Dakar stage 11 to KTM’s Meo; Price further extends overall lead
Red Bull KTM factory rider Antoine Meo of France on Thursday sealed his second stage win in the Dakar Rally to finish the eleventh stage just 18 seconds ahead of teammate and current overall leader, Australian Toby Price. Third on the day was Pablo Quintanilla. Riders now only have two stages to go to reach the finish in Rosario on Saturday but still have many kilometers left to put under their wheels.
Meo, on his debut Dakar ride for the team continues to impress with his performance and described his day as ‘incredible’, saying: “In the beginning I quite quickly caught up to Goncalves and after that I rode pretty well. At one moment I thought I had made a mistake in the navigation so I turned back, but in fact I was good. So Pablo (Quintanilla) caught up to me. After that I had a big crash because I didn’t see well in the dust, but after the refueling I was better in the navigation and it was really great. I made a gap to Pablo and after that I rode alone and it was good for me.”
Meo is currently overall third in front of Quintanilla and a good battle is developing between the two riders. Asked if he thought a podium was possible, Meo took the cautious approach. “It’s difficult to say because tomorrow I need to open the track and it looks like it is going to be another crazy stage. But I’ll try my best and we will see.”
Price confirmed it had been a long stage. “It’s the third day from the end and it seems to be getting harder and harder, so they are definitely driving us into the ground at the moment. But yeah, it was a good day. We started off third and I caught the guys in front and then sat behind them a bit. They made a mistake and I got past them, but then so did I. I fixed it quite quickly but they had got past me so I just sat there for a while. Then they made another mistake and I was good to go and I rode all the way to the finish. We’ve built the overall lead a little bit more, so hopefully I can make the last two days a bit more comfortable. We’ve still got a lot to go so for sure it’s going to be a long one and very tiring.”
Asked how he planned to tackle the last two stages Price said: As long as we don’t lose 15 minutes in both these stages I think we will be fairly good. I’ve got to do it nice and smooth, look after the bike and make sure we rest up enough. Hopefully we’ll be in good shape,” he added. “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.”
Stage 10 winner, KTM rider Stefan Svitko of Slovakia was seventh on Thursday but is still holding second overall position albeit now 35 minutes 23 behind Price.
With Just 14 riders at the finish, organizers once again called a halt to the stage at CP2 after 243 km, citing “exceedingly difficult weather conditions caused by the extreme heat and the large number of riders in difficulty”. Leaders times were verified and remained unchanged, but some adjustment may be made for the other riders.
Red Bull KTM’s Jordi Viladoms came in provisionally at ninth in the stage for his best result so far. Viladoms struggled with a fever in the first week and is now only finding his normal energy levels. “Today was a good day for me. I started in the back and it was really dusty but I saw today that my rhythm was good. I was fast and passed many riders. My energy was also good and its good for me to have a stage like this. Because I see I am still alive and still a good rider.”
It was the second very difficult day for KTM factory rider Laia Sanz who struggled through the ride with a temperature and fever, and who also suffered a crash later in the day. “Today I had a temperature and I didn’t feel really good. I was doing a quiet stage just to finish, because it was long and physical at the beginning. I was riding with no problems, then after the refueling it was faster and less physical. We got into a riverbed and I let Viladoms pass me. Then I was in his dust and had a big crash. I damaged the bike but I was lucky I didn’t get injured.” Sanz said she will try to get as much rest as possible to hope to be in better shape for the long penultimate stage Friday.
Riders face a daunting 931 km on the penultimate day including 481km of timed special. They will move into semi mountainous terrain with tight, vegetation-lined tracks, and will need all their concentration to avoid making any mistakes. The penultimate overnight stop will be in Villa Carlos Paz.