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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 12, 2021: Stage 9

Featuring a loop stage starting and finishing at the coastal city of Neom, day nine at the 2021 Dakar turned out to be an extremely tough one. The 465-kilometer special was both physically and mentally demanding, with competitors battling over hard tracks, with plenty of rocky areas and even some sand, on a day in which sweltering temperatures – in excess of (86F) 30°c – tested riders to their absolute limits.

The stage was particularly rough for the KTM team as their leading rider, Toby Price, had a high-speed crash that has ended his Dakar 2021 journey. Holding 2nd place in the overall standings after yesterday’s stage, Price was well placed to fight for the top step of the podium. Unfortunately, while pushing hard, the experienced Australian suffered a nasty fall and was airlifted to the hospital in Tabuk. It has been confirmed the two-time champion has a broken collarbone.

Ricky Brabec and Sam Sunderland assisted Toby Price while waiting for the medical helicopter service to arrive.

Teammate Sam Sunderland and defending champion Ricky Brabec stopped to assist Price, who was reportedly in a dazed state when found. Both were credited the time lost while waiting for the medical helicopter service to arrive, pushing Sunderland (who also crashed later on) to 3rd place and Brabec to 4th in the overall standings. Sunderland is now the leading KTM representative surrounded by four Honda riders, including title holder Ricky Brabec, hot on his heels and aiming to kick him off the podium to paint it entirely red.


Sunderland: “Obviously, it’s been a pretty rough day today. I started off strong, and was making good progress, handling the tricky navigation well. Then I came across Toby lying in the riverbed with Brabec already stopped with him. I helped there till the helicopter arrived then set off again and tried to get back into a good rhythm. Around 100 km or so after that I was opening up for the group I was with and was looking down at the road book, hit a rock and was sent over the handlebars. It was quite a big crash, quite a big impact, and luckily I wasn’t too badly hurt. But I damaged the road book tower on the bike had no navigation from then on. I managed to reach the finish by following others but that’s always hard. A really tough day for the team, but this is Dakar and it’s always a challenge. We’ll regroup and do our best again tomorrow.”

All Monster Energy Honda Team riders now occupy the top five positions with Kevin Benavides winning the stage and snatching second in the general standings. Kevin dedicated the win to the memory of his exteam-mate Paulo Gonçalves who was killed in the Saudi desert a year ago.

Kevin Benavides occupies second place in the general standings, 11’24’’ behind Cornejo and pursued by Sam Sunderland.

Benavides: “Just now I’ve received the news that my brother [Luciano] crashed, so I am so disappointed with that and I hope he is ok. Also, today was a special day for me, one year on from Paulo… So, I tried to push all day, to stay focused, to keep the speed up and not make mistakes. So, I think it was a good stage. Nacho did a good job. At the end I heard Toby also crashed, so it was a really dangerous day today. I am happy to be here okay and so is the bike. “

Teammate, José Ignacio Cornejo took advantage today to consolidate his leadership in the overall rankings with a noteworthy result at the finish-line after posting the third fastest time in the stage. Over the last few days, Cornejo has displayed solid navigational skills which have allowed him to take the lead and gradually open up a gap on his pursuers, with the clear-headedness to slow down but also ride fast when it is required.

Following the faith of his Yamaha teammates, who had to throw in the towel in previous stages, is Ross Branch. The rider from Botswana was forced out of the race after experiencing engine problems that he was unable to repair. Adrien van Beveren is now the only remaining official representative of the Yamaha team.

The rally will now head south towards Jeddah, but will feature a couple of major stops on the way. The first of these will be at Al Ula. The 583-km total stage will include 342 km against the clock raced across sandy areas.

Stage 9 Top 10 Motorcycle Ranking

Top 10 Overall Motorcycle Rankings

January 11, 2021: Stage 8

Marking the second half of the rally’s marathon stage, the 709km day eight offered no respite for the riders. Consisting of a challenging mix of sandy tracks, followed by difficult-to-navigate stony sections, the stage to Neom would test all riders’ skill and endurance on the second of two incredibly tough days in the desert.

Just like a champion, Jose Ignacio Cornejo gave a master class in navigation. Exposed to the role of opener after catching his teammate Ricky Brabec at the front of the race, the Chilean managed to post the best time at the end of the special, further consolidating his position as overall race leader. In doing so, the rider from Iquique increases the advantage over the nearest second-placed rival to over a minute.

Nacho Cornejo was the stage winner, increasing his lead over Toby Price at the top of the general standings.

