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ADV NewsDakar 2021 Recap: Argentine Kevin Benavides Takes Historic Win

Dakar 2021 Recap: Argentine Kevin Benavides Takes Historic Win

Daily stage updates and video recaps of the Dakar Rally 2021.

Published on 01.15.2021

January 15, 2021: FINAL STAGE

The 2021 Dakar Rally came to a close today with an intense 200-kilometer special. Setting off from Yanbu and leading to the finish line in Jeddah, it was far from an easy stage. Loaded with technical obstacles from the start, it provided one last demanding test for all competitors. A conclusion to what has been an incredibly challenging 43rd edition of the Dakar, delivering a punishing route across the 12 stages of the competition with some of the most technically-demanding navigation seen in recent years.

Today’s stage proved to be one for the books for Kevin Benavides. The Argentine who had to open the way after overtaking Sam Sunderland, rode at lighting pace until the finish in order to combat a charge from his teammate Ricky Brabec. Once the dust settled, Kevin Benavides and his Honda CRF450 Rally clinched the Dakar 2021 crown. With his win, Benavides made history to become the first South American rider to ever win the Dakar Rally in the bikes category. 

Kevin Benavides has become the first South American motorcycle rider to win the Dakar Rally.

Benavides: “It was absolutely crazy. I started third and after fifty kilometers I was in front opening the stage. I feel that everything was complicated, because Ricky started to catch up with me. I started to push a lot, all day, and stayed focused, so I did a good job today. Also, I went at 110%, but now it’s true: I’ve won the Dakar – I’m so, so happy! I made some mistakes, for sure. I think it’s impossible to do a perfect Dakar. The important thing is to always continue, to stay calm and focused day by day and to work hard day by day. On stage 5 I was worried because I crashed so fast and hit my head and my ankle and felt a lot of pain. On that day I said maybe the Dakar is finished for me, but I continued pushing. Now I still have some pain but at the moment I am more happy than in pain, so it’s no problem. I think where I won the race was today, in the last kilometers! You couldn’t think of winning during this Dakar, you had to keep focused. You don’t think, you just concentrate on the action and nothing else, because everything can change in one second. I am really proud to be the first South American winner. My dream was also to make history and now I am the first South American guy to win the Dakar.”


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Honda’s success was rounded out with the runner-up spot going to American Ricky Brabec, who posted the fastest time in today’s stage, giving him a final tally of four stage wins. Despite his best efforts, Brabec was unable to regain time and overtake Kevin Benavides in the general standings. However, the American was able to pass KTM’s Sam Sunderland to offer Honda a one-two finish. The last time Honda managed a one-two in the Dakar Rally was back in 1987 at the hands of Cyril Neveu and Edi Orioli.

With his second place overall, American Ricky Brabec offers Honda their first one-two finish since 1987.

Brabec: “I tried my best. Unfortunately, my teammates ride really well. It’s pretty cool to finish with a one-two, but obviously the top step is a lot better than the second step. We did our best. We struggled the first week, but during the second week we came back pretty strong. Today I gave it 110% and it just wasn’t enough. I was hoping to catch up, but I’ll take second place for now. I guess I’ll come back next year and try to get on the top again. It takes a village to get this to happen and I’m pretty bummed that the title can’t stay with me, but number two will work, I guess.” 

In winning stage 11, Sam Sunderland had the unenviable task of opening the 12th and final timed special. Trailing rally leader Kevin Benavides by five minutes going into the stage, the 2017 Dakar winner had no option but to push as hard as he dared during the final 200km as he raced against the clock. Unfortunately, a small error that resulted in him losing almost 10 minutes ended Sunderland’s charge for the win, dropping him down to third place overall. Although disappointed not to have secured a second career win for himself and KTM, the Brit was happy with how his race had gone.

For his eighth participation in the Dakar, Sam Sunderland has finished the rally on the podium in 3rd position.

Sunderland: “I did my best over the whole rally, so I can’t be too disappointed, I guess. It was always going to be hard setting off first this morning and I knew I had to push hard to make up those minutes. I couldn’t find one waypoint early on in the dunes and lost far too much time trying to find it. There is always a fine balance and when you push your speed, the navigation can lose out. I’m super happy as I know I gave it my all. The other guys did a great job and after what was such a tough event with several crashes and people being forced to retire with technical issues, I’m glad to be here safe at the finish line and in third place. I honestly think that has been one of the toughest races I have ever done – the pace at the top is so high, we’re having to fight every single day and there is no time to relax.”

