Route: Salta – Belen
Terrain: Sand dunes/riverbeds/dirt tracks
Words: Georgia Wells
Images: Dakar/ASO/Michael Guy/Anon
After Stage 9 of the Dakar Rally was cancelled due to bad weather, the riders were ready to attack Stage 10. But a total distance of nearly 800km and searing temperatures of close to 40 degrees meant an extremely tough day, and the race showed it’s brutality as more top names saw their dreams dashed. The fast tracks saw the riders top 120km/h, and was described as “one of the toughest days in recent rally history”.
Just 3km from the end of the day’s special stage, all the competitors and fans of the race had a huge shock. Rally leader Adrien Van Beveren had a horrifyingly fast crash and faced an exit from the race. The Frenchman managed to get back on his feet and tried to rejoin, but he fell again and noticed his Yamaha had been damaged. Adrien was then seen trying to kick the ‘navigation tower’ on the front of the bike back into position. He managed to set off once more, absolutely desperate to cover the 3km to the stage finish, but soon stopped again – this time due to intense pain. The spectacular sand specialist was evacuated from the stage before being transferred via ambulance to the local hospital; he was suffering breathing difficulties and it had been too dangerous to transport him by helicopter.
A statement from Van Beveren’s sister later revealed the full extent of his injuries – a severe impact to his thorax, damage to his spine, and a broken right collarbone.
The fact that Adrien was fighting so hard to continue the race, despite the dreadful damage done to his body, goes to show exactly how much these brave riders put into the Dakar dream.
It was a warm welcome in Salta for hometown heroes Kevin and Luciano Benavides, and they were able to stay in their family home overnight and enjoy a few comforts before setting off on the route to Belen. But Luciano, the younger of the two brothers, who was running 18th overall and in the fight for the ‘Top Rookie’ crown, sadly suffered a big crash around half way through Stage 10 and had to be airlifted out after a blow to the head and a back injury. Oriol Mena and Laia Sanz attended the scene and looked after Luciano until the medical crews arrived. The organisers will reinstate the time that the pair lost.
Aside from high altitude and high temperatures, navigation was also extremely difficult on Stage 10 and several riders got lost early in the day. Honda’s Ricky Brabec was the first to take a wrong turn whilst trying to chase Stage 8 winner Antoine Meo. Kevin Benavides, who had been running 2nd overall, then took over the lead of the stage and was running a great pace before the Argentinian also became lost. Before long, KTM’s Meo and Toby Price fell into the same trap and all three frontrunners followed each other on the wrong track for many kilometres. In the end no fewer than 8 top riders made extremely costly navigational errors on the stage.
After their arrival into the Belen bivouac, many riders questioned the accuracy of the day’s navigational instructions and Team HRC Honda decided to log a complaint with the race organisers, claiming a fault in the roadbook.
Every rider has a roadbook for each day of the race, showing navigational points and waypoints (which they must ride through) as well as highlighting any potential dangers. But there was certainly a lot of confusion surrounding the Stage 10 roadbook.
Toby Price (AUS, KTM. 19th stage/5th overall):
“Today was a day I want to forget, I lost fifty minutes on the leader. The notes seemed to be wrong and we all headed off into a riverbed. We thought we were right, but obviously not! The roadbook has been a bit average lately. But the Dakar is tough, that’s the way it is.”
It remains to be seen whether Honda’s complaint will work or not and if their riders will be given back any time. Although an unusually large number of riders took the wrong route, others had no big problems with navigation, so it could be a difficult call to make.
Despite some of his team-mates getting lost, KTM’s Matthias Walkner was on the right track from the off and he very quietly snuck to a stage win. After Van Beveren’s untimely exit, and the errors from his rivals, Walkner’s performance also put him at the head of the rally overall. His consistency and lack of errors throughout the race so far have served him well and his advantage is now almost 40 minutes.
Matthias Walkner (AUT, KTM. 1st stage/1st overall):
“What a day! I’m happy with how it worked out. Smart navigation was key today and now I have taken the rally lead! It’s not over yet, but it’s going well!”
The riders were completely exhausted upon their arrival at the bivouac but they were nevertheless concerned about Adrien Van Beveren and many spent time sending messages of encouragement to the popular Frenchman and awaiting updates on his condition.
After the day’s shocking twists and turns, the rally has gone from being incredibly close (22 seconds between the top two) to fairly spread out (39 minutes separating the top two). But with four stages still to go there is still very much the feeling that anything could yet happen. Tactics, reliability and consistency will play a big part, and riders will have to assess how many risks to take and how hard to push as the rally nears its end.
If you thought Tuesday’s route was tough, Stage 11 from Belen to Chilecito (via Fiambala) has promised to be even harder! It will also serve as the first part of the rally’s second Marathon stage, meaning the riders will be back to a remote bivouac with no outside assistance. It’s likely to be another heartbreaker, highlighting the Dakar Rally’s unrelenting hardship.
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