Pablo Quintanilla heads the results on stage nine at Dakar Rally 2020 – Ricky Brabec finishes fourth and retains 20 minute overall lead while Toby Price is philosophical about how the race has developed.
The 2020 Dakar Rally got back underway today after stage eight was cancelled as a mark of respect for Paulo Goncalves. Riders across the board expressed the emotions and difficulties in getting back on their bikes after the tragic events – the Hero Motorsports Team in fact have withdrawn from the event out of respect for Paulo.
For the riders, especially those perhaps more closely bonded with Goncalves, it was a tough ask to get back on with the job of racing.
On the back of a rough couple of days for everyone in the travelling Dakar ‘village’, Kevin Benavides had the task of setting off first on the day’s special after completing a cold and not insignificant 450km of transfer this morning. The Argentinean rider set off three minutes ahead of Honda teammate, Joan Barreda who set about closing down the gap during the 410km special.
Around the halfway mark, four riders were all running very close times despite not all being together on the road: Quintanilla, Ricky Brabec, Barreda and Toby Price were all within half a minute on corrected time.
By the finish of today’s stage, Pablo Quintanilla had stretched an advantage to take the win by 1m:54s from Price with Barreda continuing his strong second half to the rally in third, 2m:42s back.
Quintanilla explains that getting back on the bike this morning was difficult: “It was a tough day today. It was really difficult to start the day, to get back into the rhythm after what happened to Paulo. After the refuelling I started to feel good and I started to push and in the end it looks like I won, so this stage win is in honour of Paulo.”
Toby Price openly expressed on his social media account how Goncalves’ incident, and his not insignificant role at the time, affected him these last two days. Trying to focus then was an issue on what, at times, was a “boring” stage: “It was certainly a difficult time… Once you get on the bike you’ve got to focus on what you’ve got ahead and be on full gas, but I wasn’t quite today, unfortunately.
“The first sixty to ninety kilometres was not so bad, pretty good and a little technical through there. But from pretty much the hundred kilometre marker it’s just been pretty much full gas and wide open. It’s a little boring.”
“You can't make up time on anyone or do anything because it's pretty much point and shoot and full gas and wide open. So, it's difficult, but, all in all, we’re happy we’ve made it through another stage and we’ve got a couple more to go.”
Speaking about the 2020 Dakar as a whole, Price says the odds are stacked in Brabec’s favour: “There's still plenty to come, but it’s coming closer towards the end. For sure, Ricky is riding really, really well, like he was last year, so we always knew he was going to be a threat on the race this year. So far, everything has gone really well for him.
“It hasn’t quite been our year on this race, but that’s the way it is. You have your good moments and you have your bad ones and unfortunately 2020 hasn’t quite been good for us but we’ll still keep giving it a good fight and see how we go.”
For Joan Barreda the 2020 Dakar has had its ups and downs but the second half has proved fruitful for the Spaniard who is looking a lot more like his old self at the top of the timesheets: “Today I started in second position and there was a lot of navigation without any lines from other bikes so I needed to take care and really focus on the direction. After refuelling I caught Kevin. There were some notes that were a little bit confusing, but we kept going and found the right way.”
The rider they all continue to try to topple is of course Ricky Brabec. The American produced another copybook rider today finishing 3m:55s down on Quintanilla to keep the gap at over 20 minutes and as comfortable as it can be.
“Everything is definitely playing in my favour.” Said Brabec at the stage nine finish. “I’m pretty stoked about that and excited - it’s another day closer to an American dream. But, there’s still three days left.”
Ricky, like so many others, was mindful of the tragedy: “It’s not very easy right now with the absence of Paulo. We’re just trying to stay focused and stay calm and maintain the advantage.
“There are three days left. We know where we’re at we’re going to rest and plan for the next day. There weren’t many sand dunes today and tomorrow is the marathon, so stage ten and eleven aren’t going to go by very quick.”
“We won’t have the crew tomorrow night. We get the road-book tomorrow morning, so there’s no road-book tonight and then, well, we’re going to have fun.
“We put in a lot of work in 2019 during the summer in California, Nevada and Mexico just testing. It’s really nice seeing it all pay off, all the blood, sweat and tears, training, crashes at home and just all the hot days… it’s paying off so I’m excited about that and hopefully we’ll see in three days if it really will pay off.”
Brabec will again have a decent start position tomorrow and though he seems relaxed, must be crossing fingers for everything to just keep on keeping on for three more days. Remember, he has been taken out of the rally in the previous two years due to engine failure – stage 10 in 2018 and stage eight in 2019 while leading.
Battle for best rookie
Martin Michek and Jaime Betriu finished 13th and 14th respectively today. The battle for best rookie honours has raged since day one and the gap between them currently sits at 1m:24s overall in favour of Michek (who isn’t shy of putting on the style when a photographer is present – see above!).
Sherco Factory rider, Lorenzo Santolino was a notable retirement from stage nine suffering with a serious elbow injury, he was forced to call for medical assistance and end his rally for another year.
Stage 10, runs a total of 608 kilometres from Haradh to Shubaytah, with a relatively short 74km liaison ahead of 534km of racing. Stage 10 will be the last of this year’s marathon stages, two back-to-back where riders will have just 10 minutes to complete any work on their bikes tomorrow night and no tyre changes permitted.
Dakar Rally 2020, stage 9 results:
Dakar Rally 2020 overall results after stage 9:
Full results: Dakar.com/rankingsPhoto Credit: Rally Zone + Eric Vargiolu/C. Lopez/ASO Jon PearsonEnduro21 Editor and Bike Testerjon.firstname.lastname@example.org