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SUNDERLAND AND KTM THIRD OVERALL AT DAKAR RALLY 2021
Dakar Rally 2021 – Stage 12
The 43rd edition of the Dakar Rally proved to be one of the toughest in its history. With organizers delivering a punishing route across the entire 12 days of competition, the event included a wide variety of terrain together with some of the most technically demanding navigation seen in recent years.
Red Bull KTM rider Sam Sunderland rode an intelligent race right from stage one. With the difficult navigation proving to be hugely challenge to all, especially to those leading the way at the front of each stage, riders encountered sizeable swings in time advantages depending on their start position.
Sunderland, using his vast experience, chose to maintain a solid but steady pace through the first half of the race, with the Brit lying sixth overall at the halfway point. Increasing his pace after the rest day, and taking the challenge to those ahead of him, the KTM 450 RALLY rider placed third overall by day seven and moved up to second on the penultimate stage.
In winning stage 11, Sam had the unenviable task of opening the 12th and final timed special. Trailing rally leader Kevin Benavides by five minutes going into the stage, the 2017 Dakar winner had no option but to push as hard as he dared during the final 200km as he raced against the clock. Unfortunately, a small error that resulted in him losing almost 10 minutes ended Sunderland’s charge for the win. Despite the set-back, Sam safely arrived at the finish to claim an impressive third place overall. Although disappointed not to have secured a second career win for himself and KTM, the Brit was happy with how his race had gone.
Sam Sunderland: “I did my best over the whole rally, so I can’t be too disappointed, I guess. It was always going to be hard setting off first this morning and I knew I had to push hard to make up those minutes. I couldn’t find one waypoint early on in the dunes and lost far too much time trying to find it. There is always a fine balance and when you push your speed, the navigation can lose out. I’m super happy as I know I gave it my all. The other guys did a great job and after what was such a tough event with several crashes and people being forced to retire with technical issues, I’m glad to be here safe at the finish line and in third place. I honestly think that has been one of the toughest races I have ever done – the pace at the top is so high, we’re having to fight every single day and there is no time to relax. Congratulations to all those who finished and get well soon to those who crashed out.”
Unfortunately losing time early on in the rally, Matthias Walkner was forced to play catch up from day two. Despite trailing the leaders by over two hours, the Austrian stayed focused, putting in strong rides on each subsequent stage to steadily fight his way back up the standings. Sitting just outside the top 10 following the penultimate day of racing, an impressive performance by the 2018 Dakar champion on stage 12 saw him move up two places in the overall standings to a highly commendable ninth.
Matthias Walkner: “I’m happy to be here at the finish of another Dakar Rally. Yeah, I’m a little disappointed over what happened on day two, but when you look at what some of the other riders had to face, it’s not so bad. After losing over two hours early on, I knew fighting for the podium would be almost impossible. From then on, my plan was just to take each day as it comes and aim for good stage finishes and a nice, safe end to the race. To finish ninth overall is really good, especially with such a high level of competition. Now I’m hoping we can get more racing done this year and come back next Dakar for a better result.”
Contesting only his second ever cross-country rally, Daniel Sanders came into his first Dakar as a true rookie. The KTM Factory Racing junior rider impressed right from the start however, demonstrating incredible speed on the opening Prologue. From there, Sanders went on to mix it with the established Dakar specialists, claiming no fewer than five top-five stage results and showed great maturity over the entire event.
Daniel Sanders: “All-in-all it’s been a pretty perfect first Dakar for me. It started off with a good Prologue and then day-by-day I learned a little more and gained as much experience as possible. I’m really pleased to come away with fourth overall and as first rookie, so that’s cool. I’ve only really spent four months on the KTM rally bike, learning as much as I can for this, so I can’t thank Jordi and the whole team enough for all the hard work they have done and the faith they put in me. It’s pretty much what I expected as I came into the race ready for it to be really tough. The first few days weren’t so bad – yeah, the navigation was tricky, but it wasn’t till about day five or six that we had some hugely physical stages in the dunes. That, and after a couple of crashes, my body really started to hurt. It’s all been worth it though, I’m over the moon with my result and glad I’ve been able to gather all the information together and come away with a strong finish. It’s been the toughest race I’ve ever done, but I’m already looking forward to the next one!”
