Dakar Rally 2020: stage 2 maiden win for Ross Branch as Sunderland takes over rally lead

Ross Branch takes result of his life with surprise 2020 Dakar Rally stage two win as Sam Sunderland grabs the overall lead in Saudi Arabia.

 

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Sam Sunderland has taken the provisional overall Dakar Rally lead on stage two with second place behind surprise fastest moto rider on the day, Ross Branch.

After finishing 13th and best newcomer in 2019, Branch today became the first African stage winner since Alain Duclos won in his hometown of Bamako in 2006, then again in 2014 in Argentina – before that we have to look back to Alfie Cox in 2003 who took eight stage wins. 

 
Dakar 2020 ross Branch stage2 win 560
 

Speaking at the finish, the Botswanan said: “Today was really good and I had a lot of fun on the bike. Starting fourteenth this morning helped a lot because there were some tracks that opened the road. 

“I had a lot of fun and tried to ride my own race. I navigated well today which was really good for me and I think it helped a lot. Then I just took it easy, one by one, just trying to catch the guys. We only get one shot at this, so we have to make the most of it and I really enjoyed it. 

“I love being here. The whole adventure's amazing and I've made so many new friends here. It’s really cool and I love being a part of the Dakar.”

 
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Stage two at the 2020 Dakar Rally presented riders with several new challenges. The pre-coloured road books used for the first time this year were only given to competitors 25 minutes before the start of the timed special. Also, with the day marking the first half of the event’s Super Marathon stage, riders were only allowed 10 minutes to work on their bikes at the end of the day, with no outside assistance permitted.

 
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As the fifth rider to enter the day’s 367-kilometre special, Sam Sunderland was able to maximise his advantage and push right from the start. The 2019 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Champion was able to improve his position throughout that stage to ultimately post the second-fastest time. Sam now enjoys a lead of just over one minute in the provisional overall standings.

“It was a really tough day today and it felt very long.” Explains Sunderland. “There was a huge mix of terrain with high speed tracks and then slower technical sections. In and out of the canyons there were a lot of lines visible and that made navigation more of a challenge. I made a couple of mistakes, but I think everyone did out there today. All-in-all though I had a good run, just trying to stick to a steady rhythm and build up my pace as the race goes on.”

 
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Overnight leader, Toby Price, finished in 15th place on stage for ninth overall after a difficult day which saw him 12 minutes down on the leader: “Today was always going to be tough, leading out from the start without having had much time to read the road book.” Says Price of his second day in the saddale.

“The stage went ok, I lost some time to the others but the most important thing is I looked after my bike and the tyres so should be in good shape to close down on the leaders again tomorrow. There’s still a long, long way to go, but the bike is working great, things are looking good and I’m happy.”

 
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Ricky Brabec,  narrow P2 on stage one, fared better in 11th on the stage for fifth overall and just four minutes down on overall rally leader, Sunderland. 

“The day was good.” Said Ricky at the finish. “We knew coming into it that we were going to lose a bit of time starting up front. But up front you have a lot more focus. 

“I lost the way a bit about kilometre 50. We all grouped up and tried to be smart and manage our motorcycles. We have the Super Marathon tonight. It’s key to not wreck your motorcycle [on the marathon stages] as you have no mechanics and no assistance. I’m looking forward to day three. 

“The team’s good and all the bikes are in one piece. Motorcycles don’t really carry any tools or parts, so the only thing we can do is either adjust the lever or zip-tie some things together. Other than that even if you wreck the motorcycles, you have to deal with it. We are very fortunate that all the riders have nice motorcycles for day three. So that’s a plus for Honda.”

 
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Laia Sanz jumped off her GasGas today and lost close to 20 minutes after hitting the ground hard. Finishing in 38th place for 28th overall, Sanz was typically tough having raced much of the special in pain: “It was a difficult day for me today.” Said Sanz at the finish. “It’s never good to crash during any stage, but to crash at the start of a stage, and a stage that has tricky navigation, wasn’t good. I broke part of my navigational equipment, so I had to slow down to really concentrate on the navigation and lost a lot of time. Also, some riders passed me so there was a lot of dust. But it’s happened and more or less my bike and I are ok. 

“In many ways I am lucky because all the important parts of my bike are working. I can forget this stage now and look forward. I’m expecting a tough day tomorrow, as I will start further down the start order and most likely in a lot of dust again.”

 
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It was drama also for Andrew Short who crashed near the end of the stage, damaging his navigation equipment in the process. With the short maintenance time and no outside assistance, it does not bode well for Shorty on stage three: “My day was going well right up until near the end. I came up on one of the dangers but wasn’t quite able to get the bike stopped in time and ended up crashing. 

“I’m ok but I damaged my road book, which on a normal stage would be fine – we’d just fix it – but as this is the Super Marathon stage that’s impossible. So, tomorrow is going to be really tough. I might be able to follow someone, but it certainly looks like I might lose a little more time on stage three.”

Stage 3 consists 489km in total with a short 84km of liaison before a 404km timed special.  

The route heads out from what some are calling a “future megacity” at Neom to the border with Jordan through a series of canyons and mountains where the Dakar will reach its highest point this year, at an altitude of 1,400 metres.

Stage 2 results:

 
Dakar 2020 stage2 results
 
 

Overall standings after stage 2:

Dakar 2020 stage2 overall resutls
 
 

Full Dakar stage 2 results: Dakar.com/rankings 

 
Photo Credit: Rally Zone
 
 
 
 
Byline jp ISDE 2018 Enduro21
Jon Pearson
Enduro21 Editor and Bike Tester
jon.pearson@enduro21.com