For 41 years the Dakar Rally has severely tested minds, motors and muscles, and the ten stages and two-week chase through more than 5000km and the swallowing sand and dunes of Peru was no different for the 2019 edition. The long hours in the saddle and the perilous speed and difficulties with navigation took its toll on the best that Monster Energy HRC and stars like Yamaha’s Adrien Van Beveren had to offer.
The Honda quintet of Joan Barreda, Kevin Benavides, Ricky Brabec, Jose Ignacio Cornejo and Paulo Gonçalves represented arguably the most potent line-up in the motorcycle field but the fortunes of the stages, liaisons and terrain were not favourable. Barreda was an early winner and front-runner in the standings but was the first to be counted out of play after falling foul of the dunes.
Up stepped Brabec. #15 dropped a major milestone with his maiden victory on Stage 4 that elevated the athlete to first place and the first American to lead the Dakar in almost three decades. Ricky reached the Rest Day at the midway point with a target on his back but it was mechanical gremlins on Stage 8 of 10 that ended his plight rather than the threat from his rivals. “It’s heart wrenching. Not easy,” he said. “We have to go home, take a break and come back. I’m at a loss for words. It was amazing to be on the top for the previous days. It’s really nice to have the team support me and the whole team: it felt like the vibes and the confidence in me were good. That helped me to achieve so many great days.”
Gonçalves crashed out and Benavides picked up a time penalty that banished the Argentine outside of the top ten: he would classify 12th in the final Dakar run-down. ‘Nacho’ Cornejo strode into the limelight and achieved his best results in just his second Dakar with HRC by being runner-up on Stage 7 and Stage 9. All the sweat and toil gave the Chilean a worthy overall slot. “I ended up being seventh in the general, so I’m very happy,” he said. “I would have liked it too if my companions could have finished the race, as some of them would have achieved the victory. At one point we had two riders fighting for the victory. I have no doubt that next year we will return stronger.”
Across the other side of the Bivouac and Yamaha were also left gnawing their fists in frustration. Adrien Van Beveren took a consistent approach after his fantastic charge in 2018 ended with a hard-and-harsh crash. The Frenchman registered top seven finishes in most of the stages and three days before the finish in Lima had risen to second place. ‘AVB’ was then thwarted by an overheating engine that left him stranded just over 10kms from the timing line of Stage 9.
“I feel very sad but I have no regrets,” a disconsolate Van Beveren tapped out on Instagram. “I gave my very best every day, every km, every moment and all the year to be back on that level! Thank you very much for the support.”
Compared to the four-wheelers the Dakar Rally is a different and dangerous kind of test for motorcyclists. To reach the finale is an achievement in itself but a wickedly difficult flurry across the topography of Peru squashed the competition together and made an intense contest even more fraught.
There are few better motivators than the feeling of failure and ill fortune. The FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship and other flagship races will allow the pain to ease and the calendar dates to be eagerly crossed before 2020 Dakar comes back onto the horizon.