TOBY Price continued to edge closer to the leaders on a wet Stage 6 of the Dakar Rally.
The Australian moved into the top five overall after finishing tied for second on a test won by KTM teammate Antoine Meo, but it’s Honda rider Kevin Benavides who now holds the overall lead.
The rally crossed into Bolivia and tasted high altitude running on its sixth day, the 313km stage split into two with a neutralisation point at the Peru-Bolivia border. However, the Peruvian part of the stage – a 118km stretch that took the field up to 4,700m above seal level – was cancelled due to poor weather for the bikes, for whom Stage 6 became a 194km sprint to La Paz ahead of the traditional rest day.
Rain, snow and ice in the first high-altitude stage of the 2018 event made for a miserable day for the riders – or, as Australian Rodney Faggotter suggested: “It was definitely a Dakar day today.”
The move into Bolivia meant a change in timezone, and therefore a one hour earlier start for the riders who left at 2am to head to the start of the stage.
Price led the times at the seventh waypoint before the route climbed back above 4,000m, and trailed eventual winner Meo by just 30 seconds at the end.
“When I see in the last part that it was raining I push a little bit more. Sometimes I play a little bit with the limit but it was so nice to ride.”
“I’m sorry, ‘King of the Desert!’”
Price responded to the banter in kind, telling Meo: “That’s alright, I’ll let you have one mate, it’s all good!”
Tying Price for second on the day was Honda’s Kevin Benavides. Despite a small crash, he gained almost three minutes on overnight leader Adrien Van Beveren to take the top spot by 1min57s ahead of the rest day in the Bolivian capital.
“I am very proud because it is the first time that an Argentine rider has led the Dakar Rally,” Benavides enthused.
“I’m very happy too, because the idea was to get as high up the rankings as possible before the rest stage, so I can not be happier. I’m a little tired, we’ve had rain, mud, fast roads. But I was fast and felt comfortable on the bike.”
A pair of top 5 runners were hit among a host of time penalties handed out after the stage, with KTM rider Matthias Walkner remaining third despite copping a one-minute penalty and Yamaha’s Xavier Soultrait, who led the stage through the early waypoints, receiving a two-minute penalty.
Soultrait’s sanction drops him down to sixth place, elevating Price to fifth and Joan Barreda to fourth, the Honda rider enduring a freezing day as he led the field onto the stage.
“Today we had to overcome a stage with a lot of rain from the very first moment, with roads completely drenched,” Barreda said.
“I took a tumble in a puddle and got completely soaked. I wasted a bit of time having to clean everything as I had been unable to see, but the worst thing about it was the cold chill that I felt throughout my body. It was certainly not easy.”
Just 20 minutes covers the first nine riders in the overall classification with eight stages remaining, and any one of those riders – including Price in sixth, now under 10 minutes off the lead – could potentially be standing on the top step of the podium when the rally reaches Córdoba next weekend.
Of the other Australians, Faggotter ended the stage 27th fastest to hold 18th overall, while Scott Britnell ended the stage 94th to sit in 77th place overall.
TOP 5 — Stage 6 from Arequipa to La Paz
1. (19) Antoine Meo (KTM) 1h54m10s
2. (47) Kevin Benavides (Honda) +30s
3. (8) Toby Price (KTM) +30s
4. (27) Diego Martin Duplessis (Honda) +1m13s
5. (29) Daniel Oliveras (KTM) +1m55s
25. (44) Rodney Faggotter (Yamaha) +9m31s
94. (97) Scott Britnell (KTM) +1h03m33s
OVERALL STANDINGS after Stage 6
1. (47) Kevin Benavides (Honda) 16h33m20s
2. (4) Adrien Van Beveren (Yamaha) +1m57s
3. (2) Matthias Walkner (KTM) +3m50s
4. (5) Joan Barreda (Honda) +9m33s
5. (8) Toby Price (KTM) +9m39s
6. (19) Antoine Meo (KTM) +10m42s
7. (23) Xavier de Soultrait (Yamaha) +11m24s
8. (10) Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna) +16m42s
9. (3) Gerard Farres (KTM) +18m08s
10. (9) Stefan Svitko (KTM) +29m11s
18. (44) Rodney Faggotter (Yamaha) +1h04m45s
77. (97) Scott Britnell (KTM) +10h05m11s
Italics denote Australian riders