As the Dakar Rally settles down for Rest Day in Bolivia, Honda’s Kevin Benavides holds the overall lead.
The first big maker of the 2018 Dakar Rally has been reached with competitors arriving to Bolivia for a well-earned rest day.
The Dakar has left Peru and its formidable sand dunes and entered Bolivia, not far from the splendid Lake Titicaca, giving the competitors the opportunity to taste the mountains and quicker tracks.
However, they still had to be wary of the high plains of Bolivia and sections at a height of 4,722 metres above sea level before a rest day in the capital La Paz, which will help them acclimatise to the altitude.
Photo Credit: Rally Zone
Benavides leads the way
At the top of the standings, Benavides holds a two-minute lead over Yamaha’s Adrien Van Beveren, and is the first rider from Argentina to lead the race.
“I am very proud because it is the first time that an Argentine rider has led the Dakar Rally,” told Benavides. “I'm very happy too, because the idea was to get as high up the rankings as possible before the rest stage, so I can not be happier.
“I'm a little tired, we've had rain, mud, fast roads. But I was fast and felt comfortable on the bike. Now we have a day to rest and prepare the second week.”
Van Beveren in the hunt
Going great guns in this year’s rally, Van Beveren led a large portion of the race on what is essentially a modified WR 450F.
And despite this being his second start in Dakar, the Le Touquet winner and sand specialist is right in touch entering week two.
“It was a very long day but we managed to reach the La Paz bivouac without any problem,” told Van Beveren. “The goal was not to make any navigational mistakes and reach the finish with a good overall time.
“So far everything is going well and I'm happy I got to the rest day in second overall. The gap to the leader is really small and with one more full week of racing, anything can happen.”
Photo Credit: PhotoDakar.com
Walkner heads KTM
After the retirement of Sam Sunderland on Tuesday, KTM’s leading man is Matthias Walkner.
Just under three minutes behind Benavides, the Austrian marquee’s hopes of a 17th consecutive win are not lost and they could certainly mark it with an Austrian winner in the form of Walkner.
Walkner feels everything is going to plan…
“Everything is going to plan and I’m in a good position going into the second week of racing. I feel I need this rest day because the first week has been the toughest I’ve ever known at the Dakar and my whole body is aching.
“I think the next marathon stages will really sort out the positions at the top of the standings. Bolivia has always been tricky to ride and with the weather being so bad it will be even more difficult.”
De Soultrait top four
Yamaha are definitely on the pipe in this year’s race with two riders in the top four. Xavier de Soultrait is backing his teammate up nicely…
“The day was shortened due to bad weather so we only raced a short timed special. I attacked from the start and managed to gain some time to the leaders in the first checkpoint. Then I caught Adrien and as soon as I passed him I got a message on my GPS to slow down and ride cautiously as there had been some incident in front.
“As I slowed down my bike got stuck in the mud and I lost some time to get going again. Apart from this minor issue I had a good day and I'm happy I climbed to fourth in the overall.”
**A two-minute speeding penalty has since dropped De Soultrait to seventh overall.
Photo Credit: Rally Zone
Barreda back in the mix
Rattling his way rapidly back up the running order from 28th to fifth, Honda’s Joan Barreda is now just nine minutes down on teammate Benavides and very much in the hunt.
Six seconds behind Barreda is Toby Price (KTM) in sixth. The Australian is racing his way back into shape and contention following 12 months on the sidelines having broken his leg in Dakar 2017.
“I got third today, which I’m happy with but I need to try and get back some time on the top guys,” said Price. “I’ll enjoy the rest day tomorrow and then it’s full-gas next week and see what we can do.”
Meo takes stage six win
Antoine Meo is gathering momentum. After his fourth place on stage five, the Frenchman confirmed that he is back to his best after an injury that kept him away for one and a half years, by taking victory on the first quick stage of the rally.
“I am so happy to take my first win of this year’s event – it feels great,” commented Meo. “I had a great battle with Toby for the whole stage but as we neared the finish, the last 10km got really muddy and very slippery so I knew I had a chance to make up some good time.
“I took the risk, pushed on really hard and managed to beat him. Now we have a rest day, which will be nice and then it’s onto the second half of the rally.”
As for HIMOINSA’s Gerard Farrés, the privateer hangs onto the leaders despite their attacking pace, solidifying his position in the top 10 overall.
After a well-earned rest day, racing will resume on Saturday with the 727km stage seven, La Paz to Uyuni, the first of the two marathon stages for the bikes.
Robert LynnEnduro21 Editorrobert@future7media.com