Cornejo: “I started second, behind Ricky, my teammate. He was pushing super hard at the beginning. I was pushing hard too but didn’t catch him, I caught him maybe just a little bit before refueling. With four days to go the plan is the same as it is now: try to ride as fast as we can, don’t get lost, don’t crash and take care of the bike, so I think that if we keep the same focus that I’ve been bringing on this race or on this last couple of days I can do pretty good.”

Meanwhile, Toby Price had to race with a damaged rear tire after a rock sliced it open during yesterday’s stage. Not able to change or swap the damaged item due to the marathon stage rules, Price carried out a makeshift repair last night before taking on today’s 709km special. Riding cautiously, Toby successfully completed the stage in an incredible second place and ahead of defending champ Ricky Brabec, who posted the third fastest time. Price remains well in the hunt for the podium, lying second overall in the standings.

Toby Price posted the second fastest time in spite of racing with a damage rear tire.

Price: “It’s been a really tough couple of days for me. I damaged my tire yesterday and of course, not being allowed to change it, I had to repair it as best I could for today and hope it held up. I rode a good stage, but all the while I was trying to be as smooth as possible – not accelerate too hard in case the issue got worse. Second on the day is not bad at all, I lost a little more time to the rally leader, but I’m just glad I got to the finish line.”

Teammate Sam Sunderland also had a strong performance today. Despite losing a little time early on, which dropped him down the closely-fought leaderboard to 13th, Sam steadily fought his way back to ultimately complete the stage in fourth. Although not enjoying the best start position for Tuesday’s stage nine, Sunderland, lying third overall, will have the opportunity to chase down the two riders ahead of him in the provisional standings.

Behind, Kevin Benavides and Joan Barreda, who started out from further back, finished fifth and sixth respectively without overly-exerting their bikes. The result leaves them in positions to attack tomorrow in a new stage that should allow the duo to claw back several minutes from their rivals.

End of the Road

Xavier De Soultrait’s Dakar 2021 has come to and end after taking a nasty fall in today’s stage.

Husqvarna rider, Xavier De Soultrait, who started the special in 4th position in the general standings, is out of the race after suffering a nasty fall on the way to the finish line. The medical team airlifted Soultrait, who did not lose consciousness, to the hospital in Tabuk. “End of my Dakar 2021. Unfortunately I crashed around kilometer 270 of today stage, and I wasn’t able to continue, too much pain on the neck. I have to take care of my health, I’m now in Tabuk hospital, for a full check. My In&motion airbag worked. I’ll keep you inform.”

Sharing Soultrait‘s misfortune, Yamaha rider Franco Caimi is also out of the race after his engine gave out and he was not able to repair it.

Stage 8 Top 10 Motorcycle Ranking

Top 10 Overall Motorcycle Rankings

January 10, 2021: Stage 7

  • Total distance covered: 453 km (special); 284 km (liaison)
  • Route: Ha’il to Sakaka

The second week of racing got underway with the first part of the Marathon stage, connecting the Ha’il bivouac to the Sakaka bivouac. Arriving at the bivouac, competitors are forbidden from receiving any outside mechanical assistance on their machines and must carry out maintenance and any needed repairs themselves. As such, bike preservation over the entire two-day challenge is extremely important.

Ricky Brabec struck back today with a stage win. The win came as a poisoned gift to Ricky Brabec, who had already noted that every rider faced with the challenge of opening the way since the start of the rally had ended up floundering, including Toby Price and his own teammate Joan Barreda. The American who came out determined to play his strongest hand in a bid to keep any end-of-rally options open claims a second stage win so far in this Dakar. The current champion lies eighth in the overall standings, 14 minutes behind the race leader.

Ricky Brabec’s victory in today’s stage propels him to eight place overall, 14’52” behind his teammate Ignacio Cornejo.

“I’m not sure about catching up a lot of time. Toby’s still behind me and I didn’t want him to catch me but we’re not really that close to the front. I just want to be smart and make up as much time as we can until the very last day. I don’t know if this Dakar is about strategy. We tried a little bit but it kind of kicked us. I think the strategy is to not open. I think everyone that’s opening is just losing a little bit of time. We’re trying our best, we just have to stay focused. There’s five days left and we’re gonna try just to finish in the top 7 every day and see if we can make up a little bit of time.” — Ricky Brabec

But the big winner was Jose Ignacio Cornejo, who crossed the finish line in second place and seized the overall lead by a tiny margin over Toby Price. The Chilean could even do better than Brabec in the role of pathfinder thanks to his great sense of navigation. “In the first part I had some problems in the sandy area that was more difficult as it was wet. From then on, I managed to find my rhythm. Before getting to the refueling I had a problem with the tank, I lost some minutes, but I was able to sort it out. After, I went all out to try to make up for the minutes I’d dropped. I did not make any navigation errors and was able to recover.”

