Jan 16, 2018
The ninth stage of the Dakar Rally was completed untimed with competitors enjoying a more relaxed pace on the route from Tupiza, Bolivia to the city of Salta in north western Argentina. Travelling in convoy, the riders made short work of the 500km journey, crossing the border and arriving in Salta around mid-day.
With five more stages to contest, covering approximately 3,200km, there is everything to play for in the motorcycle category. The top-six riders are only separated by 10 minutes, a time that could easily be lost or gained in one single stage. Matthias Walkner still leads the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing riders in the standings, the Austrian knows the next few days will be crucial.
Matthias Walkner: “The next five days are going to get really exciting. It’s so close at the top of the standings, there are six or seven guys that could still take the win. Normally I enjoy the terrain in Argentina, but I’m not so keen on the camel grass of recent times. I much prefer the fast pistes and rivers that we get to cross. If the route is like that and I can get to Cordoba without making too many mistakes, then I’m confident of a good result.”
Toby Price lies just one-minute behind Walkner in fourth overall. Feeling a little sore after such a hard week in the saddle the former Enduro World Champion will need to call on all of his off-road experience to tame the terrain in Argentina.
Toby Price: “I’m looking forward to racing in Argentina again, from what we have had in previous years, I think it’s going to be quite difficult. There’s still a long way to go – a lot of kilometres left to race. I am happy with my pace, to be able to get this far so soon after coming back from injury is a real confidence boost. I’ll just keep on doing what I’ve been doing – taking each day as it comes – and hopefully I’ll be somewhere near at the finish.”
Antoine Meo now has two stage wins under his belt on this 40th edition of the Dakar Rally. Starting first on tomorrow’s stage 10 won’t be easy for the Frenchman. Nevertheless, on-form and riding well on his new KTM 450 RALLY, Meo will be pushing hard on the last five stages of the event.
Antoine Meo: “Opening the stage tomorrow is going to be a bit of a disadvantage. After a long liaison, the special starts in the dunes and with no tracks to follow it’s going to be tough leading from the front. There are still five stages to go and I’m less than 10-minutes from the lead and anything can happen in Argentina as we’ve seen before. We still have another marathon stage and the longest day of the event still to come at over 900km. I’m feeling good though and looking forward to the challenge.”
Laia Sanz was lucky to complete stage eight, an impact with some of the local wildlife thankfully didn’t result in a crash for the Spaniard, just some minor damage to her bike. Laia is looking forward to the final stages in Argentina, but hopes for some cooler conditions than forecast.
Laia Sanz: “I think Argentina is going to be tough, we have another couple of marathon stages on Thursday and Friday and anything can happen on those days. I’m a little afraid of the heat in Argentina, if it gets really hot, it’s not only tiring but it makes it hard to concentrate too and you can make mistakes with your navigation. We have five stages left to go, so I’m hoping they all go well and I can make the finish.”
Enjoying the best result of his rally so far on stage eight, Luciano Benavides now looks forward to the final days of the event in his home-country with added enthusiasm. The Salta local was given a hero’s welcome from the crowds as he entered the province. Some good performances on familiar terrain could secure Benavides’ position as this year’s top rookie.
Luciano Benavides: “I am so happy to be in my home country of Argentina now. I am really looking forward to racing these final five stages. The fans have been amazing here and gave us such a big welcome. I don’t think I will have much of an advantage riding here, I don’t know any of the stages. I do know the type of terrain though and hopefully I will be able to push a little more than before.”
The team will be glad of today’s rest as tomorrow’s (Tuesday’s) stage 10 is another long one. A total of 797km will be covered on the bikes, 373km of which are timed special in the dunes and river crossings of the Catamarca Province. Riders will leave Salta and head for Belén, a beautiful city in the centre of the region. Navigation will be especially important as well as the strength to keep up a good pace in the technical latter half of the stage.
Provisional Standings after cancelled Stage Nine – 2018 Dakar Rally
1. Adrien van Beveren (FRA), Yamaha, 27:22:03
2. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 27:22:25 +0:22
3. Matthias Walkner (AUT), 27:28:37 +6:34
4. Toby Price (AUT), KTM, 27:29:38 +7:35
5. Joan Barreda (ESP), Honda, 27:30:04 +8:01
6. Antoine Meo (FRA), KTM, 27:31:59 +9:56
7. Stefan Svitko (SVK), KTM, 27:53:58 +31:55
9. Gerard Farres (ESP), KTM, 28:0:02 +37:59
14. Laia Sanz (ESP), KTM, 28:53:28 +1:31:25
18. Luciano Benavides (ARG), KTM, 29:10:16 +1:48:13
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