Courtesy of KTM Racing
Rest day over, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing now look ahead to the second week of racing in what has proven to be one of the toughest Dakar Rallies since the event made the switch to South America. Matthias Walkner leads the charge, currently third in the overall standings. The pair of Antoine Meo and Toby Price are hot on his heels and will open the road on Saturday’s marathon stage.
Fully rested and glad of their brief break from the early starts and long days, the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing riders are now focusing on the arduous week ahead. Eight further stages await the riders, starting in Bolivia before descending down to the hot and dusty plains of Argentina.
With no less than two marathon stages in the coming week, as well as over 5,000km of racing left to endure, the second half of the Dakar promises to really test the riders to the maximum. Third overall after the initial six days in Peru, Matthias Walkner feels he is well placed and is confident of a good result.
Matthias Walkner: “I’m happy with how the first six stages have gone, I’m in a good position, third overall going into the final week and only a few minutes from the lead. We have a marathon stage coming up where it will be important to ride a little more conservatively, but then after that I think I’m going to have to start pushing a little more if I am going to be in with a chance of the win. In this second week we’re going to see a lot of changes to terrain, weather and the general conditions of the stages – it’s going to come down to fitness and mental strength as well as speed and good navigation.”
While the riders had time to relax, the rest of the team were hard at work with the mechanics preparing the KTM 450 RALLY machines for the next eight days. The two marathon stages forbid any outside mechanical assistance for the riders – all repairs and maintenance have to be carried out by the competitors themselves, although it is permissible to help your fellow team-mates.
This time last year, Toby Price was lying injured in a hospital bed, the 2016 Dakar champion having crashed out of the 2017 event. Now Toby is running fifth and is keen to improve on that position come the end of the rally.
Toby Price: “My body is feeling a little second-hand – I’ve got a few little aches and pains here and there, but I think that’s normal after such a hard week. I’m currently running in fifth, nine-and-a-half minutes from the lead, it sounds like quite a lot of time but it’s really nothing – it’s very easy to lose that in one day, so overall I’m happy with how things are going. From where I was one year ago, lying in a hospital bed, I didn’t think I would be able to make the start of this year’s race, so to be here running fifth is incredible.”
Winner of stage six, Antoine Meo is confident and looking forward to the second half of the rally. The wet, muddy conditions of Bolivia should really suit the former world enduro champion.
Antoine Meo: “The race proper starts now, the first week was just the warm-up – this next week will be really important and I plan to push and really close down on the leaders – it’s going to be great. The first week went well, it’s nice to be able to complete that in a good position and without making too many mistakes, but now we’re getting everything prepared for the first marathon stage.”
‘Queen of the Desert’, Laia Sanz is loved by the fans in South America. The Spaniard was given a hero’s welcome when she entered the city of La Paz at the finish of stage six. Sanz, having enjoyed her rest day, now looks forward to the second half of the rally. As with Meo, her enduro experience and navigation skills will be a huge advantage over the coming few days. Her mental strength is also a big factor and should help carry Laia to the finish.
Laia Sanz: “This second week will be a lot harder than the first – the weather, altitude and conditions in Bolivia, the heat in Argentina and two marathon stages, too – it’s going to be tough.”
Saturday’s stage seven will see riders leave La Paz and head south, towards Uyuni, a city in the southwest of Bolivia. A 302km liaison will be followed by a torturous 425km timed special – the second longest of this year’s event. On arriving at Uyuni, competitors are denied any assistance from their teams on this first of two marathon stages. As such, conserving bike and tyres is paramount as both have to last the two longest special stages of the event.
Provisional Standings after Stage Six – 2018 Dakar Rally
1. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 16:33:20
2. Adrien van Beveren (FRA), Yamaha, 16:35:17 +1:57
3. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 16:37:10 +3:50
4. Joan Barreda (ESP), Honda, 16:42:53 +9:33
5. Toby Price (AUT), KTM, 16:42:59 +9:39
6. Antoine Meo (FRA), KTM, 16:44:02 +10:42
9. Gerard Farres (ESP), KTM, 16:51:28 +18:08
16. Luciano Benavides (ARG), KTM, 17:34:42 +1:01:22
17. Laia Sanz (ESP), KTM, 17:36:35 +1:03:15