Privateer, Skyler Howes continues to deliver a strong performance posting the third fastest time in the stage.

The third fastest time in the stage was snatched by American Skyler Howes, who is one of the emerging talents in the category. As a privateer, Howes’ strong performance all throughout the 7 stages is nothing but impressive. “Things were kinda dicey this morning in the wet camel grass. Felt like I was on edge for the first 100km. A lot of swaps and bucks going on. But after we got out into the desert and the dirt dried up I started feeling good! A lot of the stage looked just like Utah so I felt right at home.”

Elsewhere, Sam Sunderland’s tactic of stringing together solid, consistent finishes is paying off. The Brit has elevated himself to third in the general overall standings. Racing much of the 453 km special on his own, by concentrating on his navigation, Sunderland gradually moved up the order as the stage progressed, ultimately claiming fourth at the line.

Sam Sunderland has elevated himself to third in the general overall standings.

Sunderland: “It has been quite a hectic stage today – really long and difficult to know where the others are and where you are in terms of time. All you can do is keep pushing, but you don’t really see anyone else out there for three or four hours. I relied on my own judgement today and it seemed to have paid off. Even when you see the tracks ahead in the sand you have to focus on the road book to make sure you’re not making the same mistake as the riders ahead.

Teammate Toby Price made the most of his seventh-place start position by immediately chasing down his rivals in front to gain as much ground on them as possible. Leading on time for the majority of the special, he reportedly experienced a tire issue in the final section that ended up costing him several minutes, but he was able to push on to the finish for seventh fastest. Despite losing the lead of the rally, Toby will be the seventh rider to start Monday’s second half of the marathon stage, giving him a good opportunity to once again close in on the riders ahead.

Joan Barreda was the first rider to set off from the Ha’il bivouac this morning. The Spaniard set a solid pace which, by the end of the special stage, had served as a damage limitation exercise. The rider from Castellón conceded nine minutes to his teammate and eventual stage winner Brabec. Joan currently holds sixth place overall, ten minutes off the leader.

Ross Brach drops down to 15th overall after a crash in today’s stage.

A major blow for Ross Branch who has been having a solid Dakar so far, starting today’s stage in fourth place overall. But things took a sudden turn. The Yamaha rider had a mishap on his way to the finish line that cost him over 40 minutes and likely a shot at this year’s title. “Had a small crash near the start and my chain got stuck and broke my chain guide which led to a few more crashes after that, one big one that was a bit scary. I’m so happy that i had the airbag vest on for today.”

The 709 km second half of the marathon stage will see riders leave Sakaka and head to Neom to meet back up with their teams. Tricky navigation awaits the riders once more as they cover the sandy, then stony tracks of the 375 km timed special.

Stage 7 Top 10 Motorcycle Ranking

Top 10 Overall Motorcycle Rankings

January 9, 2021: Rest Day

For many, the rest day is an important intermediate goal. Whatever happens, it will be time for everyone to take stock of their strategy and use the time wisely to recover in a balanced way. It will be shorter for latecomers, who will certainly have a lot of work to do on their vehicles. The rest will be divided between the maintenance necessary to get back to the dunes and rest in the truest sense of the word. All this while remaining focused on the competition.

January 8, 2021: Stage 6

  • Total distance covered: 347 km (special); 170 km (liaison)
  • Route: Al Qaisumah to Ha’il

Following Thursday’s exhausting stage five, riders were hoping for an easier time on the final special before the rest day. But this is Dakar. Despite being shortened to 347km from the original length of 448km, stage six truly tested all competitors’ navigation skills and stamina by delivering a tough day made up of sandy, twisting tracks, before opening out into a mixture of both hard dirt trails and soft dunes.

Joan Barreda, who started further back today, proved to be one of the main protagonists of the stage by setting the best time of the day once again. “I won! I was trying after refueling to keep the pace down, but finally I won by a few seconds. With a race like this, I don’t know if it’s a good strategy. It was such a difficult few days with lots of navigation. With already a lot of years’ experience on the rally, I’ve seen a fair bit of navigation before, but this is completely different to what I know.”

Joan Barreda has won his third stage of the week and the 27th of his career. 

Through picking up his third success this week, Joan Barreda has also entered the history books alongside his countryman Jordi Arcarons, who also boasts 27 specials on his roll of honor, and with whom he shares the characteristic of never having won the Dakar, despite his talent and experience on the rally. If the Honda rider wishes to rectify this situation, he will have to make up time on the leading trio led by Toby Price.

Setting off as the third rider to enter the special, Price had caught the two riders ahead of him by kilometer 100. Riding in a group of three from there to the finish, the two-time Dakar champion was able to find a solid rhythm and navigate through the dunes without major issues. With his seventh-place result, Toby lost the very minimum of time to his rivals, completing the special less than four minutes down and in doing so takes the overall lead.

