The 12th stage of the 2018 Dakar Rally was cancelled due to safety concerns raised by the riders at the end of stage 11. In a similar situation to the cancelled stage nine, motorcycle and quad riders made their way untimed from Fiambalá to San Juan.
The stage was scheduled to have the bikes follow the cars and trucks into the timed special. This, combined with the terrain and how it would be affected by the vehicles in front, was deemed too dangerous and the organisers heeded to the riders’ wishes and cancelled the stage.
With one day less to ride, Matthias Walkner took a step closer to claiming his first ever overall Dakar victory. The Austrian, fit and ready for the stages ahead is feeling confident with only two more days to go. Sitting at the top of the leader board, 32-minutes up on his nearest rival Kevin Benavides, Walkner still needs to perform well on the remaining two stages to secure a winning result.
Matthias Walkner: “My feeling going into the final couple of stages of the rally is quite good. Tomorrow will be tough and very long, there is a lot of off-piste at the beginning of the stage and then some really fast tracks towards the end. My start position is good so I’m hoping for a solid day tomorrow, I’ll do my best and see where that gets me.
“It was good fun yesterday riding with the cars. I tried to catch Peterhansel as soon as I could and managed to see him at about 70km into the stage. I succeeded to get in front but then he passed me again so we ended up travelling together for most of the stage. It helped me a lot because navigation on the stage was tough and I wanted to really minimise any mistakes so following a car was sensible. It was an honour to ride with ‘Mr Dakar’ himself, too."
Toby Price won the previous day’s stage 11, the opening leg of the second marathon stage. Price put in a dominating performance to take the win by a minute-and-a-half over the runner-up and gain over 10-minutes on his team-mate and standings leader, Walkner.
Toby Price: “Yesterday’s stage went really well, it’s nice to get my first win at this year’s event. It helps a little for the time lost the previous day, too. We started off behind some cars and trucks, which adds a little excitement. It was a 280km special and I tried to push for the whole way – it paid off because I was fastest to every waypoint. I’m sitting third, which doesn’t sound too bad, but I’m still down quite a lot of time on Matthias. With the cancellation of today’s stage, it means even less of a chance to try and catch up. Tomorrow, stage 13 is the longest of the event though and anything can happen on this rally as we have already seen. All I can do is keep pushing and aim for a good finish on Saturday.”
Also enjoying stage 11, right up to a large crash 10km from the finish, Antoine Meo still managed to move further up the overall rankings to fifth. Like Price, Meo is running out of time if he wants to improve that position further, but there are well over 500km of special stages left to race and Meo will be trying to make the most of every one.
Antoine Meo: “Yesterday went really well for me, I pushed hard right from the beginning and was making up good time. Unfortunately, I crashed a little way from the finish. It was quite a big crash but luckily I came out of it in one piece and the bike was not too badly damaged. I am a little disappointed that today’s stage was cancelled, it makes it harder for me to make up time on the guys in front. At the same time, it was looking quite dangerous out there and I think the organisers made the right decision. I’ll go into tomorrow’s stage 13 looking to push as hard as I can and hopefully get another good result.”
Laia Sanz suffered her second big crash of the rally yesterday. Picking herself up, the Spaniard made it to the finish in a commendable 18th place. Her performance moved he further up the standings – the multiple world champion now sits in an excellent 13th overall.
Laia Sanz: “It was a really hard day for me yesterday. I started in the second group behind cars and truck and personally I think it was too dangerous. I was stuck in the dust of a truck in front and it was too difficult to overtake it safely. Towards the end of the stage I was so exhausted and ended up having another crash. Luckily, I wasn’t injured and made it to the bivouac ok, but today I am feeling a little sore. I am glad the stage today was cancelled, it has given me a chance to rest and prepare myself for the last two days.”
Jordi Viladoms – KTM Rally Sport Manager: “The plan today was to initially ride the stage after the cars and trucks, which is a little bit dangerous for the riders. The organisers listened to the concerns raised and made the right decision to cancel the special. The terrain of stage 12 would have proved difficult anyway, but after the larger vehicles had gone through it would have been too treacherous for the bikes. We are glad that rider safety was put above everything else. With two more stages to race, we are very happy with how things are going – obviously Matthias is in a very good position, but both Toby and Antoine can still catch the guys in front of them so we’ll see what happens over the next couple of days.”
Tomorrow’s stage 13 of the 2018 Dakar Rally from San Juan to the city of Córdoba is the longest of the event. A 483km liaison combined with a 424km timed special will really test the endurance of the riders. Starting in the sand dunes surrounding San Juan, the route will take competitors through an area of fesh-fesh and conclude on the fast WRC-style tracks on the way into Córdoba. Navigation will again be important, but overall physical fitness in the Argentinian heat will be key.
Provisional Standings after cancelled Stage 12 – 2018 Dakar Rally
1. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 36:33:37
2. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 37:05:37 +32:00
3. Toby Price (AUT), KTM, 37:12:54 +39:17
4. Gerard Farres (ESP), KTM, 37:22:54 +49:17
5. Antoine Meo (FRA), KTM, 37:32:42 +59:05
13. Laia Sanz (ESP), KTM, 39:08:07 +2:34:30