Today’s stage from AlUla to Yanbu, the final destination on this year’s Dakar required an enormous amount of focus from the exhausted riders in order to complete the 420 km stage as fast gravel tracks, stony plateaus and broken dunes were a mixture that could derail anyone at the last moment.
Ricky Brabec planned to go out on the attack so that he could relax going into tomorrow’s finale and although his main rival Ross Branch was the fastest at the end of stage eleven, the 2020 Dakar winner kept his head down to keep himself firmly at the top of the overall standings.
Leading out today, Brabec slowed in the last 100 km of the special so that teammate Adrien Van Beveren could catch up and take a share of the bonuses to help his own podium bid. Although an honourable thing to do, the American profited from over five minutes in bonuses which moved him up from fourth to second on the stage with just over half a minute the final difference to Branch on the timesheet.
With the gap exceeding ten minutes to Branch overall, bar any issues the 32 year old American is on course for his second Dakar victory tomorrow.
Adrien Van Beveren has spent this week chipping away at Branch for that second spot on the podium and at the end of play yesterday had got it down to just a minute.
The Frenchman has opened the way for over 1137 km during this year’s event, 619 km of it on his own, so quite understandably was in no rush to catch up to Brabec and Cornejo when he left the line this morning in third. Although he also had planned to attack today, he ended up with a few surprises including a fall from a near miss with a camel which activated his airbag.
His third place finish today has unfortunately increased the gap by four minutes to the Botswanan who will have the task of opening tomorrow. This could though potentially give Van Beveren an advantage to leapfrog him heading into the final kilometres.
Despite not feeling 100% Nacho Cornejo put in a super effort on stage ten when he finished just two seconds behind Brabec and although he caught up to his teammate early on today, 115 km into the special he came to a standstill with a fuel pump issue. He managed to rectify it but lost over twenty-five minutes and sadly his chance to fight for the final spot on the podium in what was a cruel blow to the Chilean’s impressive Dakar adventure this year.
Pablo Quintanilla had a fairly steady stage, taking the lead early on but ultimately just made it into the top ten over seventeen minutes down on the stage winner.
The penultimate day of the Dakar Rally is done with the top step beckoning tomorrow for one rider. A short 175 km stage close to the crystal blue waters of the Red Sea will decide who receives the Bedouin trophy with a race to the finish on a rocky desert loop around Yanbu.
Ruben Faria : « It was a really important day for us on what was going to be a difficult and challenging stage. With Ricky, Nacho and Adrien opening the day and our main rival Ross Branch starting further back in seventh, we knew that with a gap like this if something happened in front it would have been easy for Ross to recover some time to Ricky overall. It was quite stressful as it was a long day for us all, but in the end Ricky rode a really good stage and it’s a good step for tomorrow as he will start behind Ross.
« Nacho started second but he had a problem with the fuel pump and so he needed to stop and try to fix the bike. We’re glad he could solve the problem and get to the finish, but disappointed for him that he won’t be fighting for the podium.
« Adrien had a solid day in third with good navigation and pace and although he had big crash involving a group of camels, he thankfully managed to get his damaged bike to the end of the stage. Even though he lost some time to Ross today we believe that he can put up a good fight with him tomorrow for second place.
« After running out of fuel on the first part of the 48 Hour Chrono and falling out of podium contention, Pablo has been a big help to his teammates this week and with the last day tomorrow, all the riders are motivated and focused for the final stage in Yanbu. »
Pablo Quintanilla #7 – Stage: 10th Overall: 11th : « It was a long stage and I was able to stay ahead for the first 100 kilometres and after that I caught up with several riders but it was impossible to overtake because there were narrow canyons and it was quite dusty. It actually felt like an enduro stage so I was happy to get to the end. »
Ricky Brabec #9 – Stage: 2nd Overall: 1st : « I would say today was my best ride of the rally. The first goal on the Dakar is always to make it to the rest day and then the next goal is to make it to the finish. If you finish the Dakar, that’s a win. It’s not easy, especially for the bikes because we’re up at three in the morning and we’re riding all morning, we’re riding all day and we’re getting back to the bivouac late. But finishing the Dakar is a win in my book and if you can win the Dakar it’s legendary. »
José Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Cornejo #11 – Stage: 11th Overall: 4th : « I had some issues with my fuel tank so I had to manage my speed a bit to be sure of finishing the stage. I lost some precious minutes in the fight for the podium, so it was a tough day emotionally, but it’s racing, things like that happen. I just need to keep moving forward. I wanted to be up there as much as I could as I was riding and navigating well, so we’ll try again next year. »
Adrien Van Beveren #42 – Stage: 3rd Overall: 3rd : « Of course I’m going to fight to the end, I’m going to give my best as I do every day. Until you cross the finish line you don’t know what will happen.
« I decided to attack today and it was a stage full of rocks, so I couldn’t push too hard as I didn’t want to make any mistakes.
« At one point in the stage there was a group of camels and I saw that they were crossing the main track. When I got close to them the last one decided to turn around and I tried to avoid him but there was a stone and I had a big fall. When I got up I was a bit dazed but I managed to focus quickly enough to get back on the pace. »
RallyGP Results – Stage 11
1. Evan Branch Ross – BWA – Hero Motorsports Team Rally, 04:51:57
2. Brabec Ricky – USA – Monster Energy Honda Team, +0:32
3. Van Beveren Adrien – FRA – Monster Energy Honda Team, +3:17
4. Benavides Luciano – ARG – Husqvarna Factory Racing, +4:38
5. Price Toby – AUS – Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team, +6:31
6. Benavides Kevin – ARG – Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team, +9:08
7. Sanders Daniel – AUS – Gas Gas Factory Team, +12:23
8. Michek Martin – CZE – Orion Moto Racing Group, +14:27
9. Svitko Stefan – SLO – Slovnaft Rally Team, +15:47
10. Quintanilla Pablo – CHI – Monster Energy Honda Team, +17:34
11. Cornejo José Ignacio « Nacho » – CHI – Monster Energy Honda Team, +25:28…
RallyGP Provisional Standings after Stage 11
1. Brabec Ricky – USA – Monster Energy Honda Team, 49:37:57
2. Evan Branch Ross – BWA – Hero Motorsports Team Rally, +10:22
3. Van Beveren Adrien – FRA – Monster Energy Honda Team, +14:31
4. Cornejo José Ignacio ‘Nacho’ – CHI – Monster Energy Honda Team, +38:44
5. Benavides Kevin – ARG – Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team, +41:19
6. Price Toby – AUS – Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team, +47:59
7. Benavides Luciano – ARG – Husqvarna Factory Racing, +55:48
8. Sanders Daniel – AUS – Gas Gas Factory Team, +01:12:25
9. Svitko Stefan – SLO – Slovnaft Rally Team, +01:54:18
10. Michek Martin – CZE – Orion Moto Racing Group, +02:43:40
11. Quintanilla Pablo – CHI – Monster Energy Honda Team, +05:19:43…