THE DAKAR bid farewell to the dunes yesterday, as Stage 6 saw riders climb to high altitude in the Bolivian Andes.
Bad weather meant that the first part of yesterday’s stage was cancelled for the riders, cutting the Special to 194km. On the route, which consisted of loose soil and stones, the riders battled heavy rain and mud, with Red Bull KTM Factory ride Antoine Meo ultimately triumphing, achieving a 1 hour, 54 minute and 10 second finish.
But gone was the huge margin between winner and second place that we saw in Stage 5. Monster Energy Honda’s Kevin Benavides and Meo’s teammate Toby Price were hot on the Frenchman’s heels, crossing the line just 30 seconds later, taking second and third places respectively.
Benavides’ fast finish was enough to push the Argentinian to the top of the overall leaderboard, as former race leader Adrien Van Beveren dropped to second.
Commenting after the stage, Benavides said: 'I am very proud because it is the first time that an Argentine rider has led the Dakar Rally. I'm very happy too, because the idea was to get as high up the rankings as possible before the rest stage, so I can not be happier. I'm a little tired, we've had rain, mud, fast roads. But I was fast and felt comfortable on the bike. Now we have a day to rest and prepare the second week.'
A surprise entrant to the top 10 came fourth yesterday, showing just how unpredictable the Dakar Rally can be. Argentinian Diego Martin Duplessis, racing for the MEC team and whose previous best result was a 20th place finish in Stage 4 overtook favourites including Yamaha’s Adrien Van Beveren and Honda’s Stage 5 winner Joan Barreda to finish just 1 minute and 55 seconds behind Meo. This excellent performance saw Duplessis – who finished the 2017 rally in 15th position – rise from 25th to 23rd in the overall rankings.
Stage 4 winner Van Beveren and Barreda dropped to 8th and 9th positions, finishing 3 minutes and 27 seconds and 3 minutes, 30 seconds behind Meo.
After coming 16th in Stage 5, Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla regained his pace and finished Stage 6 in 6th position. Meanwhile, fifth and seventh positions went to Daniel Oliveras Carreras, of the Himoinsa Racing Team and Daniel Nosiglia Jager, racing for HT Rally Raid Husqvarna. The two respectively arrived at the line 1 minute and 55 seconds and 2 minutes and 13 seconds after Meo.
Despite the underdogs shining through yesterday, the overall rankings have seen little change since Wednesday.
Honda’s Benavides and Yamaha’s Van Beveren have switched places at the top, while KTM’s Matthias Walkner – who ended yesterday in 11th – and Barreda remain in 3rd and 4th.
Stage 6 worked out really well for us today, we caught a little bit of rain at the halfway mark until the end of the stage which made for some slippery conditions. We finished 3rd and everything is feeling really good, we’ll continue to just cruise!#Dakar2018 pic.twitter.com/lX9VcqTHqM
— Toby Price (@tobyprice87) 12 January 2018
Toby Price and Antoine Meo have both gained a position, to 5th and 6th places, while Yamaha’s Xavier De Soultrait has dropped to 7th, after finishing 16th yesterday and gaining a 2-minute penalty.
Quintanilla swapped places with Himoinsa’s Gerard Farres Guell, rising from 9th to 8th.
A new entry comes to the top 10 comes in the form of Stefan Svitko, of the Slovnaft Rally Team. After finishing yesterday in 13th, the Slovakian rider, who came second in the 2016 Dakar, overtook Honda’s Ricky Brabec, who fell to 11th overall after coming 18th in Stage 6.