Toby Price finished seventh on his bike, nevertheless his main rivals struggled enough elsewhere for him to secure the overall lead. 

Elsewhere, it was a tough outing for both Kevin Benavides – yesterday’s winner – and Jose Ignacio Cornejo – second. The two Honda riders supported each other in a bid to out-pace the rivals, but couldn’t however avoid being hunted down by the chasing pack. Nevertheless, the duo are still up on the general standings: the Chilean conceded less than seven minutes and rose the rankings to third place, while the Argentinean finished less than 10 minutes off the winner and continues to hold second place in the overall standings.

Today, Ricky Brabec himself rode a notable stage, finishing fourth on the day whilst bonding better with the conditions. The American is confident that he will be able to perform at his best over the remaining stages of the rally.

Brabec: “We didn’t really make up as much time today as we were thinking or hoping, but it is what it is at the moment. There’s still six days to go but it’s going to be really hard. The group is spread far apart so it’s really hard to manage. I don’t think that anyone has an idea how to manage this thing yet. Things are changing everyday, but we can only hope that things turn around. 

As the ninth rider to enter the special, Ross Branch excelled from his advantageous starting position to very nearly claim his debut stage win. Pushing hard from the start in a bid to make up time on the leading riders, Ross ended the stage agonizingly close to earning victory, just 13 seconds behind the eventual winner. More importantly, the Yamaha WR450F Rally rider began the stage 11 minutes down on the provisional leader but following his excellent performance has now closed that gap to just under four minutes. Ross sits in a comfortable fourth place at the end of week one.

Rookie Daniel Sanders has once again claimed a top-three stage finish at the 2021 Dakar.

Continuing to shine with his consistent performance, rookie Daniel Sanders has once again claimed a top-three stage finish at the 2021 Dakar. With the fast pace and open dunes much to his liking, the young Australian was able to confidently push right from the start of the special and increased his position throughout the 337km to claim third at the finish. Despite a seven-minute penalty incurred early in the stage, Sanders lies in 12th place in the overall standings and leads the rookie class by close to one and a half hours.

Tomorrow, the riders will be able to enjoy a lay-in on the rest day, before preparations begin for the second week of competition that will start on Sunday between Ha’il and Sakaka with 471 kilometers of special stage in what will be this 2021 Dakar Rally’s marathon stage.

Stage 6 Top 10 Motorcycle Ranking

Top 10 Overall Motorcycle Rankings

January 7, 2021: Stage 5

  • Total distance covered: 337 km (special); 205 km (liaison)
  • Route: Riyadh to Al Qaisumah

Today, riders endured one of the physically toughest timed specials so far. For 456km, competitors raced against the clock across a variety of terrain that brought down the average speed including a tough dunes section and tracks littered with rocks. The navigation once again proved demanding, particularly for the riders leading the peloton, but also for the adversaries attacking from more favorable positions behind.

Those in a hurry do not always have the last word on the Dakar. On previous editions, Kevin Benavides has learned this adage at his expense. This time, he came close to a premature exit, but instead managed to bounce back incredibly, winning the stage in spite of a crash and becoming the new leader of the general standings. The tumble that the Argentinean was not able to avoid in the dunes nevertheless left him with a broken nose and injured ankle, although he greatly owes his new position to the cautious navigating talents of his teammate and guide for the day, Ignacio Cornejo, 2nd on the stage and 3rd in the general standings.

Despite a nasty fall, Kevin Benavides posted the day’s best time and has taken the lead in the general standings.

“It was a really hard day for me. At the beginning I got lost like all the riders, but after that I started to push a lot. On one dune I jumped, a big jump, and I crashed because I hit another big one on the front. I went like this with my face and broke the GPS and everything. I cut myself too and started to lose a lot of blood. There was also some pain around my ankle. In the end, I continued and kept pushing with a lot of pain, so, yeah, it was really hard for me today. My nose is broken and also I broke the helmet, it was really hard. I think I’ll be okay for tomorrow. I’m in pain, but it will be ok. I also tried to push also on the last part to try to win some time, but it was hard and there was a lot of pain today. But it’s like that, this is the Dakar.” — Kevin Benavides

Meanwhile, Xavier De Soultrait, the overall leader at the end of yesterday’s special, lost ground to 5 of his fellow riders taking 6th place in the stage and causing him to give up his top overall standing to Benavides.

