FOLLOWING a well-deserved rest day, Dakar riders hit the high-altitude trails of Bolivia on Saturday for the first of two grueling marathon days.
Climbing to more than 3,900m, the 425km Special consisted of primarily sand and soil, with some greenery also seen.
Stage 7 was a mixed affair for Honda’s Joan Barreda, who led the race at each waypoint. He completed the longest stage of the rally yet in 5 hours, 11 minutes and 10 seconds to take his third stage win of this year’s rally and stepped up a place to third in the overall ranking. However, a crash at around 300km mark saw the Spaniard injure his knee.
Speaking after the race he commented: ‘I started the stage all guns blazing and everything was going well, but around kilometre 300 I went off-track and had a nasty fall. I think I broke my knee, and from then the pain made me slow down. Now it's time to see what we can do about it, but it's looking really bad. I'm sure it's broken, my knee is out of whack and I can't even put my foot on the floor.’
Yamaha’s Adrien Van Beveren was hot on Barreda’s heels, crossing the finish line 2 minutes and 51 seconds later – a time that saw him overtake Barreda’s Monster Energy Honda teammate Kevin Benavides to become overall race leader, with a time of 21 hours, 49 minutes and 18 seconds.
Benavides remained close behind, however, after coming third in the La Paz to Uyuni special, crossing the line 8 minutes and 2 seconds behind Barreda. At the end of Saturday he was just 3 minutes and 14 seconds behind Van Beveren in the general classification.
At fourth and six respectively – both around 9 minutes behind Barreda – Red Bull KTM riders Toby Price and Matthias Walkner fought to continue KTM’s 16-year Dakar winning streak. In the overall ranks, Price remained in fifth – 13 minutes and 34 seconds behind Van Beveren – while Walkner dropped from third to fourth – 8 minutes and 18 seconds behind the leader, with a 1-minute penalty.
After winning Stage 6 and rising from seventh to sixth in the overall standings, KTM’s Antoine Meo ended stage 7 in ninth, 12 minutes and 46 seconds (plus a one minute penalty) behind Barreda. He dropped back to seventh overall as a result.
Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla remained in the middle of the top ten pack with a fifth place finish, 8 minutes and 53 seconds behind Barreda. At the end of Saturday he was eighth overall.
Van Beveren’s Yamaha teammate Xavier de Soultrait finished Saturday’s stage in eighth, rising a position in the overall rankings to sixth.