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ADV NewsTwo American Riders Grab Top 5 Finish at Dakar 2021

Two American Riders Grab Top 5 Finish at Dakar 2021

American riders are making their mark with top finishes in this year’s Dakar.

Published on 01.16.2021

In the previous 10 years of covering the Dakar bikes we haven’t seen anything like this: The routes and the roadbooks for each stage seem to not only level the playing field, but also make for the best racing since the old days. It’s markedly unpredictable and quite a bit more interesting to follow. Some riders will curse the stage designer(s). Others will salute them. Did you see how fast the top guys were riding? Amazing, right? Leader changes every day? Awesome! The new 6-tire limit for the elite riders? Not so much.  

On the short final stage, Sam Sunderland was first to start and, although he was only a few minutes away from his second title, the challenges of having to “lead out” on the stage set him back early enough to see his prospects fizzle. That opened a spot for American Ricky Brabec to close a 7-minute gap on teammate Kevin Benavides who was third to start and now out in the open, vulnerable as the physical leader, after passing Sunderland and Pablo Quintanilla. Benavides absolutely earned himself the title by navigating well, staving off a final attack by the defending champ. 

2021 Dakar Skyler Howes finishes in top 5
Skyler Howes / Photo ASO

After the dust settled, this year’s Dakar saw two Americans in the Top 5. Brabec grabbing second place overall and privateer Skyler Howes snatching an impressive fifth place in the final rankings. A notable achievement for the U.S., following Brabec’s historic win last year.  


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Hats off to the organizers at ASO (Amaury Sports Organization) for pulling off a “safe” event during the pandemic and amidst Saudi Arabia’s blocking entry into the Kingdom a week beforehand. The diversity of terrain, weather, landscapes and overall speed made for a winning combo. As always it wasn’t all great for the organizer though. More on that in a minute.     

Ricky Brabec (2nd Place)

2021 Dakar Ricky Brabec takes second place
Ricky Brabec / Photo Rally Zone

All eyes were on 2020 Dakar Rally Champion Ricky Brabec for 2 weeks to see if he could defend his historic title. The ups and downs of this Dakar Rally’s stages had the pendulum swinging back and forth with the top riders being reshuffled daily, and this affected Brabec more than any other as shown below.

Ricky’s rankings throughout the 12 stages of Dakar 2021.

Stage winners are moved to the front of the line on the following day, meaning they have to “lead out” as the stage opener. This is normally a disadvantage due to the burden of the opener having to navigate their way without tracks or roost marks to follow. This disadvantage was exacerbated this year and caused some riders to purposefully pace themselves and try NOT to win stages. Brabec won the first Prologue Stage 0 which consequently had him opening Stage 1. He lost his way in the first 30 KM and ended up 24th that day. On stage 2 he started 24th and had 23 tracks to follow swinging his advantage to help him finish 2nd. The following day on stage 3, the pattern repeated. Brabec has spent 6 years being groomed by HONDA legend Johnny Campbell and continues to be America’s number one prospect to win rallies.    

Skyler Howes is a Beast (5th place)

2021 Dakar Skyler Howes
Skyler Howes / Photo ASO

Perhaps the biggest deal for North American rally fans is #9 Skyler Howes’ second straight Dakar Rally finish as the top ranked privateer. This underdog stigma is something he’s likely to shake off after earning a 5th OA. As previously reported after his Stage 3 finish gained him the general overnight lead of the rally, Howes had to sell all of his personal belongings to scrape up the balance of funds needed to make it to Saudi Arabia. He’s heading back to Utah with a smile on his face despite some empty pockets. A crowd of supporters are already celebrating a hugely successful endeavor and sharing the spoils of his success.    

The consensus among Western pundits is that Howes is ripe to be tapped for a full factory ride for the coming year. Potential suitors include Rockstar Husqvarna and Monster Yamaha. Joan Barreda’s typical antics have him out on the plank at HRC HONDA. It’s a toss up if Johnny Campbell will give Howes the nod to join Ricky Brabec but it seems like a better option than having him as a rival. Perhaps HRC will recruit Quintanilla away from Husky? Either way, Barreda might want to try the cars, as in “Audi”.   

Andrew Short – Watergate (DNF)

2021 Dakar Andrew Short
Andrew Short’s exit from Dakar 2021 has been controversial. / Photo ASO

For a decade, the word “gate” has been attached to whichever word best described any scandal or fiasco that seems to emerge from every single Dakar Rally. In 2012 there was Stephane Peterhansel’s “Rivergate” or Robby Gordon’s “Inflategate”. In 2013 the late Paulo Goncalves/Cyril Despres’ Mudgate and the forgettable list goes on. 

Midway through Stage 2 last week, three time rally finisher Andrew Short suffered a mysterious motor failure after the fuel stop. Perplexed and in the middle of the Saudi desert, Shorty unwittingly accepted his first helicopter ride from the organizer with his Yamaha dangling from a strap. Upon his team’s engineers’ inspection that afternoon, as many as 2 liters of water were found in the bottom of the fuel tank- and he wasn’t the only one. Despite his team’s protesting that Shorty be allowed to continue on Stage 3, alleging the organizer was responsible for providing contaminated fuel, ASO deferred the matter to an FIM juror who refused, pointing out that the rider’s voluntary boarding of the aircraft deemed his entry status an abandonment. Gutted, the Supercross icon made the lonely trip back to the States. Although Shorty is on the older side of the rally age-band, don’t count him out for 2022 as a five-time starter or in a leadership capacity.

It’s important to note, as we close the books on this Dakar, that Shorty has been one of the leaders in the US for off season roadbook training, working as part of the “rally boys’ (careful with that handle on SM these days), a tight knit crew of enthusiasts around the Southwest making roadbook stages and pushing each other to get better while helping to grow the sport. There are only a few options for rally racing here in North America so it’s a great sign that the Dakar went well, all of our riders and the entire field are safe and HONDA scored their first 1-2 Dakar finish in 33 years.  


For a full recap of the Dakar 2021 click here.

Author: Scotty Bloom

Scotty ‘Breauxman’ Bloom grew up riding dirt bikes and following the desert race scene in Southern California. He would go on to achieve his dream of completing the Baja 1000 and turned his passion into a career as a moto journalist. After covering the action in the Dakar Rally for several years, Scotty founded the Baja Rally. What started out as a small two-day competition in 2013, has now grown into a full-blown six-day roadbook navigation rally covering nearly 2,000 kilometers.

Author: Scotty Bloom
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