Two-time Dakar winner Toby Price had a strong performance while hunting down the riders opening the route. As the 16th competitor to take to the special, Price had to deal with both the extremely demanding navigation required to complete the first part of the stage, and a number of slower rivals ahead of him. Overcoming a few small mistakes, Toby got his head down and placed third moving him to fourth place in the overall standings.

“I thought Days 1-3 were tough but today was a whole new ball game! I made a few mistakes but managed to finish 3rd and move up to 4th overall. Bring on Day 6!” — Toby Price

It was a complicated day for both Joan Barreda and Ricky Brabec. Although the pair started the morning 43 minutes apart, the duo of Honda Team riders dropped several minutes in some of the more navigationally taxing sections. In the end, the American finished 12 minutes behind Benavides with the Spaniard coming home 19 minutes adrift of the winner.

Barreda: “Today was a really difficult stage, really hard. One of the most demanding physically. On the last section, there were a lot of dunes and also at the beginning with a lot of tricky navigation. We had some problems, but other riders arrived and we rode in a group. Cornejo was in front for a lot of the time and did very well with the navigation today”.

Stage 5 Top 10 Motorcycle Ranking

Top 10 Overall Motorcycle Rankings

January 6, 2021: Stage 4

  • Total distance covered: 337 km (special); 476 km (liaison)
  • Route: Wadi Ad-Dawasir to Riyadh

Somewhat counterintuitively, Dakar stages can sometimes be long and fast at the same time, especially when it comes to transition stages in which the link section makes up much of the course without detracting from the excitement of the race. The fast special gave competitors the chance to test their top speeds and a taste of the sense of freedom that can only be found in some desert areas of the world.

As expected, the competitors who faltered in yesterday’s stage did their best to try and place themselves back into contention. Joan Barreda is a specialist in such scenarios, especially on fast courses on which his scorching pace over great distances enables him to dish out some serious damage. The Spaniard also capitalized on Toby Price‘s navigational error on today’s stage and snatched his 26th career Dakar stage win catapulting him to second place overall.

Joan Barreda Bort claimed his second special this year and is now second overall, 15 seconds behind De Soultrait. Photo: Rally Zone

Barreda: “It was another good stage. I started very far back because of my result yesterday, but that’s the way it is in this Dakar, you’re either at the front or far back. We need to keep it up. I’ve used three tires so far. I think the one I used today is quite worn, but I was supposed to use it for three days, so it’s not great news. But we’ll see what we can do in the coming days.”

Giving a consistent performance, Xavier De Soultrait finished today’s stage in 5th place and moves into the overall lead by a slim margin of 15 seconds over Barreda. He snatches the overall lead from American Skyler Howes who had some navigational troubles and a crash.

Howes: “The stage started out great for me, I had a pretty good rhythm going and caught up to Matthias Walkner we second guessed the navigation in a wash and did some circles losing quite a bit of time. After that we dropped the hammer and tried to make up for lost time. I had another mishap in the dunes catching a witches eye and going over the bars. But after that Matthias, Xavier De Soultrait and I went full gas all the way to the finish.”

Although losing the overall lead to Xavier De Soultrait, privateer Skyler Howes still holds an impressive top 5 spot overall.

On what was another strong day for Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing, Luciano Benavides has put in his best ride of the 2021 Dakar Rally to date. Enjoying a trouble-free ride, the Argentinian had moved into the top 10 by the halfway point and continued to push. A small mistake in the closing few kilometers of the special cost him a couple of minutes, but Luciano was able to cross the finish in the top five. The result means Benavides will start Thursday’s stage up near the front, requiring both accurate navigation and supreme focus.

Today, Ricky Brabec played his hand in a bid to find some kind of consistency that might produce better results that on the previous stages. The reigning Dakar champion finished in the top twenty and occupies fifteenth position overall, just over sixteen minutes behind the race leader. Brabec could well have made the strategic choice to save this tires and avoid having to open the road in tomorrow’s fifth stage, widely touted as the toughest one in the 43rd Dakar. “Today, I just wanted to sit back and get behind the curve. We are just flip-flopping and the results are changing every day. In order to manage the race, we’ve got to get behind and start fishing for them.”

Laia Sanz. Photo courtesy KH7 Sport

Elsewhere, Laia Sanz has delivered another consistent ride through a fast and physically tough stage. Laia’s cautious approach ensured that she remained out of trouble and completed the stage successfully racing onboard her GASGAS 450F Rally machine. A single navigational error that caught out many riders in the final kilometers of the stage was her only error of the day, with Sanz going on to place 27th. “It was a really fast stage today, which I don’t normally like too much. But I felt ok, pretty good really. Staying safe was my priority today. I just rode my own stage and tried to do the best I could while also being safe and looking after my bike. I did make one small mistake close to the end of the stage but nothing major, so I’m happy.”

