Factory Yamaha riders Helder Rodrigues and Adrien Van Beveren have been on the move in a big way in the last two stages of the Dakar Rally. In yesterday’s Stage 11, both riders made their presence known in the top-10, finishing sixth and seventh respectively. Today, in Dakar Rally Stage 12, Rodrigues was once again on the offensive, and captured the stage win. It marked a career-first for Rodrigues, and the first stage win in three years for Yamaha.
Coming into Dakar Rally Stage 12, Rodrigues had his eye on taking over fifth overall in the standings, and he nearly managed to surpass his own goal… if only due to some misfortune for other riders during the extremely long and strenuous penultimate stage. Riders endured 578 miles of mountainous terrain, muddy conditions, complicated navigation and rainfall today, and six full hours of timed special. Despite a three-minute penalty on the day, Rodrigues was the standout rider with a 4:32 victory ahead of Price.
“It was a difficult stage but I felt it was the moment to attack, and I finally managed to win,” said Rodrigues. “What is great is that I climbed up in a good position to fight for a podium tomorrow.”
Rodrigues proved today he has the speed and endurance to run at the front, but why didn’t we see this earlier in the rally from the factory Yamaha rider? “Helder Rodrigues was sick from the Dakar’s start and unable to fully express himself at the handlebars of our new bike,” explained Yamaha Rally Team Manager Jose Leloir. “Today we’ve had the proof that we built up a top performing machine, and it is even a greater satisfaction to win on the longest stage of this 2016 Dakar. Helder did a very good job on this stage and he has the opportunity to fight for a podium tomorrow.”
Not to be outshined is Yamaha’s young Junior Rally rider, Van Beveren. The Dakar rookie charged alongside his teammate today, and notched a fifth-place finish in Stage 11. “I am doing better results than I expected and that’s great satisfaction for Yamaha and for me,” the Frenchman commented. Upon another good performance tomorrow, Van Beveren stands to finish seventh overall in the Dakar Rally.
Red Bull KTM’s Antoine Meo had ridden a nearly flawless race until Dakar Rally Stage 12, where he suffered a heavy crash less than 30 miles from the finish. Meo’s get-off cost him nearly a half-hour, leaving him to finish in 21st place on the day. The Frenchman slid from third overall to sixth, diminishing any likelihood of an all-KTM podium.
“There’s one stage left, right?” asked a dazed Meo. “I don’t remember anything, just the Iritrack buzzing to call me after the fall. I know that I went to look for a waypoint at one moment. I’d lost time and was riding with Toby… is that right? It’s a pain in the arse. It was one hell of a crash. I’m hurting everywhere, my hand, my neck, my head… everything except my arse!”
Meo’s misfortune equaled a fourth place overall ranking for Rodrigues in the provisional standings, but a three-minute penalty has dropped him to fifth – one mere second behind Kevin Benavides.
Honda is now pinning its podium hopes on Benavides – the Honda South America Rally Team rider leading the way for Big Red. Benavides finished third in Dakar Rally Stage 12 today, and with Meo’s misfortune, he took a step forward in the overall to fourth place.
“Today was a very long stage; the longest day of the rally,” Benavides said. “A dangerous stage in the mountains with a lot of rocks. It went well; I tried to maintain a good pace and make it through to the end without any snags. I’m satisfied with it and there is just tomorrow left to finish, but we will have to pay attention because I’m sure that it will be far from easy.”
Toby Price, meanwhile, is continued his goal of staying out of trouble as the end of the rally draws near. He succeeded in preserving (and even extending) his lead, now up to 37 minutes.
“It was a hard stage,” Price described. “Not with the navigation but just with preserving the bike and the tires. There was a lto 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. So I just backed it down to make sure we got to the finish line and I didn’t trash the bike or myself.”
The overall win is officially Price’s to lose, with only one more stage remaining. Even Price admits the emotions are already on the rise. “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.”
While Quintailla still holds the advantage for the final podium position, Rodrigues and Benavides are within reasonable striking distance of third overall. The Yamaha and Honda riders are within little more than four minutes of the point, and a lot can still happen in the remaining 112 miles of timed special remaining in the Dakar Rally.
“I will stay focused until I cross the finish line,” Rodrigues declared. “But for sure I will push even more for the last stage.”
For KTM’s Laia Sanz, it hasn’t been an easy few days, nor will it be easy to reach the finish line. Following her crash on Stage 11, Sanz is dealing with a fractured collarbone, and also the effects of tonsillitis. “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 tired because I have a temperature and with my collarbone. But I had no crashes today and let’s see what happens tomorrow.”
It was also a difficult day for factory Sherco rider Alain Duclos who reportedly had his helmet stolen at a checkpoint. Duclos, who had been inside the top-10 during the second week of the rally, plunged all the way to 42nd in the general ranking after finishing today’s stage dead last.
American rider Ricky Brabec tried to continue his streak of top-10 stage finishes, but had to settle for 17th today. But Brabec remains in a firm top-10 overall, sitting ninth in the general ranking at the close of Dakar Rally Stage 12.
“Today was definitely fast and long,” said Brabec. “Our liaison was over 400 km (249 miles) which is hard on the body and you don’t get a lot of sleep because you are up so early in the morning. But other than that, the stage was good. We hit a lot of rain and it was cold up top in the mountains and really slippery. I’m happy to finish and I’m happy to get on to the final day.”
Remaining American riders in the rally – Scott Bright, Alexander Smith and Ian Blythe – are over the hump but not out of the woods. The trio made it through the daunting penultimate stage with consistent results, and are poised to cross the finish line tomorrow in Rosario.
Dakar Rally Stage 12 Results:
- Helder Rodrigues (Yam) 6:00:24
- Toby Price (KTM) +4:32
- Kevin Benavides (Hon) +4:55
- Stefan Svitko (KTM) +6:48
- Adrien Van Beveren (Yam) + 7:28
- Pablo Quintanilla (KTM) +12:23
- Armand Monleon (KTM) +15:15
- Gerard Farres (KTM) +17:04
- Oliver Pain (KTM) +17:36
- Jacopo Cerutti (Hus) +18:29
- Laia Sanz (KTM) +23:58
- Ricky Brabec (Hon) +27:43
- Antoine Meo (KTM) +33:36
- Alexander Smith (Hus) +51:55
- Scott Bright (KTM) +1:23:28
- Ian Blythe (KTM) +1:49:48
General Ranking After Dakar Rally Stage 12:
- Toby Price (KTM) +46:13:26
- Stefan Svitko (KTM) +37:39
- Pablo Quintanilla (Hus) +53:10
- Kevin Benavides (Hon) +57:28
- Helder Rodrigues (Yam) +57:29
- Antoine Meo (KTM) +1:12:50
- Adrien Van Beveren (Yam) +1:36:42
- Gerard Farres (KTM) +1:54:30
- Ricky Brabec (Hon) +2:03:06
- Armand Monleon (KTM) +3:17:13
- Laia Sanz (KTM) +4:21:40
- Ian Blythe (KTM) +7:38:25
- Alexander Smith (Hus) +10:26:09
- Scott Bright (KTM) +15:59:53