Red Bull KTM factory rider Toby Price on Friday wrapped up the penultimate stage of the 2016 Dakar Rally in second place and further extended his overall lead as the competition heads for the finish line in Rosario, Argentina, on Saturday.
On a day that was not only the longest stage but that also threw many challenges at the riders, it was the Australian’s priority to manage his overall lead and get safely to the finish. Price completed the stage in second place some 7 minutes 32 behind the day’s winner Helder Rodrigues of Portugal. In the process he bumped up his accumulated lead to 37.39 minutes ahead of KTM rider Stefan Svitko of Slovakia. Svitko was fourth in the stage some 9.48 behind the winner. If he is able to hold onto overall second through to the finish line on Saturday it will be a career best Dakar for him.
Price’s job is not over yet. There is still some 700km to ride, including 180km under the clock as riders travel from Villa Carlos Paz to Rosario. Those who have survived the 12 stages so far will start in reverse order to build the final tension as they head for the finish.
Friday was a long and exhausting day with difficult conditions that were tough on bikes and tires. Riders also had to cope with rain and mud during the timed special.
Price said it had been tough day, where there was a 450km liaison section to ride before they reached the start of the timed special. “Before the special started you felt like you had already done a half marathon. But for sure we got through it with no big dramas. It was a hard stage, not with the navigation but just with preserving the bike and the tires. There was a lot of real sharp shale rocks and they chewed up everything really quick. It felt like I was riding on ice on the last bit. We also copped a fair bit of rain in the last section. The riverbeds were up again and it felt like the crossings were very slippery. I went for one little ‘excursion’ where it was slippery and I caught a bit of mud. So I just backed it down to make sure we got to the finish line and I didn’t trash the bike or myself.”
Price admitted that now so close to the end of the race, the emotions were on the rise with a real prospect of winning this 9,000 epic on only his second attempt. “There’s a lot of mixed thoughts, a lot of emotions but the bike’s all good and the team has done an unbelievable job in getting it sorted. Now we just have to get to the finish line.”
It was a disappointing end to the stage for factory teammate Antoine Meo, who was in podium contention on Thursday and rode up with the leaders until the last 40 km, when he encountered some problems.
Commenting on his ride Meo said: “At the beginning it was not so bad. I was riding well and then one moment I missed a waypoint and had to go back to it. I lost a bit of time on Toby (Price) but it was not a big gap between us and I stayed focused. Then near the finish there was a crest that was not marked in the road book. I was riding fast, braked and lost the back end and went over the handlebars. That was very bad because I was trying to keep hold of my third place (in the overall times). But that’s how it is. Next year it will be better.”
Meo finished the stage some 43 minutes off the leading time and dropped down to sixth place in the overall standings. Regardless of the outcome, the team’s French recruit and multi enduro champion can leave the rally with two stage wins and plenty of admiration for his impressive debut ride.
Teammate Jordi Viladoms finished back at 18th in the stage after suspecting he may have had a potential technical difficulty and nursed the bike through the difficult terrain. Viladoms struggled through the first week of competition on medication for a fever and it is only in the final stages that he has begun to find his form and recover his energy.
Health issues also plagued factory teammate Laia Sanz. While she did manage to finish stage 12 in 14th place, just under 27 minutes off the stage winner, she did it riding with the effects of tonsillitis and a damaged collarbone following a crash in stage 11. Sanz is currently 16th overall so her pre-race goal of a top 15 finish is still within her grasp.
Sanz: “Today was hard but I’m happy I finished the stage because yesterday I was not sure I would be able to do it. At the beginning I was riding quite well but then I started to get tires because I have a temperature and with my collarbone. But I had no crashes today and let’s see what happens tomorrow.”
STAGE 12 (penultimate stage)
San Juan – Villa Carlos Paz
Total distance 931km, timed special 481km
Stage Results (Provisional)?
1. Helder Rodrigues (POR), Yamaha, 5 hours 57 minutes 24 seconds
2. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, + 7 minutes 32 seconds
3. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, + 7.55
4. Stefan Svitko (SVK), KTM, + 9.48
5. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA), Yamaha, + 10.28
7. Gerard Farres (ESP), KTM, + 20.64
8. Armand Monleon (FRA), KTM + 20.14
9. Olivier Pain (FRA), KTM, +20.:3608
14. Laia Sanz (ESP), KTM, +26.58
17. Antoine Meo (FRA), KTM, + 38.36
18. Jordi Viladoms (ESP), KTM, + 43.23
Provisional Standings after 12 of 13 stages
1. Price, 46 hours 13 minutes 26 seconds
2. Svitko, + 37.39
3. Quintanilla, + 53.10
6. Meo, + 1 hour 14.50
15. Viladoms, + 4:21.04
16. Sanz, +4:21.40