Another tough day lies ahead as the special for day five of the 2021 Dakar Rally is expected to be as technically demanding as it is long. The 662-kilometer stage will feature a 456-kilometer timed section that will be made up of a wide variety of terrain including stony tracks and an area of soft dunes. Accurate navigation will be essential.

Performance of the day

Newbie Daniel Sanders delivered his best single stage performance of the rally so far placing an impressive third fastest on the high-speed special. Photo: Rally Zone

KTM announced the signing of Daniel Sanders in late September, just before he entered the Andalucía Rally. The Australian went on to start the 43rd Dakar on the right foot with a podium place in the prologue. Fast-forward a few days and even an eleventh-hour crash and a small time loss in the final kilometers could not stop him from posting the third fastest time in today’s 337 km special to Riyadh. It is a remarkable performance for a biker who learned the ropes in the world of enduro and is only taking part in his second rally raid. The KTM rider, sitting 14 minutes behind Xavier De Soultrait in the general standings as the best rookie so far, is inching closer to his maiden stage win. Fellow Aussie Toby Price came in third in his first Dakar in 2015… Six years later, we could be about to witness the rise of a new Australian prodigy uncovered by the team from Mattighofen.

End of the Road

Angelo Pedemonte is throwing in the towel due to injuries sustained during the motorbike special on Tuesday. Nicolas Robledo is also calling it quits after dislocating his shoulder. A big disappointment for the Colombian, who had got off to a strong start by finishing the prologue just outside the top 10

Stage 4 Top 10 Motorcycle Ranking

Top 10 Overall Motorcycle Rankings

* Ross Branch was assessed a 1 minute penalty pushing him down the rankings.

January 5, 2021: Stage 3

  • Total distance covered: 403 km (special); 227 km (liaison)
  • Route: Wadi Ad-Dawasir to Wadi Ad-Dawasir

The third stage today served up dunes and desert navigation throughout, interspersing rocky technical sections with faster tracks. The Wadi Ad-Dawasir loop, over 630 total kilometers, once again turned the Dakar standings on their head. The wind that continues to gust over the region particularly transformed the dunes dotted about the first part of the route into steep steps that caught out a number of competitors. It has become normal to see the first riders to tackle the special drop time to their rivals due to the complicated task of navigating in a very demanding Dakar. Riders, starting further back, are able to re-trace the tracks and hunt down the front-runners, as they are able to focus on riding rather than the tough navigating.

Today, Toby Price coolly displayed that no two days are alike to claim a second stage success this year. Starting down in 29th was always going to be tough for Price, with the KTM 450 RALLY rider having to catch and pass several rivals ahead in order to make up time. Using his formidable cross-country rally experience, the Australian was able to push hard right from the beginning, making light work of the tricky-to-navigate dunes near the start of the stage, before subsequently making up even more ground on the faster, desert tracks towards the finish. Clawing back valuable minutes on his competitors and claiming a 13th career Dakar stage win, Toby now sits third in the overall standings, less than one minute down on the current leader.

Despite all that, it is one of the emerging talents in the category, American Skyler Howes, who is proving to be the most consistent, taking the lead in the general standings after finishing fourth yesterday and today. No doubt, Skyler’s consistency has paid dividends.

“Another fun day in the desert. I keep saying it, but I’m just having a lot of fun on the motorcycle. Today the dunes flowed really well and I felt comfortable there. Then we got out into the open desert on the really fast sandy tracks and I felt right at home. I told myself if I was feeling good, then I’d let it ride. I hoped for a good result today, but either way, I had a ton of fun. I caught up with Chucky, Luciano and Xavier and we all had this huge battle, like a four or five way battle the whole way for the last 150 km. It was a lot of fun, it really was and I’m just having a blast here in Saudi Arabia. You know what? I expect a lot out of myself. I hold myself to a high standard, but at the end of the day, I’m a privateer out here and I paid my own way to get here, so I’m just doing the best I can and having fun every day. At the end of the stage, whatever result I get, I’m usually happy with it, because I’m just on my dirt-bike”.

Second place at the end of the first looping stage went to Kevin Benavides. The rider, hailing from Salta, Argentina got off to a strong start this morning, hoping to clinch a partial victory, but eventually having to settle for the second best time of the day. The result does, however, leave the rider rubbing shoulders with the overall front-runners.

