Courtesy of KTM Racing

Matthias Walkner battled through a long and difficult day four of the Dakar Rally 2018 to finish third. Unfortunately, Sam Sunderland, the overall bike class leader of the rally going into today’s stage, was forced to retire due to suffering back pain following a crash in the timed special.

Following the mass-start on the beach of San Juan de Marcona, riders re-entered the deep sand dunes of the Peruvian desert to continue their 330km timed special. Riding in a group meant navigation and maintaining a consistent pace were difficult due to the dust kicked up by the leading bikes. With many riders finding one particular waypoint difficult to locate, positions changed throughout the course of the stage.

After leading the group at the beginning of the special, Matthias Walkner dropped some time after getting lost in the deep dunes. Eventually the Austrian managed to find his way and was then able to make up some of the time lost to the riders ahead. Crossing the line in third, Matthias was happy with his day, despite the difficulty of the stage.

Matthias Walkner: “That was a really hard day. It wasn’t what the riders expected at all after the mass-start on the beach. Navigation through the dunes in the middle of the special was tricky and quite a lot of riders got lost. We ended up in a group of around 15, all trying to find one certain waypoint. Eventually we got back underway but only after losing maybe 10 minutes on the front-runners. The dunes were especially difficult to ride today, there were so many soft patches and I ended up getting stuck four or five times. At one point I thought I wasn’t going to be able to get going again, the bike was so buried. The last section of the stage was ok, I pushed on and came in third. It’s not the best start position for tomorrow, but I’m happy just to get to the finish today. I hope Sam is ok from his crash and he’s not too badly hurt.”

Toby Price and Antoine Meo both started in the first group away at the beginning of the special stage. The team-mates shared a similar pace throughout the day and despite both losing their way a little around the midway point, the pair were able to get back on track and arrive at the finish safely.

Price crossed the line in 15th position, 11 minutes down on the leader. This result moves him down to sixth in the overall standings, but the Australian is still confident for the rest of the race.

Toby Price: “That was the most difficult day so far. We thought by starting in a group it would be like a nice day out riding with your friends but as soon as we got to the dunes, the going got really tough. The worst thing was the sand was really unpredictable – there were loads of soft patches that were hard to see and if you were the first rider to hit them you ended up dropping right back. The group I was in missed a waypoint so we lost a fair amount of time getting back on track. As a positive I finished the stage in one piece, I’m in a good start position for tomorrow so I’ll crack on and see if I can claw back some time then.”

Following a couple of issues during the stage, Antoine Meo’s finish of 16th places the Frenchman 10th in the overall standings. Overall, the 33-year-old is still pleased with how the stage went and is looking forward to tomorrow.

Antoine Meo:  “It was a difficult day for me today. After the start I had a problem with my camelback and had to stop to fix it. I restarted and managed to get back to the front again, but then when we got to the dunes, there were a lot of riders travelling in a group. It made things quite tricky and we managed to lose a waypoint too, which cost time. After that things went well and I am happy with how the rest of the stage went. There’s still a long way to go so I hope to fight back a little tomorrow.”

Laia Sanz found stage four the least enjoyable of the event so far. Unpleasant riding conditions and difficult navigation did not slow down the multiple world champion too much however, 25th on today’s stage was enough to retain Laia’s top-20 position in the overall standings.

Laia Sanz:  “It was a really hard day today, starting in a group means there is a lot of dust, it makes things more dangerous and makes navigation harder, too. I got lost in the middle of the special a little bit, not for too long, but I did lose some time. The most important thing is, I am here at the end of the stage and didn’t have any crashes. Hopefully, I can make up some time again on tomorrow’s stage.”

It was an eye-opening day for Luciano Benavides. The stage threw everything at the riders, but the Argentinian still had a positive attitude come the finish, with the difficult conditions providing valuable experience for the Dakar rookie.

Luciano Benavides:  “Today was the most intense day of rallying in my life. After the start on the beach there was a lot of dust and then we had to cross rivers and rocky terrain – there really was a mixture of everything. The waypoints were hard to find and I got lost a couple of times, but I got back on track soon after and was able to push a little to try and stay consistent in the results. My goal is to do just that, stay safe, ride well and hopefully complete the rally. Overall, I’m happy with my day.”

After winning both the first and third days of the rally, Sam Sunderland was on course for another good result at this year’s event. Unfortunately, a crash two-thirds of the way through today’s stage forced the 2017 Dakar champion to abandon the rally.

Alex Doringer – KTM Rally Team Manager:  “Unfortunately Sam had an accident today whilst searching for a waypoint around the 230km mark. He jumped into a hole and compressed his back. Although he was able to continue for the next five kilometres, he was then forced to retire when the pain became too bad. Initially he was airlifted back to the bivouac but was then taken onto the hospital in Lima for further checks. I managed to talk to Sam, before he flew to hospital, and although disappointed, he was still in good spirits. Overall, the team is performing well, and we’re pleased with how the rally is going.”

The 774km stage five of the 2018 Dakar Rally will be the second-longest of the event. A short liaison will lead riders from San Juan de Marcano into the 266km timed special, the majority of which will be made up of soft sand dunes. After completing the special, a gruelling second liaison will take riders down the coast before heading inland and climbing to over 2000metres above sea-level, to finish at the city of Arequipa.

Provisional Results Stage Four – 2018 Dakar Rally

1. Adrien van Beveren (FRA), Yamaha, 4:08:23
2. Xavier de Soultrait (FRA), Yamaha, 4:13:24 +5:01
3. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 4:15:33 +7:10
4. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI), Husqvarna, 4:15:55 +7:32
5. Stefan Svitko (SVK), KTM, 4:16:08 +7:45
Other KTM
6. Daniel Oliveras Carreras (ESP), KTM, 4:17:02 +8:39
10. Gerard Farres (ESP), KTM, 4:18:34 +10:00
15. Toby Price (AUT), KTM, 4:21:46 +13:23
16. Antoine Meo (FRA), KTM, 4:21:53 +13:30
18. Luciano Benavides (ARG), KTM, 4:22:59 +14:36
25. Laia Sanz (ESP), KTM, 4:33:28 +25:05

Provisional Standings after Stage Four – 2018 Dakar Rally

1. Adrien van Beveren (FRA), Yamaha, 11:03:23
2. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI), Husqvarna, 11:05:18 +1:55
3. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 11:06:38 +3:15
4. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 11:08:46 +5:23
5. Xavier de Soultrait (FRA), Yamaha, 11:10:57 +7:34
Other KTM
6. Toby Price (AUT), KTM, 11:13:37 +10:14
9. Gerard Farres (ESP), KTM, 11:16:28 +13:05
10. Antoine Meo (FRA), KTM, 11:17:10 +13:47
16. Luciano Benavides (ARG), KTM, 11:35:25 +32:02
19. Laia Sanz (ESP), KTM, 11:48:19 +44:56


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