Courtesy of KTM Racing

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing riders have successfully completed the long, 727km stage seven of the 2018 Dakar Rally. Second away at the start of the timed special, Toby Price rode a consistent day, increasing his pace towards the end of the stage to claim fourth. Matthias Walkner rode to a solid sixth place, with Thursday’s stage winner, Antoine Meo finishing ninth.

Following on from their rest day, the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing riders were thrown straight back into the extreme conditions of the Bolivian mountains to contend a long and very difficult stage seven. Heavy rains had left a lot of standing water on the route, which soon turned to mud that made riding very tricky.

Today’s 425km timed special is the second longest of the event, only tomorrow’s is longer at 498km. Both days make up the first of the marathon stages for the bikes where riders are allowed no assistance from their teams during the overnight stop. It is imperative that the competitors look after both their bikes and themselves on these stages as even a minor crash could result in significant problems.

Starting second, Toby Price soon caught up the three-minute deficit to team-mate Antoine Meo. The pair rode together for the remainder of the stage and both put in good times. Price’s performance was enough to net him fourth place for the day. The Australian remains in fifth place in the provisional overall standings.

Toby Price: “Today has gone really well, I managed to catch Meo easily enough but then I couldn’t break away from him – we’re on the same bikes with the same top-speed so we ended up riding together. From about the 80km mark there was some tricky navigation, so we just focused on getting through without losing any time. It was so muddy out there, the first part of the stage took us straight into it, then we had some nice fast hard-pack to race over but then towards the end of the stage, things got really wet again, which can make navigation hard. It’s more important to take your time and spend a couple of minutes doing things right than get lost and waste half-an-hour. I’m generally happy with how things are going, after not being on the bike for 12 months things get a little rusty – not just your riding, but your ability to navigate well, too. I’m starting to get my rhythm back though and it feels really good.”

Antoine Meo was always going to have a difficult time as today’s special stage opener. The Frenchman increased his pace to match that of Price and together the duo enjoyed a mistake-free day.

Antoine Meo: “Conditions were hard out there today. It was really tricky and difficult to find the way. Toby caught me quite early on and we rode together for the rest of the stage. Towards the end it was raining and the ground was really muddy, this is really good for us so we pushed as hard as we could and managed to make up a little time. My bike is ok for tonight, but we will need to work a little on Toby’s as he came off a couple of times today. Tomorrow is the longest special of the event, so we’ll need to try and get some good rest for that.”

Matthias Walkner had a challenging day, the horrendous conditions combined with the altitude made the day exhausting for the Austrian. Nevertheless, Walkner was able to push on and posted the eighth fastest time for the day.

Matthias Walkner: “Not the best day for me today, conditions were terrible straight from the start. It was raining, very slippery, and difficult to get into a good rhythm. As the stage went on, I was able to maintain a consistent pace and despite there being a lot of deep puddles and standing water, I didn’t make any mistakes or crash so there is very little for me to do to my bike tonight. Riding at this altitude is exhausting, I already feel tired so I’ll try to get some sleep tonight and do my best again tomorrow.”

KTM Factory Racing riders Laia Sanz and Luciano Benavides again showed very similar pace on todays arduous stage. Finishing 19th and 20th respectively, the duo continue to impress, even on the toughest of stages. Laia remains inside the top-20 in the provisional overall standings in 18th with her team-mate Benavides one place behind.

Sunday’s stage eight of the 2018 Dakar Rally will take riders from the bivouac at Uyuni and head for the rugged desert and red-rock formations of Tupiza, a town in southern Bolivia. Although the total distance covered is a relatively short 585km, the majority of the day’s riding will be on the 498km timed special – the longest of the rally. Day eight will really start to test the competitors.

Provisional Results Stage Seven – 2018 Dakar Rally

1. Joan Barreda (ESP), Honda, 5:11:10
2. Adrien van Beveren (FRA), Yamaha, 5:14:01 +2:51
3. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 5:19:12 +8:02
4. Toby Price (AUT), KTM, 5:19:53 +8:43
5. Pablo Quintanilla (CHL), Husqvarna, 5:20:03 +8:53
Other KTM
6. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 5:20:26 +9:16
7. Stefan Svitko (SVK), KTM, 5:20:40 +9:30
9. Antoine Meo (FRA), KTM, 5:22:56 +12:46 (1min penalty)
19. Laia Sanz (ESP), KTM, 5:38:37 +27:27
20. Luciano Benavides (ARG), KTM, 5:38:49 30:39 (3min penalty)

Provisional Standings after Stage Seven – 2018 Dakar Rally

1. Adrien van Beveren (FRA), Yamaha, 21:49:18
2. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 21:52:32 +3:14
3. Joan Barreda (ESP), Honda, 21:54:03 +4:45
4. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 21:57:36 +8:18
5. Toby Price (AUT), KTM, 22:02:52 +13:34
Other KTM
7. Antoine Meo (FRA), KTM, 22:06:58 +17:40
9. Gerard Farres (ESP), KTM, 22:22:45 +33:27
18. Laia Sanz (ESP), KTM, 23:15:12 +1:25:54
19. Luciano Benavides (ARG), KTM, 23:13:31 +1:27:13

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