Jordi Viladoms – KTM Rally Team Manager: “Overall, I’m pleased with how the rally has gone. After fighting for the whole race, to come away with a podium is positive, but of course we had hoped for more. Clearly, this event has been hugely challenging for all competitors, a true test of character and a true test of not only the riders but all of our team. I’m very proud of the effort everyone has given. Hats off to Sam, he was super consistent throughout the rally, giving his all. Working his way up the overall results wasn’t easy, but he did what he needed to do and really dug deep when it mattered. For our junior rider Daniel Sanders, to get fourth position is an incredible result, especially with the level of the other riders being so high at this year’s event. We’re really happy for him, especially after only four months of preparation. Matthias’ result, finishing ninth after the issues he had early on, is a testament to his quality as a rider. In the end we’re happy with how the whole team has performed at this race – everyone has worked very hard, the bike has been working very well, and all the riders have had a great attitude. Of course, it was a shame to lose Toby from the race, especially as he was the rider with the most potential at the time. Thankfully, he wasn’t too badly hurt, and we look forward to having him back as soon as possible. Finally, I also want to mention Skyler Howes, our supported rider, who also did a great job to finish fifth. He really showed some very fast speed on some of the stages.”
Provisional Results Stage 12 – 2021 Dakar Rally
1. Ricky Brabec (USA), Honda, 2:17:02
Provisional Standings (after stage 12) – 2021 Dakar Rally
1. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 47:18:14
SAM SUNDERLAND WINS STAGE 11 AT DAKAR 2021
Despite being shortened from its original 511km to 464km, the timed special on stage 11 still proved to be hugely challenging for all competitors. Featuring close to 100km of dunes as well as fast tracks through tricky-to-navigate canyons, the penultimate stage of the Dakar tested the already-exhausted riders to their limits.
Third overall coming into today’s stage and with an advantageous start position of eighth, Sam Sunderland set off 15 minutes behind the rally leader with every intention of chasing him down. Knowing the long special offered a great chance to improve his position in the overall classification, Sunderland made the best use of his speed and experience to close in on his rivals. Taking the lead of the stage by the fourth checkpoint at kilometer 215, the Brit remained in front on time from there to the finish. Although a small navigational error cost him some minutes in the final kilometers, Sam claimed the win on the stage and did enough to move himself up to second in the provisional overall standings.
Sam Sunderland: “I gave my all today – I knew this stage would be one of the best chances I had to make up time on the guys in front. It’s great to win the stage, but it means I have to open tomorrow for the last day, which will be hard. Still, anything can happen as we know, and I’ll keep fighting right to the end. It’s been another really long, tough stage but I’m grateful to be able to just race my bike through the desert, especially with everything that is going on in the world at the moment. I’m grateful to my team too for all the hard work they have put in to get us here. The plan now is to do my best again tomorrow and we’ll see where we are.”
Continuing to push and climb up the standings, Matthias Walkner put in an impressive ride on the day’s challenging stage to claim fifth place and with it elevate himself to 12th overall. Just outside the top 10 going into the final day of racing, despite losing over two hours back on stage two, Walkner now hopes to claw back even more time on tomorrow’s stage 12.
Matthias Walkner: “It was another really long day, but I’m super happy to be ready for the last stage now. I was quite happy with my riding, but I was a little nervous with Sam and Daniel behind me because they are both fighting for the top positions and I didn’t want to make too much dust. I got a bit lost and let them past and then from there we rode together to finish with quite a good speed. Overall, the day was good fun and I’m happy to be here at the finish.”
Another strong day of racing in the dunes saw KTM Factory Racing’s Daniel Sanders complete a fourth stage at the 2021 Dakar inside the top five. Not only that, but the rally rookie finished just eight and a half minutes down on the flying Sunderland. As such, he moves up to a highly commendable fourth in the provisional overall standings. With one final stage remaining, the young Australian is looking forward to Friday’s short stage 12 and hopefully the chance to successfully complete his first ever Dakar Rally.
