Toby Price is being hailed a hero. Rightfully so, he’s ridden with the pain of a broken scaphoid the entire rally and with some canny strategy he’s put his nose into the lead only when it’s really needed – at the end. So pain and happiness for the Australian (nice to add a second Dakar victory to his world championship), but pain and despair for his rivals…
Stage 9: Dakar’s slow race
As a journalist you sometimes wish the ASO could brief us a wee bit better. Stage 9, it turns out, was one of those with a mass start so no disadvantage to the stage 8 winner Matthias Walkner.
Between stages 8 and 9 there had been some race jury fall-out to deal with too. Sam Sunderland was handed an hour’s penalty with regard to his Iritrak issues at the start of stage 7, which meant he hadn’t started off the front, but later (he finished stage 7 in 4th). But worse was to come for Honda’s Kevin Benavides who got a whopping three-hour penalty for unsporting behavior, having carried (concealed) extra course notes into stage 7. Honda were set to appeal this, arguing – it seems – tha the rules are not entirely clear on this.
Such issues aside, the leaderboard all started the 313km time stage together, and it almost stayed that way for the entire stage. Marking each other in the dunes (making for pretty television coverage) no one rider got away and instead it was a second-wave starter Michael Metge who took a first stage win for Sherco in 2019, beating another edge-of-the-leaderboard man Bolivian Daniel Nosiglia by a fair two minutes. So with Price, Pablo Quintanilla, Walkner and 'Nacho' Cornejo rolling in to the finish together, nothing changed in the leaderboard, leaving Quintanilla a tough final stage to contemplate – how to take over a minute out of Price in just over 100km of timed stage?
Ahh, and more drama – only minutes before the end of the stage, with just 16km to go – there was heartbreak (and understandably tears) for Adrien Van Beveren when his Yamaha’s engine broke. AVB had been sitting in fifth place after eight stages and still had a chance of making the podium – but, again like 2018, he was frustrated at the final hurdle (maybe not surrendering the victory this time, but still loss enough…).
Stage 10: Price wins
Price arguably couldn’t have gone into the final stage in a better position. With a reverse starting order, he went into the short stage last man, just behind his rival Quintanilla. He could then possibly see Quintanilla ahead of him and certainly if he closed on him he could moderate his pace and ride safe. Quintanilla could only but ride 10-10ths with the hope of clawing back the minute. Only that risk-it-all strategy (the only one he could apply) bit him bad just 10km into the stage when he launched off a big dune and crashed on (heavy) landing. Pain again there for a Dakar rider, the physical pain and the mental one, knowing his chance for the win had just gone. Meanwhile for Price, in coming upon Quintanilla’s crash scene (he stopped to check his rival was okay) he knew then for the next 90km he just had to bring his KTM home.
Bring it home? Price-style that means storming to the stage win by a handsome 2:21 minutes! Go figure. Cornejo placed second for Honda then came Price’s teammates Walkner and Sunderland. After remounting from his crash, Quintanilla battled to the end in 22nd, 19-minutes behind Price, giving up second as well, to Walkner. Only more Dakar surprises – on appeal, Sunderland’s hour penalty was overturned and so Sunderland, not, Quintanilla gained that final step on the podium. Tough times for the Chilean, from potential win to no podium at all. Price generously suggested Quintanilla deserved the win as much as he, but there can only be the one winner.