Toby Price extends lead – Antoine Meo wins stage – Goncalves Falls
Two stages before the end of Dakar 2016, outright leader Toby Price (KTM) again controlled the race throughout stage 11. Unlike yesterday, when he had to open the way, the Australian followed the pace of his rivals before making a special effort on the second half of the stage.
However, again officials had halted the race at CP2 after 243km, due to the excessive heat that put a significant number of competitors in difficulty. And again, leading riders had completed the entire special, and race management had to take a decision on validation of the times. The official word is that the results as the leading competitors arrived at the final checkpoint are the placings that will be officially registered, and today’s result for the leaders will not be taken back to their respective positions earlier in the day at checkpoint two.
Behind the Australian, the fight for the third step on the outright podium attracted most of the attention. Antoine Meo won the stage at the end of an exceptional day during which he regained 2’48” from Chilean Pablo Quintanilla. As a result, the Frenchman is now on the third step of the virtual podium in the general standings. This stage was also marked by the withdrawal of Paulo Gonçalves (Honda) after a fall.
With a lead of 23-minutes over Stefan Svitko, his nearest rival in the general standings, Toby Price did not really need to take any risks today. Whilst he did not lose his head, the KTM rider made a point of honour of beating his adversary with a flourish. The Australian gained more than 12-minutes over the Slovak in San Juan.
“We’ve had a good day. We started third and at about the 180 kilometre mark we got on to the front and led the way. The most difficult part was how hot it was. On the last probably fifty to eighty kilometres it was starting to heat up really bad again. We just couldn’t get any airflow. It was a tough day but it’s just good to be here at the finishing line.
“We’re another day closer, but for sure, it’s been a hard one. I can’t smell victory yet, not yet. I won’t smell victory until I cross the finishing line on the last day. It’s been hard on the bikes today. There’s been a lot of hot weather.
“The bike is still going really well, there’s no water leaking or anything. It still feels strong, so we’re in a good spot.
“Meo put in a good time today. He got the stage win and beat me by eighteen seconds. But it’s all good, we’ve made a bit of time on the overall second placed rider which is our main goal and hopefully the next two days we can take it a little bit easier.
“At the moment it looks like a few people are a little bit lost and have lost some time, so it will be interesting to see once everyone has crossed the line today to see exactly where everybody is at. Maybe the podium positions may have changed around a bit by the end of the day”.
However, the duel that attracted special attention was the one opposing Antoine Meo, fourth in the general standings this morning, and Pablo Quintanilla, who was third. Separated by 1’15” at the start of the special, the two men traded blow for blow. In difficulty at one point and looking like giving in, the Frenchman raised the pace at a time when the Chilean was encountering brake problems. This was a godsend for the five times enduro world champion, who distanced his rival by 2’38” at the finishing line.
“It’s amazing. It was a tough day for navigation. I caught up with Paulo (Gonçalves) Pablo, then he crashed, but I made a little mistake: I crashed before the first refuelling. After the refuelling it was very tough for navigation but I did a very good job.
“I reached the right way point at the right moment, so I think I’m also lucky but I’m very happy with the victory today. We’ll look tonight to see what’s going on and what we do. It’s sure that the gap is becoming much smaller, but we’ll see what we decide tomorrow”.
“It was a really tough day. At the beginning I tried to push very hard until the refuelling. I think I gained some time, but then I had a problem with the rear brake.
“It was really difficult and dangerous to maintain the grip and the bike in the right position. In the end it was really hard with a lot of stones and rivers, so it was a really tough stage, but I’m happy to finish the day. The race continues and we have to keep calm and try to do the best”.
Stefan Svitko, who was fifth on today’s stage, finishing 12 minutes behind the Frenchman and has legitimate reasons to start worrying. In second position in the general standings, he only has a lead of 8’23” over Meo. With two days left before the finish in Rosario, the question is obvious: can Antoine Meo catch Svitko? This will be one of the major battles to come on what promises to be an exiting end to this Dakar.
Paulo Gonçalves was forced to retire from the stage between La Rioja and San Juan today after a serious crash that led to the rider being airlifted to safety. With Goncalves joining Barreda on the sidelines, Honda’s best hope lies in the hands of Kevin Benavides, who currently rank fifth outright while HRC pilot Ricky Brabec currently ranks ninth and Michael Metge 11th.
“Today my participation in the Dakar 2016 came to an end in the worst way. It appears that I had a heavy fall, but I can’t remember what happened. I was told that I arrived on the bike to an area where there were spectators and ambulances.
“It’s a Dakar that finishes for me in the worst way. It is a shame because the team really deserved much more. The competition is that hard and the last few days hadn’t been going that well. But we have to keep going and think that soon we will be back in competition.”
After a thorough medical check and scan, doctors determined that the blow to Goncalves had resulted in neither fractures nor any serious consequences.
Dakar 2016 – Stage 11 Results
Dakar 2016 – Outright Standings after stage 11
Tomorrow’s Stage – Dakar 2016 January 15. Stage 12
San Juan – Villa Carlos Paz – Special sections: 481km – Total: 931km
There is more than 900km to cover on the day before the finish, including more than half in the special section, with the exception of the trucks, whose dimensions are not suitable for some of the tracks on the agenda. In this semi-mountainous terrain, the vegetation which lines their edges might be a bit tight for them! This means that the motorcycles will also be threading the needle at times and at this stage in the game, a mistake could cost them dearly.
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