British rider Sam Sunderland goes into the final stage (786 km in total, but just one final 64 km timed special) with a solid 33-minute lead over Matthias Walkner as Dakar starts its final day today. Close behind him are two opponents in French rider Adrien Van Beveren and Spain’s Gerard Farres Guell (KTM) at 37.10 and 37.22 minutes behind the leader.
Stage 11 took riders from Argentina’s San Juan to Rio Cuarto over 754 km, with a two-part timed special, the first over sand and the second, a high speed ride on hard surface through farming country. Knowing what is at stake, both Sam Sunderland and Matthias Walkner took no risks in the day’s ride on their KTM 450 RALLY bikes. Sunderland was fifth, 7:25 minutes behind the stage winner Paulo Goncalves. Walkner, the Austrian rider for the Austrian KTM brand was tenth, 10:33 minutes behind.
Sunderland, who has been in the lead for a number of days, acknowledged that it had been a lot of pressure. “When you are in the bivouac you can talk to people, but during the day you are alone on the bike for 14 hours and all kinds of things creep into your mind. It’s pretty heavy and it’s not easy to stay focused.” He said that stage hade been very physical. “There was like 70 km of sand whoops in the first part but I feel pretty much at home in the sand, living in Dubai. I took it pretty easy but I managed to catch two or three guys in front of me so I knew my speed was still pretty good. The second part was really fast with lots of ruts. My buddy Matthias (Walkner) is fighting for second place. I passed him in the first part of the special but in the second part I didn’t want to make dust for him, so I let him through and followed him through to the finish. We’re here, we’re happy and we’ve got another day done. One more to go.”
While Sunderland was quick to acknowledge that ‘It’s not finished until it’s over’, he did say it would be a dream come true to take the win. “I’ve worked so hard and everybody in the team works so hard, it’s been an everyday challenge for me for the past 4-5 years. It’s a full time thing, I love it and I wouldn’t change it for the world,” he added.
Walkner was also pleased with his day’s ride, but knowing what is still ahead of him, was equally cautious about the possible result. “Today it was quite rough but not so many kilometers. It was sandy and bumpy in the beginning and I lost some time because I had some pain in my knee and couldn’t push so much. But the second part was on a fast piste and I felt better. I’m going to give it everything tomorrow, but you can lose as much in a short stage as you can in a long one so I have to stay concentrated. I will be happy if I arrive healthy in Buenos Aires and if I am on the podium, it would be perfect. But there’s still one more day and anything can happen.”
Both Sunderland and Walkner, the new generation of Red Bull KTM factory riders after a long domination by former KTM factory riders Mark Coma and Cyril Despres, have fought back from injuries in previous editions of the Dakar.
The third member of the KTM factory riders, Laia Sanz of Spain was 17th in the stage and is now at overall 15th and is on track to once again be the fastest woman rider. Sanz drew praise from Alex Doringer, KTM’s Division Manager Enduro and Rally, for her efforts. He said: “Laia has found her rhythm and she’s fighting like a maniac. What the lady does is just amazing.” Although she had mixed fortunes in the difficult first week, she now has the possibility of achieving her goal of a top 15 overall finish.
Sanz: “It was a good day, both hard and physical and a lot of sand, but I am happy with this second week because I am where I wanted to be at the start of the race – in the top 20 and without losing a lot of time. Last week I lost too much time so I wish the rally was a bit longer. Now I start to feel confident. But it’s like this and next year I will be faster. Today I was top 15 but it will be tough to finish tomorrow in that position because the guy behind me is fast and there are only two seconds between us.”
The riders start in reverse order on the final day so the best and fastest will be confronted with plenty of dust in their final dash to the Argentinian capital.
UPDATE Results Stage 11 Dakar 2017
San Juan – Río Cuarto: 288 km timed, 754 km total
1. Joan Barreda (ESP), Honda, 3:16:57 h
2. Paulo Goncalves (POR), Honda, +1:50 min
3. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA), Yamaha, +5:28 (1 min penalty)
4. Gerard Farres Guell (ESP), KTM, +7:54
5. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, +9:15
9. Stefan Svitko (SVK), KTM, +12:21
10. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, +12:23
17. Laia Sanz (ESP), KTM, +24:39
UPDATE Standings Dakar 2017 after 11 of 12 stages
1. Sunderland, 31:34:11 h
2. Walkner, + 33:09 min (5 min penalty)
3. Gerard Farres Guell, +37:22
4. Van Beveren, +38:10 (1 min penalty)
5. Barreda, +44:32 (58:01 min penalty)
15. Sanz, +3:00:28 h