There’s a reason the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team moved Frenchman Antoine Méo from its enduro team to the rally side of things a couple of years ago, and the former enduro world champ repaid KTM’s belief in him by delivering the win in stage 6 of the 40th Dakar Rally.
After five straight days of Peruvian sand dunes, most riders looked forward to the 760-kilometer run from Arequipa, Peru, to La Paz, Bolivia, the country’s capital city. Along the way, they discovered terrain and conditions did indeed change dramatically, with deep puddles and mud the order of the day the closer they got to the city high (more than 15,000 feet!) in the rugged Andes mountains. In fact, fog and bad weather in general forced the organizers to cancel the first part of the special; instead of 313 kilometers, it was shortened to 194—after they’d already tackled rain, snow, and subfreezing temperatures—in addition to the 447 kilometers of liaison, or transfer, section.
Out with injury for almost two years, it would almost be easy to dismiss Méo as a potential future Dakar winner—but it’d be a mistake, having finished a strong fourth yesterday and winning today. And with 2016 winner Toby Price third in the stage by a mere 30 seconds after holding a slim lead over his teammate earlier, smiles were plentiful in the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team camp.
But there was equal reason to celebrate over at the Monster Energy Honda Team area with Benavides also 30 seconds behind Méo for the stage despite a crash, moving him to the top of the leaderboard in provisional overall results with his time of 16 hours, 33 minutes, and 20 seconds.
“I can’t describe just how happy I am—I’m leading the general standings on the Dakar!” Benavides exclaimed.
After celebrating his 27th birthday with a second in stage 3, he’s become one of the most consistent riders so far, though he added, “It’s been a very difficult week and today I’ve arrived at La Paz in the best way possible. I’ve worked very hard for this moment and now we are going to take advantage of the rest day [tomorrow] and recharge the batteries to be rewards for the second week of racing. The main thing is to remain calm and to keep enjoying it.”
Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally Team’s Adrien Van Beveren surrendered his spot at the top which he’d held for two days, but at only 1:57 behind Benavides, he’s still a strong contender. Austria’s Matthias Walkner is the leading Red Bull KTM rider at third, 3:50 in arrears of Benavides.
As for the Americans, the conditions just were not to their liking as all ended up with worse results than the day before.
Monster Energy Honda Team’s Ricky Brabec has never been that thrilled about riding in the mud or the cold and ended up 18th in the stage to slip from 10th to 11th overall, 30:34 behind his Argentinean teammate. He confessed, “Today was worse than yesterday. The rain was pretty difficult, and if we were lucky, we got three and a half hours sleep.
“Yesterday was a long day—not with the stages but with the liaisons and modifications, getting back to the bivouac late and going to bed late. Getting up at three in the morning Bolivia time—so it was really two in the morning—it was the hardest day so far. It wasn’t even hard riding, but it was mentally fatiguing. The stage was fast; I don’t know how we lost time in the stage. It’s weird. I didn’t have any problems in the stage. I hit the water really hard and I hit my face on the dashboard. I don’t know how these guys are making up time on us and that’s difficult to swallow. There are seven more days and we’ll push.”
Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing Team’s Andrew Short concurred after finishing the stage 28th, though he’s running 22nd overall at 17:53:30. “That was a tough day for me today,” he admitted. “The terrain has changed a lot from the dunes of Peru. I had my first high-speed rally crash so I’m glad to get that out of the way.
“I struggled a little with the speed of the stage with everything coming at me so fast. It was wet out there, too, and the tracks turned quite muddy in places. I think I prefer that over dust though; if it had been dry, things would’ve been even more dangerous.
“Coming into La Paz it was amazing to see all the people and the atmosphere in the city so that was cool. It’s rest day [tomorrow] so I’ll enjoy that and then back on it for Saturday.”
Shane Esposito continued to lead the Duust Rally Team of Poland, finishing 30th for the stage while Mark Samuels wasn’t too far behind on his MEC Team Honda CRF450 Rally in 36th. Overall, Samuels holds 43rd after six stages with his total time of 20:33:40 while Esposito is 44th at 20:39:56.
Bill Conger got another stage done and lies 84th at 27:58:42 going into the eagerly anticipated rest day.
|Ranking||Rider Number||Name||Team||Overall Time||Time From Leader||Penalty|
|1||47||Kevin Benavides||Monster Energy Honda Team||16:33:20|
|2||4||Adrien Van Beveren||Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally Team||16:35:17||+ 00:01:57|
|3||2||Matthias Walkner||Red Bull KTM Factory Team||16:37:10||+ 00:03:50||00:01:00|
|4||5||Joan Barreda Bort||Monster Energy Honda Team||16:42:53||+ 00:09:33|
|5||8||Toby Price||Red Bull KTM Factory Team||16:42:59||+ 00:09:39|
|6||19||Antoine Méo||Red Bull KTM Factory Team||16:44:02||+ 00:10:42|
|7||23||Xavier de Soultrait||Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally Team||16:44:44||+ 00:11:24||00:02:00|
|8||10||Pablo Quintanilla||Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing||16:50:02||+ 00:16:42|
|9||3||Gerard Farrés Guell||Himoinsa Racing Team||16:51:28||+ 00:18:08|
|10||9||Stefan Svitko||Slovnaft Rally Team||17:02:31||+ 00:29:11||00:0100|
|Ranking||Rider Number||Rider||Team||Overall Time||Time From Leader||Penalty|
|11||20||Ricky Brabec||Monster Energy Honda Team||17:03:54||+ 00:30:34|
|22||54||Andrew Short||Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing||17:53:30||+ 01:20:10|
|43||64||Mark Samuels||MEC Team||20:33:40||+ 04:00:20||01:00:00|
|44||103||Shane Esposito||Duust Rally Team||20:39:56||+ 04:06:36||02:05:00|
|84||105||Bill Conger||Klymciw Racing||27:58:42||+ 11:25:22|