“This Dakar is really different than before. Now we are some days at the back, some days at the front. Maybe tomorrow I’ll have to open or something, but, for sure, this Dakar is like a game of strategy. My strategy is to take it day by day.” — Kevin Benavides

After suffering a technical issue on Monday’s stage two, Matthias Walkner was the 32nd rider to enter today’s timed special. The Austrian put in a great ride, moving into the top three straight away, a position he successfully defended to the finish. Despite a sizeable deficit to the rally leaders in the overall standings, Matthias is focused on maintaining his efforts and pushing hard for stage wins as the event continues. Yesterday’s star performer, Ross Branch, sits in sixth overall following the completion of stage three with Adrien Van Beveren now ninth.

Elsewhere, Joan Barreda and Ricky Brabec – first and second yesterday – had a rough day, opening the track with arduous navigation before reaching the dunes, which proved difficult with the strong winds blowing in from Wadi Ad-Dawasir. The pair tried to manage the distance from their pursuers, but it was a grueling mission for the Monster Energy Honda Team duo who left behind easy-to-follow tracks. In the end, the Spaniard took thirtieth place with Brabec posting twenty-fifth.

Brabec: “You know the results are out of control. It’s like a rubber band effect. It’s flip-flop, either out or in. It’s really difficult – not really frustrating. We can’t figure out how to get back into the swing of it. We need to finish in the top ten and it’s really hard to find that rhythm and find that speed. We can’t seem to find how to finish around seventh position to sit there and watch everything unfold. The Hondas and Toby have opened every stage so far. It’s been pretty difficult so far, but we just need to find a new strategy.”

Tomorrow, the longest day of the event takes place between Wadi Ad-Dawasir and Riyadh with a 476 km link section and 337 km against the clock. It is expected to be a day with less complex navigation on fast tracks where riders will be able to really let it rip. However, it is worth keeping in mind that mistakes carry a hefty price tag even on transition stages like this one.

Stage 3 Top 10 Motorcycle Rankings

Top 10 Overall Motorcycle Rankings

January 4, 2021: Stage 2

  • Total distance covered: 457 km (special); 228 km (liaison)
  • Route: Bisha to Wadi Ad-Dawasir

The Dakar, once again, produced a day of many reshuffles in the leaderboard. The riders who finished behind in yesterday’s stage were expected to pounce in an effort to claw back time, which is precisely what they did, on track conditions which proved very conducive to gaining lost time. Today’s stage challenged riders with soft sand dunes for the first third of the special, and then led riders to faster, sandy tracks that winded their way through a series of canyons. Accurate navigation was once again key to securing a good time.

Joan Barreda was the man to beat today. Although riders sometimes hold back a little this early in the race, such an approach is not part of Barreda’s DNA who, on the contrary, has all too often shone on the first week of the rally at the risk of disappearing from the standings prematurely. After starting in 20th position, the Spaniard convincingly overtook the pack of riders claiming victory in the stage and clinching the overall race leadership.

“After the hard day of yesterday, I was forced to push with all – I put it all in today. I enjoy a lot these kind of stages – more fast…It’s better for me, better than enduro like yesterday. Right now, everything is perfect. Sure, tomorrow will be a long day and really hard again, but we have to keep calm and stay in front. For sure, there are still a lot of km in front and we will try to keep running, that’s all.” — Joan Barreda

Along with Barreda, reigning champ Ricky Brabec got off to a strong start and was able to make up for the time dropped yesterday. Brabec accomplished his mission and now lies in second place overall, although he is well-aware that the Dakar has barely begun and a lot is in store before the great challenge finally draws to a conclusion.

On the other hand, this was a tough day for the stage openers. Winner of stage one, Toby Price had some setbacks battling the dunes which ultimately resulted in him losing over half an hour. “Today was difficult to lead out, the first 100km felt good but by 300km mark I started to have an issue with the rear tank and the fuel wasn’t working, I had to conserve running only the front tanks. Tough one but we’ll work on the bike this arvo, still a long way to go!”

Today’s starting position did not bode well for Kevin Benavides either and it looked highly-likely that his adversaries would be able to chase him down and whittle away some of the gap from the Argentinean Monster Energy Honda Team rider. In the end, Kevin posted 24th, which will leave him starting tomorrow’s stage from further back with a chance to make up time. Kevin holds thirteenth in the general standings.

Toby’s teammate Mathias Walkner experienced an even bigger setback after getting stuck in the dunes due to a clutch problem shortly after reaching the 46 km point. Forced to stop and repair his machine, this maneuver cost the Austrian more than 2 hours in lost time. Despite all that, he managed to reach the finish line and, even though he will try to claw back the time lost over the next few days, it looks like he has lost any hope of regaining the title that he won in 2018. It is likely that KTM has lost one of its major assets in the quest to regain its crown. Although the gaps are still small, the entire team will not be happy because it does not have a representative in the top 10 of the general standings. Sam Sunderland, in 12th place, trails Barreda by 12’50’’.