Best Rookie

Contesting only his second ever cross-country rally, Daniel Sanders came into his first Dakar as a true rookie. The KTM Factory Racing junior rider impressed right from the start however, demonstrating incredible speed on the opening Prologue. From there, Sanders went on to mix it with the established Dakar specialists, claiming no fewer than five top-five stage results and showing great maturity over the entire event. In Daniel Sanders, KTM has a great talent for the future of Dakar.

Sanders: “All-in-all it’s been a pretty perfect first Dakar for me. It started off with a good Prologue and then day-by-day I learned a little more and gained as much experience as possible. I’m really pleased to come away with fourth overall and as first rookie, so that’s cool. I’ve only really spent four months on the KTM rally bike, learning as much as I can for this, so I can’t thank Jordi and the whole team enough for all the hard work they have done and the faith they put in me. “

Top Privateer

This year’s Dakar sees a second American in the Top 5. Privateer, Skyler Howes, consistently delivered a strong performance throughout the race and today was no exception. The Utah native posted the fourth fastest time in today’s stage earning him a notable fifth place overall.

Howes: “This one feels good. The amount of hard work and sacrifice it took just to get here. The racing was next level, this was one tough Dakar. To be at the finish is a huge relief and to be top privateer and land in the top 5…damn this is something I’m proud of. The people that came together and supported me, bought a t-shirt, my sponsors, the encouragement – it wouldn’t be possible without all of you!” 

Consecration for Benavides

Kevin Benavides has achieved the most prestigious spot on the Dakar for his fifth participation. After a very noticeable debut on the rally with a finish just at the foot of the podium in 2016, the Argentine overcame disillusionments, especially in 2018 when the title seemed to be within his grasp until a navigation error proved fatal to his hopes near Salta, his home town. This year once again, a nasty fall broke his nose and damaged his ankle, but could not stop him from taking control of the category on stage five. Pushed off the leader’s throne the very next day, Kevin was able to bide his time and regained the lead when his team-mate Nacho Cornejo exited the rally prematurely. The first South American winner in the category then withstood the attacks during a very tense finish, in which Sam Sunderland remained a threat until the last few kilometers of the penultimate stage, as did Ricky Brabec, who finished less than five minutes behind him with victory in the final special.

Best Manufacturer Performance

It was an exceptionally strong event for the Monster Energy Honda Team who ruled the roost throughout the world’s toughest race for a second consecutive year. The Big Red squad proved to have greater riders and superior mechanical firepower, winning 10 stages and leading nine of the 13 days of racing.

A Crushing Blow

Since 2019, Yamaha has always had at least one of its riders in the top 10 on the Dakar. This year, the brand from Iwata witnessed five early exits from the rally for its official riders. The nightmare started already on the second stage, with Andrew Short’s mechanical problems, followed by Jamie McCanney, also let down by his machine. At the rest day, Ross Branch, Franco Caimi and Adrien Van Beveren were still present, but as soon as the rally resumed, the Japanese manufacturer waved goodbye to the Argentinian. Following a fall, a blocked chain and tears of frustration on that same day, Ross Branch experienced similar rotten luck the next stage. At that point, the hopes of the team rested upon the shoulders of Adrien Van Beveren. As a precaution, Yamaha changed the Frenchman’s engine, even if this meant a 15-minute penalty. Though this strategy seemed to work until the start of the final special, the man from Hazebrouck was forced to throw in the towel after losing 30 minutes trying to rectify mechanical problems. Van Beveren was the leading French representative among the elite riders until his withdrawal; following his premature exit, the best placed Gallic rider now occupies 22nd place, namely newcomer Camille Chapelière.

Tragic News

This morning Dakar organizers confirmed the death of French rider Pierre Cherpin, who succumbed to his injuries 5 days after suffering a hard fall during stage 7. We extend our sincere condolences to Cherpin’s family and friends. For more details click here.

Stage 12 Top 10 Motorcycle Ranking

Top 10 FINAL Motorcycle Rankings


January 14, 2021: Stage 11

The longest special of the Dakar, as had been expected, put riders through the wringer. The recent rains had left the tracks in extremely poor condition forcing the organizers to shorten the originally planned 511-kilometer course by about 50 km to avoid the area. Nonetheless, with 100km of dunes and fast tracks through tricky-to-navigate canyons, the penultimate stage of the Dakar tested the already-exhausted riders to their limits.

