Week one of Dakar is done but there’s still a long way to go.
The world’s toughest off-road race has certainly lived up to its moniker as Dakar 2017 ends week one in South America with no defending champion, a Honda team in disarray and America’s hopes of a maiden win slim at best.
By the end of stage seven, it was factory Red Bull KTM rider Sam Sunderland who headed the pack ahead of Chilean Pablo Quintanilla of the Husqvarna Factory Rally Racing Team. The impressive young Frenchman Adrien Van Beveren (Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally Team) stands third, less than five minutes out of second. Despite an impressive win in the most recent stage by Honda’s Ricky Brabec, the American rider is 14th in the overall standings at the halfway point.
Yet the biggest news of the rally so far has been two-fold, with 2016 champion Toby Price (Red Bull KTM) crashing out on stage four and breaking his leg, and the team that would be kings—HRC Honda Rally—receiving a staggering one-hour penalty for each of its riders (Joan Barreda, Paulo Goncalves, Michael Metge and Brabec) due to refueling in a forbidden area on stage four.
Price started off the rally slowly, ending stage one in 17th place behind first-time Dakar stage winner, Yamaha’s Xavier De Soultrait. But the Australian made up for it on stage two, taking a commanding victory and turning a 90 second deficit into a three-minute lead in the overall standings.
Disaster for Price
From there, however, Price’s rally started to unravel, with navigational issues costing him 20 minutes and dropping him to fifth behind stage-three winner and new rally leader, Barreda. Stage four saw Price in full attack mode as he attempted to claw back the deficit to Barreda and Team HRC, but the Australian came to grief just a few miles from the day’s finish, crashing out and suffering four breaks to his femur. His injury has been complicated by a number of seizures in the Bolivian hospital, caused by an apparent blood clot on his lung.
“All I can remember is hitting something hard; it was in a river bed and I’m sure as anything it would have been a rock,” Price said on his personal website. “Some people came running over and helped me and checked if I was alright and I remember seeing Paulo Goncalves above me doing the same.
“I’m not too sure how the long the helicopter took to get me but I knew I broke my leg by then. It started to get painful and my leg wouldn’t move, so it was a helicopter ride back to the stage base, an airplane ride back to La Paz and then into an ambulance, but the road was so rough I needed to get strapped in and have another injection and that’s all I remember. This is only a small hurdle in the road as a broken leg, so we will go again and it’ll be all good.”
KTM continues to lead the way
Austria’s Matthias Walkner moved into a solid fifth for Red Bull KTM after winning stage four, while Sunderland extended his lead with a win on stage five. Stage six on January 7 was cancelled due to torrential rain, and followed by a rest day, riders headed into stage 7 on January 9, which was shortened due to more heavy rain in the southern Bolivia region.
Team Honda HRC’s refueling blunder on stage four left them at a severe disadvantage that they are still struggling to overcome. Stage seven was a good showing for the boys in red, with Brabec and Goncalves going one-two in the first half of the two-day marathon stage. As it stands, Goncalves is one hour, five minutes behind the leader, Sunderland, with Barreda a further nine minutes back, the HRC riders in eighth and ninth overall, respectively.
“We will keep battling on to try and make up the one-hour sanction that we received,” Goncalves said. “There is still a long way to go.”