On a highly challenging stage three of the 2019 Dakar Rally, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Sam Sunderland has ridden to an excellent fifth place, moving himself up to third in the provisional overall standings. Toby Price continues to impress, battling through the tough stage to place ninth.
At 331 kilometres in length, the timed special on day three was always going to be demanding. Starting at sea level and climbing to an altitude of over 2,000 metres, the stage tested the riders to their limits. Not only was the mixture of sand dunes and river beds physically tiring for competitors, tricky navigation and fog encountered on the highest sections of the stage also made the day mentally exhausting.
The sixth rider to enter the timed special, Sam Sunderland had a solid start to the day, riding consistently and navigating well. After clearing the fog-covered mountain section the Brit was able to push on a little harder to complete the day in fifth – one place up from his start position.
Sam Sunderland:“It was a really tricky stage, there was a lot of fog on the top of one of the mountains and that made riding and navigation tough. The only thing you could do was ease down on your pace a little and take a lot of care. At one point visibility was down to just a few metres. The road book had a lot of long notes that weren’t as clear as they could have been and I think a few people struggled with that. As the day went on the riders grouped up and that is always a bit unpredictable because you don’t know what the other guys are going to do. This is the Dakar though, we know it’s difficult and we know we’ll have stages like this. It’s still early days so we’ll see what tomorrow brings.”
Again opting to prioritise bringing his KTM 450 RALLY home safely, rather than pushing and risking a mistake, Toby Price placed ninth at the end of the stage. Continuing to ride at a good and consistent pace, the Australian now sits fifth overall in the provisional overall standings, just three minutes down on Sunderland.
Toby Price:“I think it was more about survival than racing today. It was a really tough stage but I got through it and I’m feeling good and that’s what matters. I got lost early on and that cost me some time to the front runners. Then at about the 130-kilometre mark there was a lot of fog in the mountains. The road book didn’t have too many details and there were a few cliffs you could have dropped off. Luckily, I missed them. I’m still trying to hang on and get to the end of each stage but overall things are good.”
Stage three was an eventful one for Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rider Luciano Benavides. Having to refocus after stopping to assist an injured competitor, the young Argentinian put in his best ride of the rally so far, posting the 14th fastest time on the challenging stage.
Luciano Benavides:“Today was a really strange day for me. I started off well but after only a few kilometres I found an injured rider who had crashed ahead of me so I waited with him until the helicopter arrived. After that I concentrated on clearing my mind and focusing again and was able to pick up the pace a little more. I was sure they would cancel the stage because of the fog on the mountain but it soon cleared and we carried on. It was tough today but I’m pleased with my speed and feel that I’m riding a lot smarter this year.”
Opening a stage is always tricky and Matthias Walkner had that honour on stage three, entering the timed special at just after 6am this morning. Riding well for the first part of the route, a crash ended up costing the Austrian some time. Despite navigation proving to be the toughest yet in this year’s event, Walkner regained his composure to place 15th on the day and now lies eighth overall.
Matthias Walkner:“Things were pretty hard for me today. I opened the stage but only for the first 60 kilometres or so because I had a crash going over one of the drops. After that I couldn’t find my rhythm so well again. It was really foggy and normally you would have to stop in those conditions. All you could do is drop your speed and take things really carefully. I picked up the pace later on in the stage but lost some time on the leaders. It’s only day three though and we have many kilometres left to race.”
KTM Factory Racing riders Laia Sanz and Mario Patrao both enjoyed a strong day, despite the challenges of the weather and navigation. With Sanz finishing in 21st position and Patrao just two places behind in 23rd, the two now sit just inside the top-20 in the overall standings.
Laia Sanz: “Today was a good day for me, the stage was really tricky with the navigation and the fog. I did get lost a couple of times but soon found my way again. Physically, I am feeling stronger, I got to the end of the stage without getting too tired and that is really good. My rhythm on the bike is improving also, I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Mario Patrao: “Navigation was difficult today, I made a mistake at around 100 kilometres and lost a couple of minutes. My bike is perfect and I think I’m gaining more and more confidence each day. I’ll continue to work on my speed and hopefully get another good result tomorrow.”
Stage four of the 2019 Dakar Rally marks the first half of the marathon stage. Riders will leave Arequipa and head for the temporary bivouac in Moquegua where they will receive no outside assistance from their teams. The 511-kilometre stage includes a gruelling 405-kilometre timed special – the longest of the rally.