Australia desert racer Toby Price of the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team on Friday won his third stage in the 2016 Dakar Rally and moves within 35 seconds of current overall leader Paolo Goncalves of Portugal. Price has now won three of the six stages, with another seven still on the program.
Factory teammate Matthias Walkner of Austria was second in the stage, finishing only one minute five seconds behind Price, who completed the 542km timed special in five hours 51 minutes 48 seconds. The total stage distance was 723km, the longest so far in this edition. Current overall leader Goncalves was third in the stage.
Friday’s stage took riders in a loop from and to Uyuni (Bolivia), which also skirted along the western side of the famed Uyuni saltpans. Plans to send riders across the saltpans had to be changed because of rain in the region. Price, as winner of stage five was the first rider out and was consistently up front in the special.
Price: “It was a good day, a long day on the bike but we got through the stage really well. We slowed down at the times we had to navigate, and that’s the first time I’ve led from start to finish. We’re sitting in a good position and it’s a good fight.” Asked how he was coping with the altitudes he said: “It takes a bit of power out of the bike (because of the thinner air) but it’s the same with everyone’s, also with the cars. But for me, I’m doing well with the altitude, and the body’s holding up well. Also the bike. We’re looking after it pretty well and we’re keen, so I’m looking forward to the second week.”
Teammate Walkner was also a challenger throughout the special and rode very close to Price in the closing stages. Both riders made their Dakar debuts with KTM in 2015. Other riders in the KTM factory team were Jordi Viladoms in tenth place, Antoine Meo in thirteenth and Laia Sanz in fifteenth.
Walkner: “At the beginning it wasn’t perfect. I was in the dust of two riders for 160km. Then I was able to pass them and I found a super rhythm. It was a very tough, long stage, particularly the last 50-80km, also because we were at a very high altitude. But in the end it was a super day for me.”
Speaking after the stage Meo said he had made a mistake at the beginning of the day that had cost him about six minutes. He also discovered the dreaded fesh-fesh, the very soft dust that looks deceptively like solid ground. “I didn’t know what it was before, but I do now,” he remarked with some irony. “After that mistake it was all good, but I was riding behind Matthias (Walkner) and the speed was a little too fast for me because it was tricky and dangerous, so I slowed down a bit. I’m happy with the stage.”
Jordi Viladoms: “It was the longest stage but the kind I like. That’s why my results was better, because normally the Dakar is these kind of stages. My energy has been a bit down these last days but I think I went well until the second refuelling, and tenth position was better than before. I hope to recover the energy a bit and I think the second week will be much better for me.”
Sanz said it had been a good stage but very long. ‘But you had to focus all the time because there was a lot of danger. Also with the altitude it becomes more physical. I started really well and I passed 2-3 riders but then I was in the dust for 300km. Then at the end I started to feel a bit tired so I slowed down a bit because it was better to get to the finish with no problems and no crashes.” Sanz said she expected the nature of the rally to change a lot in the second week. “There will be big differences in the times. I think then the race will really start,” she added.
Stage seven is another long day with a total of 793km and 353km under the clock. Riders leave Uyuni, where they have had a rapturous welcome from the Bolivian fans, and return to Argentina to finish at the city of Salta. They will face a number of river crossings made more difficult because of the amount of rain that has been falling recently. Sunday is the one rest day on this epic 9,000 km journey, a chance for teams to service machinery and for riders to draw a resume of their race performance so far.
images: Red Bull content pool