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Sunderland back in Dakar lead

After losing the lead of the Dakar rally on day two to Honda’s Joan Barreda, Briton Sam Sunderland won day three to end up back on top of the leaderboard. After finishing day two in seventh to drop to fourth overall, the factory KTM winner bounced back as Barreda took a wrong turn and finished off the leaderboard.

The longest stage of the event so far, comprising a 296km special followed by a 208km liaison, proved difficult for many of the competitors on day three. Good navigation was paramount as well as overall speed, and as such many of the top riders lost valuable time after missing a waypoint. Using his experience, KTM 450 RALLY mounted Sam Sunderland moved up through the order as the day went on. Riding consistently, Sunderland posted a fastest time of just over three hours and 20 minutes.

With today’s stage win, 2017 Dakar champion Sunderland also moves to the top of the overall standings, over four minutes ahead of the next placed rider.

Sam Sunderland: “That was a tough day – there was a lot of off-piste riding and some of the dunes were really difficult to navigate and even climb. It made the whole day that little bit more physical, too. I’m happy to get another win, but it’s still early days yet and we have a long way to go. The bike felt really good today, even in the soft sand it was still pulling really well. I made a couple of mistakes in the middle of the stage, but thankfully they didn’t cost me too much time.”

2016 Dakar champion Toby Price was flying straight from the start of today’s timed special. The Australian placed second at the first waypoint, just nine seconds behind team-mate Sunderland. A crash three quarters of the way into the stage cost him a few minutes, but Price continued, eventually posting the third fastest time. Unfortunately, a five-minute penalty relegated Toby to 10th position at the end of the day.

Toby Price: “Everything felt really good today, I was really comfortable on the bike. I knew my pace was good and so I kept on pushing. I did come off the bike after a big drop-off from one of the dunes around the 140km mark. Luckily, I didn’t damage myself or the bike too much, the road-book got filled with sand though so for the rest of the stage I had to just ease my pace a little. One of the worst things was that I lost the end to my camelback in the crash and wasn’t able to keep hydrated towards the finish. Apart from that everything was good, you can see on days like today how important it is to stay focused and not make any mistakes. Hopefully I can keep up the same performance for the rest of the rally.”

Continuing to find his form, Antoine Meo placed seventh at the end of today’s stage. The former enduro world champion made a slight error halfway through the day but luckily didn’t lose much time.

Antoine Meo: “It’s been a mixed day for me today – half really good and half not so good. I made a big mistake at the 83km point when after riding alone for the beginning of the stage, I caught a rider in front. Instead of staying to the line I tried to get past him by taking a small detour but it ended up costing me some time. Other than that, I am really pleased with my pace, and the bike is performing perfectly. I’ll try to make up some time tomorrow.”

After placing third on day two, Matthias Walker was one of the first bikes to enter today’s stage. The Austrian had a tough day in the soft dunes and completed the day 12th overall, nine minutes down on his team-mate Sunderland. Although disappointed with today’s result, Walkner is still upbeat about the rest of the rally.

Matthias Walkner: “That was quite a rough day for me today. I started off third but obviously dropped some places as the stage went on. Luckily, I haven’t actually lost too much time on the guys in front and some of the other riders fared a lot worse by making mistakes with their navigation. There are still 11 days to go so I’ll just keep on pushing and see where we are after that.”

‘Queen of the Desert’ Laia Sanz showed today why she is by far the leading female rider at the Dakar. The Spaniard put in a sensational performance throughout the day to finish in 15th overall. Navigating perfectly through the difficult stage Laia now sits 17th in the provisional overall standings.

Laia Sanz: “That was a good stage, I felt confident and was able to push – the whole day went really well. After the halfway point there was quite a lot of dust but I was able to navigate well and didn’t make any mistakes. It was a lot nicer to ride than yesterday’s stage too as we weren’t following the cars or crossing their tracks. I’m looking forward to tomorrow now and hope for another good day.” 

Luciano Benavides also had a good stage. Showing a good, solid pace throughout the day, the KTM Factory rider placed an impressive 19th, the second fastest newcomer on the day. Today’s performance moves Benavides up to 16th in the overall standings – fastest of the rookies.

Luciano Benavides: “Overall, today went really well for me. It was a long stage with some big dunes and I did lose a couple of minutes when I got stuck on one of the climbs. Apart from that, I’m enjoying myself and learning all the time about strategy, navigation and how to handle stages in terrain like this. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

Tuesday’s stage four of the Dakar Rally 2018 will see riders begin their day with a sprint along the beach at San Juan de Marcona. The riders will then head back into the dunes for one of the most difficult sand sections of the rally. The total distance covered will be 444km, 330km of which is timed special.

Revision: results, standings and text changed due to Toby Price receiving five-minute penalty.

Provisional Results Stage Three – 2018 Dakar Rally

1. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 3:20:43
2. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 3:23:46 +3:03
3. Ricky Brabec (USA), Honda, 3:24:38 +3:55
4. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI), Husqvarna, 3:25:03 +4:20
5. Gerard Farres (ESP), KTM, 3:25:51 +5:08
Other KTM
7. Antoine Meo (FRA), KTM, 3:27:06 +6:23
10. Toby Price (AUT), KTM, 3:29:11 +8:28 (5min penalty) 
11. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 3:29:47 +9:04
15. Laia Sanz (ESP), KTM, 3:32:43 +12:00
19. Luciano Benavides (ARG), KTM, 3:35:48 +15:05 

Provisional Standings after Stage Three – 2018 Dakar Rally

1. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 6:44:23
2. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 6:49:01 +4:38
3. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI), Husqvarna, 6:49:23 +5:00
4. Ricky Brabec (USA), Honda, 6:52:23 +8:00
5. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 6:53:13 +8:50
Other KTM 
7. Antoine Meo (FRA), KTM, 6:55:17 +10:54
8. Toby Price (AUT), KTM, 6:56:51 +12:28 (5min penalty)
16. Luciano Benavides (ARG), KTM, 7:12:26 +28:03
17. Laia Sanz (ESP), KTM, 7:14:51 +30:28

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