by following other riders.
So, we get the results below. With some riders stopping to help others at crash scenes, it’s possible we’ll see the results changed a bit, as the organizers give that lost time back.
Dakar, Stage 9 rankings
- Kevin Benavides, Honda, 04H 49′ 15”
- Ricky Brabec, Honda, 04H 50′ 33” (+ 00H 01′ 18”)
- Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo, Honda, 04H 50′ 49” (+ 00H 01′ 34”)
- Sam Sunderland, KTM, 04H 59′ 26” (+ 00H 10′ 11”)
- Matthias Walkner, KTM, 05H 03′ 34” (+ 00H 14′ 19”)
- Joan Barreda, Honda, 05H 03′ 44” (+ 00H 14′ 29”)
- Lorenzo Santolino, Sherco, 05H 05′ 58” (+ 00H 16′ 43”)
- Daniel Sanders, KTM, 05H 06′ 32” (+ 00H 17′ 17”)
- Skyler Howes, Bas Dakar, 05H 11′ 54” (+ 00H 22′ 39”)
- Pablo Quintanilla, Husqvarna, 05H 12′ 45” (+ 00H 23′ 30”)
Dakar, overall rankings
- Jose Ignaco Cornejo Florimo, Honda, 36H 51′ 00”
- Kevin Benavides, Honda, 37H 02′ 24” (+ 00H 11′ 24”) (00H 02′ 00” penalty)
- Sam Sunderland, KTM, 37H 05′ 34” (+ 00H 14′ 34”)
- Ricky Brabec, Honda, 37H 08′ 26” (+ 00H 17′ 26”)
- Joan Barreda, Honda, 37H 20′ 00” (+ 00H 29′ 00”)
- Daniel Sanders, KTM, 37H 29′ 23” (+ 00H 38′ 23”) (00H 07′ 00” penalty)
- Skyler Howes, Bas Dakar, 37H 31′ 25” (+ 00H 40′ 25”) (00H 06′ 00” penalty)
- Lorenzo Santolino, Sherco, 37H 33′ 08” (+ 00H 42′ 08”)
- Pablo Quintanilla, Husqvarna, 37H 51′ 37” (+ 01H 00′ 37”)
- Stefan Svitko, Slovnaft, 38H 05′ 07” (+ 01H 14′ 07”)