Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Toby Price of Australia opened his bid for the 2016 Dakar Rally with a narrow win in Stage 2 when competition finally got underway on Monday. Price won the stage by just 20 seconds from Ruben Faria of Portugal. KTM rider Stefan Svitko of Slovakia finished third, trailing the leader by 1 minute 28 seconds. Price, Faria and Svitko are also now the top three in the overall standings (Prologue plus Stage 2).
On Monday race officials trimmed the timed special from 450km to 354km because track conditions had deteriorated after Sunday’s thunderstorms that resulted in the cancelation of Stage 1. The second stage was almost 800km in total and took riders from Villa Carlos Paz to Termas de Río Hondo, mostly through undulating terrain at speed.
Price said it has been a clean stage and he was happy to be in a good position for Tuesday’s competition. “It was a long day in the saddle but for sure it’s started well for us. Today was really easy navigation and we had a few tracks we could see, plus the route was pretty well marked.” But the Australian cautioned that there was a long way to go as Stage 2 was effectively to first day of competition following Sunday’s cancelation. “You’ve got to have a perfect race go your way for the two weeks. Realistically it’s day one, so we’ve got a long way to go. We’ve just got to make sure we keep cool, calm and collected. It’s good to get one stage win out of the way, but we’re looking forward to being smooth and consistent the rest of the week and see how we go.”
Price’s Red Bull KTM factory teammate Matthias Walkner of Austria finished fifth but is very much in the running with just a two-minute deficit. Price who was third in 2015 in his debut Dakar and Walkner, who is coming off an excellent season, have both been mentioned as possible favorites for this edition.
Walkner was very satisfied with his result, saying: “Today there was really no navigation. It was pretty flat and slippery but a lot of fun and I really enjoyed it. There was good grip and just one or two places where it was muddy I had to be a bit careful. But it was perfect to ride.”
KTM Factory Racing’s Laia Sanz made a strong comeback on Monday to finish 14th overall and was just over seven minutes behind Price after a difficult river crossing in Saturday’s prologue cost her some time. She is now 19th in the overall standings and has a 10-minute 34-second deficit. Commenting on her ride, Sanz said: “I am so happy with today. Now everybody is in the race and I couldn’t imagine being in the top 20 in the first real stage. I think it was a really good day and special because I didn’t take any risks. I was just riding, and doing everything well. In some parts the stage was very straight and full gas. Others were more like world rally car tracks and a lot of fun.”
Red Bull KTM’s Dakar veteran Jordi Viladoms wrapped up his day in 26th place and will be concentrating on trimming down the 12 minutes 47 seconds to the leader. He said he had experienced some small problems in the muddy section but still felt confident and was working on finding his rhythm for the long ride ahead.
Dakar Rookie Antoine Meo, who shared Sanz’s problems at the river crossing on Saturday, is 33 minutes 05 seconds behind but was held up after stopping to assist another rider who had crashed in front of him. “It was quite bad so I stopped to wait with him,” he said. “When I restated there was a lot of dust and I just tried to do my best and not make a mistake and crash. I pushed until the end and I think I had a good stage.”
Stage 3 on Tuesday takes riders from Termas de Río Hondo to San Salvadore de Jujuy. Out of a total distance of 663km, they will ride under the clock for 314km. The timed special will include tight mountain tracks that require maximum concentration and organizers warn that if there is more rain the ground will be heavy.
Stage 2 Results
1. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, three hours 46 minutes 24 seconds
2. Ruben Faria (POR), Husqvarna, at 20 seconds
3. Stefan Svitko (SVK), KTM 1 minute 28
4. Alain Duclos (FRA), Sherco, 1.51
5. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 2.00
Header: Toby Price photo: Barni C.