Sam Sunderland struck back today with a stage win, breaking Honda’s impressive 7 consecutive successes. With an advantageous start position of eighth, Sunderland set off 15 minutes behind the rally leader with every intention of chasing him down. Knowing the long special offered a great chance to improve his position in the overall classification, the Brit made the best use of his speed and experience to close in on his rivals. Although a small navigational error cost him some minutes in the final kilometers, Sam claimed the win on the stage and did enough to move himself up to second in the provisional overall standings.

Although a small navigational error cost him some minutes, Sam Sunderland claimed the win on the stage and did enough to move himself up to second in the provisional overall standings.

Sunderland: “I knew that today was one of my last chances to try to win and I gave my all, all day. The boys up front did a great job and, you know, I cannot be sad, because I give everything I have and try my best. I didn’t quite manage to take enough time, but I’m happy with my effort.”

Meanwhile, Honda Team rider Kevin Benavides defended his overall lead in the race after posting the third fastest time today. The Argentinean still has a theoretically sufficient lead of 4’12’’, all the more so given that tomorrow he will enjoy a more favorable place in the starting order to defend his position. However, the Honda rider had to make a serious effort in opening the way with Ricky Brabec in order to withstand the attack of Sam Sunderland.

The general standings leader Kevin Benavides will start the last stage finishing in Jeddah with a lead of more than 4 mins over Sam Sunderland and a more favorable position in the starting order.

Benavides: “We did a really good job with Ricky. It was a really hard day, very long with plenty of navigation, a lot of sand and dunes. I opened for about two hundred kilometers, so I think I did a good job. With Ricky we pushed together on the dunes. We tried to do our best. Today was really hard to be in front, but we are okay and this is a really good point.”

Elsewhere, Pablo Quintanilla who has been struggling to find his rhythm, put in a solid performance, coming from a 15th place start to claim second at the finish. Losing a few minutes to the eventual stage winner over the dunes, the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing star dropped down to second – a place he held right to the line. Today’s stage result moves Quintanilla one-place higher in the provisional rally standings to seventh.

A Crushing Blow

Joan Barreda’s Dakar came to an end with just 1 more day to go. There is reason to wonder whether the day’s bad luck encountered by Barreda is due to an unfortunate chain of circumstances, or merely just a major blunder. Either way, the Honda rider, who had posted the best time after 215 km, got muddled up reading his road-book and did not stop at the refueling point, exposing himself to a severe penalty and especially to the likelihood of running out of gas. This is exactly what happened as he ground to a halt after 267 km. After feeling some dizziness, he requested a medical examination and was airlifted to the bivouac in Yanbu. Although he had the chance to top his best finish on the rally so far, namely the 5th placed finish in 2017, “Bang-Bang” well and truly tore up all the benefits of his performance. As a result, his 11th participation on the Dakar finishes with the 5th withdrawal of his career on the rally.

The fall two days ago really took its toll today. I really wanted to continue in the race and finish as best I could, but it wasn’t to be. I want to thank my team and all the fans for having always being there for me.— Joan Barreda

Stat of the Day: 7

In the absence of Toby Price, there were several riders ready to lay claim to the place of best KTM representative, but it was Sam Sunderland who accomplished the deed. By reacquainting himself with a stage victory for the first time since 2019, the British rider also put a halt to a series of seven successive wins by the Honda clan, started on stage three by Joan Barreda and then continued by Kevin Benavides, Ricky Brabec and Nacho Cornejo. This sequence marked a shift in the balance of power to the Japanese brand which over the years has set its sights on preventing the Austrian brand from becoming rapid-fire stage winners. Indeed, it is necessary to go back to 2016 to find a similar performance from KTM riders, with none other than Toby Price, alongside Antoine Meo and Štefan Svitko.

Stage 11 Top 10 Motorcycle Ranking

Top 11 Overall Motorcycle Ranking


January 13, 2021: Stage 10

Totaling 583km, stage 10 of the rally took competitors south from Neom towards AlUla. An 83km liaison led the riders to the start of the 342km special stage where they then faced similar terrain to Tuesday’s tough stage nine, with a mixture of sandy tracks and rocky sections twisting through canyons and valleys. Although one of the shortest at this year’s race, the day’s special still proved incredibly taxing for all, with its high temperatures and complicated navigation.