Setting off in 15th position proved highly advantageous for Ross Branch as he went on to finish in fourth place following an impeccable ride throughout the technical 457 km special. Attacking the sand dunes at the start of the stage he rode confidently, chasing down the leading riders. With Ross never falling outside the top six throughout the stage, the Yamaha WR450F Rally rider now finds himself placed third in the provisional overall classification

Stat of the Day: 25

The figures are irrefutable: Joan Barreda has won as many special stages (25) as Marc Coma in his career on the Dakar. Since his first stage victory in 2012, “Bang-Bang” has let his speed do the talking on all types of specials and today has even overtaken Hubert Auriol in terms of his stage victory collection. However, the Honda rider has always found consistency problematic and has never finished higher than 5th place in the final general standings. His profile is similar to his countryman Jordi Arcarons, who triumphed on 27 stages without ever having won the overall title, but Barreda has not had his last word yet!

End of the Road

After three very impressive participations and especially a 6th-placed finish obtained in 2019, American Andrew Short has met with disappointment on the second stage. He ground to a halt after 273 km of the special due to a mechanical problem he was not able to fix. Convinced that it wasn’t necessary to wait for help from his assistance team, he has thrown in the towel.

“Day two started off great but after re-fuel I had what I think was a fuel related issue. I tried everything I had on the bike to get the bike moving again but in the end couldn’t get it going again. So sad to be out of the race but I know this is racing and especially Dakar. This event is really special and you work all year for this event. I really enjoyed how difficult and challenging the navigation was this year so far. I want to thank the team for all the hard work as they live for this race with the same passion as me. Thank you everything for the support and I can’t wait for next year.” — Andrew Short

Stage 2 Top 10 Motorcycle Rankings

Top 10 Overall Motorcycle Rankings

January 3, 2021: Stage 1

  • Total distance covered: 277 km (special); 345 km (liaison)
  • Route: Jeddah to Bisha

The 2021 Dakar Rally is now well underway as competitors faced a punishing 277-km route on Stage One. The hectic pace of the first real special of the Dakar took a heavier toll on the competitors than its length. The hodgepodge of tracks in the first part of the course required a laser-like focus and got the best of several top riders. Among them was Ricky Brabec, who crossed the line more than 18 minutes behind Toby Price after getting lost near the start of the special. Not a good day at the office for the reigning champion, who seems to have begun his title defense on the wrong foot. His teammates Joan Barreda and Pablo Quintanilla also conceded over 15 minutes for similar reasons.

Rising to the challenge was Toby Price who leads the general classification after securing a stage win today on the route to Bisha. Even a navigational mistake near the end of the special failed to stop the Aussie from taking his 13th career Dakar stage win and moving into the overall lead. Price was joined by his Red Bull KTM Factory Racing teammates Sam Sunderland and Matthias Walkner in today’s Top 5.

Dakar 2021 KTM Factory racer Toby Price
Even a navigational mistake near the end of the special failed to stop the Toby Price from taking his 13th career Dakar stage win and moving into the overall lead.

“It’s just the first stage, so today is quite difficult with the navigation. A little annoyed, I got lost a little bit lost about 7 km from the finish. I took a little bit of time just trying to get back on track here. But overall, we’ve tried to look after the bike…we’ve had no crashes, the tire still looks pretty happy day. We definitely have to monitor what we do on the stages a bit now so in some ways it’s going to make us think a lot more. Probably a little bit more tired at the end of each day. It’s been a good, clean day for us. A few minor mistakes, but we just gotta stay in the race. I think you’re gonna see a lot of chopping and changing in the standings in this race. You just gotta stay calm and let it cruise along and make it work.” — Toby Price

Not far behind Price was Monster Energy Honda Team rider Kevin Benavides. The Argentinian kept up a relentless pace throughout the stage, catching the riders ahead and crossing the Bisha finish-line in second place. “Navigating was difficult, but after a hundred km or so, I started to feel at ease with the roadbook and the terrain. I upped the pace as soon as I joined the leading group.”

Dakar 2021 KTM Skyler Howes
Skyler Howes was the highest finishing rider among Americans today, grabbing 8th place in Stage 1.

End of the Road

Erick Blandin has had to throw in the towel during stage 1. A fan of the Dakar since he was a little boy, he was eager to take part in his maiden Dakar after overcoming illness, but his hopes have been dashed by a nasty crash 204 km into the stage. Sharing his bad fortune is veteran rider Willy Jobard, who was racing on a hybrid hydrogen-powered bike and crashed after 93 km, hurting his left hip.

Stage 1 Top 10 Motorcycle Rankings

2021 Dakar Stage 1 Rankings
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Author: ADV Pulse Staff

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4 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.


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