Newcomer Meo fastest Red Bull KTM Factory Rider in Dakar stage 3

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Red Bull KTM’s Antoine Meo on Tuesday continued to discover his taste for rally raid when he was the fastest KTM factory rider over a shortened third stage of the Dakar Rally. Spain’s Joan Barreda eventually won the stage, which took riders a total distance of 663km from Termas de Río Hondo to San Salvadore de Jujuy.

Meo crossed the line in fourth place ahead of KTM rider Stefan Svitko of Slovakia and improved his position in the overall standings by moving up to 13th place. The French rider who came into the team as an enduro world champion, started his day well after been given back time lost on Monday when he stopped to assist an injured rider. He was the 15th starter in stage three and managed to get out of the dust by the 20km mark.

Meo: “After that I pushed harder and it was good for me. I didn’t want to start first tomorrow because I’m not ready to open a hard stage so fourth place is not too bad. Also it will be a difficult stage. I will try to learn more about the rally and also to understand the marathon stage. I need to use the tire better and stay safe.”

Teammate Matthias Walkner finished tenth in the stage that was originally to be 314km but was cut down to under 200km because of the continued difficult weather conditions. The Austrian rider is now sixth overall but only one minute 47 off the leading time.

Walkner: “Today was quite good, not so much navigation and I tried to do the same as yesterday and go at maybe 95% to find a good rhythm. I think tomorrow the navigation is going to get tougher and we have a long, more than 400km special ahead of us. The top six are within two minutes of each other so this is where it really begins.”

Despite a small crash at the beginning of the special, KTM Factory rider Laia Sanz put in another good day to finish in 21st and now has the same position in the overall standings. She was four minutes 34 off the fastest time and has a 13.04 deficit overall, one minute of which was a penalty from Stage Two.

Sanz: ‘I lost a lot of time but everyone is so close, there are 10 riders within two minutes. I think I am doing a good job and the next stages will have more things to open the race. I hope to have no problems in tomorrow’s marathon stage, I have to be smart and hope nothing happens.”

Team veteran Jordi Viladoms finished six minutes off the pace in 29th place but admitted that fast stages with little navigation were not his strongest.

Viladoms: “At the moment it’s zero navigation and I’m just trying to get a good rhythm and try not to lose too much time. I’m not so good in these kind of stages so I need to be patient and wait for the more difficult ones.”

But it was Monday’s stage winner Toby Price who was the unluckiest of the team on Tuesday after he got into difficulties with his GPS in the opening part of the timed special. Things went well for the Australian rider after that until he ran into some problems with cars, spectators and animals on the track. “That killed the confidence a bit so I backed it off because I didn’t want to cartwheel or hit anything. But it’s a long race and today cost me a bit of time but I’m still in a good overall position and I’m happy about that. We’re still good and we’ll sort it out tomorrow.” Price is now 10th overall.

Wednesday’s opening stage of the marathon where riders are not allowed any assistance from mechanics and teams is a loop around San Salvadore de Jujuy over another long distance of a total of 629km. Assuming the tricky weather allows it, the stage will include a timed special of 429km. Riders will also be competing in an average altitude of 3500m. There will also be a lot of changes of pace so plenty of new challenges for this year’s title contenders.

Photo: C. Barni