Today turned out to be a bittersweet finish for the Honda team. On the one hand, Big Red was celebrating a 1-2-3 podium lock-out, with Ricky Brabec claiming another stage win, second place going to Joan Barreda and Kevin Benavides in third. However, the team also saw José Ignacio Cornejo fall at kilometer 252, bringing significant consequences for the Chilean rider. After making it to the finish-line of the stage in bad shape and after medical advice, Nacho decided to retire from the race and undergo a thorough medical examination. It is a crushing blow for Cornejo who had led the race for three days.

Victory on the day went to Ricky Brabec, who had headed out from second position this morning, opening the track for much of the day. / Photo: Rally Zone

The 2020 Dakar Champ Ricky Brabec got off to a shaky start in this year’s rally, reaching the rest day stuck in the doldrums almost 20 minutes behind the leader, but his rebound has been swift and spectacular since then. He won the first part of the marathon stage and has since finished every stage on the podium. The Honda rider continued to make up time as his main rivals, including Xavier De Soultrait, Toby Price and Nacho Cornejo, made fatal mistakes. Brabec’s win in stage 10, combined with Kevin Benavides’ somewhat spotty performance in the same special, bring the American within one minute of his teammate in the general standings. Tomorrow, Brabec will face the challenge of opening the longest stage in this year’s edition.

Brabec: “Today was fast with some traces from yesterday and some from last year. My teammate Kevin at kilometer 75 went off the roadbook a bit and got confused, so I took over from there opening the whole way until the end. I was thinking all day about a strategy, to try and sit back a little and set myself up for tomorrow, but the other guys were a little bit off the pace and too far behind. I didn’t want to sit back and wait for six minutes, so I decided to bite the bullet and push all day.”

Meanwhile, Sam Sunderland came close to losing his podium spot due to navigation errors. If he managed to keep it, it was only thanks to the setback suffered by Nacho Cornejo, whose hopes of victory were dashed just as the rally came within a hundred kilometers or so of the millennia-old Nabataean funerary monuments for which Al-ʿUla is famous.

Sam Sunderland started the special in third place overall, but he would have been lost it had Cornejo not withdrawn from the race. / Photo: Red Bull KTM Factory Racing

Sunderland: “It was a tough stage for me today, I felt good out there but made a couple of mistakes and lost quite a bit of time. The road book is so complicated this year and it’s not so easy to stick to the right track. I was leading my group earlier and then at one moment, I couldn’t find the way. I tried to follow the caps in the road book but ended up riding around in circles for a couple of minutes.”

Continuing to impress with his strong performance, privateer Skyler Howes posted the fourth fastest time of the day. The American moves to 5th overall. “A fun day ripping through the desert. A lot of rocks and tough navigation again today. Learned my lesson yesterday and stayed on top of the roadbook and had a much better time. Caught up to a couple of guys and had a solid group ride for most of the stage. “

A Crushing Blow

Nacho Cornejo’s supporters in Chile were probably already preparing to celebrate. Their hero seemed poised to win the Dakar at the young age of 26 and was heading into the final stages with a margin of 11 minutes and a calm, collected approach that pre-empted unnecessary risks. Even after his crash, the folks in Iquique must have breathed a sigh of relief when they saw their boy jump right back on his bike. However, it all went downhill from there. First, the effects of the crash slowed Cornejo down to the point that he surrendered the lead. Shortly after, the Honda rider was forced to withdraw from the race due to a concussion that required close surveillance and in-depth examinations. Leaving his fifth Dakar in a helicopter is probably not what he was expecting.

Stage 10 Top 10 Motorcycle Ranking

Top 10 Overall Motorcycle Rankings


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Author: ADV Pulse Staff
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6 thoughts on “Dakar 2021 Recap: Argentine Kevin Benavides Takes Historic Win

  1. Pingback: Watch: Dakar 2021 Video Recap and Rankings - ADVENTURE & OVERLAND MOTORCYCLE TRAVEL

  2. Great day for Ricky, not so for Nacho. Always hate seeing injuries in racing knock out any rider but even more so the top ones.

  3. Happiness in Argentina ! The design of the offroad rider airbags can now move to the next generation based around everything gained from this Dakar, many top riders knocked out, Toby breaking his collar bone under the vest and Pierre Cherpin losing his life. It’s also time for a much smaller single TFT cockpit to reduce head and face injuries from impacting the large cluster and paper road book. Well done Honda ! wow 1,2 epic!

  4. Pingback: Dakar Rally Champion Kevin Benavides Leaves Staff Honda for KTM | My blog

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