Daniel Sanders: “I started really well this morning with my navigation and managed to make up a lot of time by the first refueling stop at about kilometer 150. After that I was in the dust from the guys in front a little and just had to focus on my road book. Sam caught us, so I let him lead through the dunes and then coming into the last part of the stage there was some really tricky navigation. I think it’s been my favorite stage of the event so far, we did some really cool stuff riding between the canyons and then into the dunes. It’s been a difficult race, but I’m feeling good, and all being well I’m looking forward to finishing my first Dakar tomorrow.”
The 2021 Dakar Rally concludes with Friday’s stage 12. Competitors will once again face a long day in the saddle covering a total of 452km from Yanbu to the finish line at Jeddah. A relatively short timed special of 225km will give riders the chance to make a final push and improve on their results in time to take the checkered flag. The stage could still throw up a few surprises however with tricky to negotiate dunes combined with technical navigation testing racers for one last time at this year’s event.
Provisional Results Stage 11 – 2021 Dakar Rally
1. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 4:35:12
Provisional Standings (after stage 11) – 2021 Dakar Rally
TOP FIVE STAGE FINISH FOR WALKNER ON DAKAR RALLY DAY 10
Totaling 583km, day 10 of the rally took competitors south from Neom towards AlUla. An 83km liaison led the riders to the start of the 342km special stage where they then faced similar terrain to Tuesday’s tough stage nine, with a mixture of sandy tracks and rocky pistes twisting through canyons and valleys. Although one of the shortest at this year’s race, the day’s special still proved incredibly taxing for all, with its high temperatures and complicated navigation.
In placing fifth on today’s stage, Matthias Walkner moves himself up to 14th in the provisional overall standings – an impressive achievement considering the Austrian rider’s troubles early in the race. Despite his deficit to the rally leaders, Matthias continues to push on each and every stage, delivering strong performances, and hopes to finish the final two stages of the event on a high.
Matthias Walkner: “Yeah the stage today wasn’t meant to be so tricky, but it seems like all Dakar stages now are really, really tough. We have to focus so hard not just on what is in front of us, but the navigation too. I think everyone today suffered with the dust as well. As the rally nears the finish everyone is pushing that little bit harder, a mistake with your road book can cost you a few minutes and drop you down the order, but it’s so easy to have a crash and lose even more time. I enjoyed the stage, and the scenery was amazing again, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Making a couple of navigation errors on stage nine, Sam Sunderland was able to use his experience to quickly get back on track and subsequently reach the finish line as eighth fastest. Currently fourth in the provisional overall classification, Sunderland will enjoy a strong start position for Thursday’s stage 11 that includes the longest timed special of the event at 511km.
Sam Sunderland: “It was a tough stage for me today, I felt good out there but made a couple of mistakes and lost quite a bit of time. The road book is so complicated this year and it’s not so easy to stick to the right track. I was leading my group earlier and then at one moment, I couldn’t find the way. I tried to follow the caps in the road book but ended up riding around in circles for a couple of minutes. I’m doing my best and this year has certainly proved to be tough for all of us. I’m fit and the bike is good, so hoping for a better day tomorrow.”
Day 10 at the Dakar was a valuable learning experience for KTM Factory Racing’s Daniel Sanders. A couple of navigation issues early on resulted in the young Australian being caught by a number of his rivals. Forced to complete the stage behind them, the team’s junior rider settled for a safe finish, conserving himself and his KTM 450 RALLY for tomorrow’s grueling special. Claiming another top-10 stage result in sixth, Sanders lies seventh in the overall standings and as top rookie class contender, by well over two and a half hours.
Daniel Sanders: “It was rough going out there today. Not the best stage for me, I got lost a couple of times early on and that cost me some minutes. Towards the end there, Skyler came past me and I was in his dust then and decided to settle for a safe finish. I managed to conserve a bit of energy over those last 100 kilometers as we have got a really long day tomorrow and it’s going to be a tough one.”
At 511km, the timed section on stage 11 is the longest of the rally. Leading from AlUla to Yanbu, the route will cover a variety of terrain, with a section of dunes mid-stage lasting for close to 100km. Accurate navigation through this area will prove vital in earning a good stage time.
TOUGH DAY FOR KTM ON DAKAR STAGE NINE
Featuring a loop stage starting and finishing at the coastal city of Neom, day nine at the 2021 Dakar turned out to be a testing one for the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team. Covering a total distance of 579km, riders faced a 109km liaison that led into the 465km timed special. A mixture of fast gravel tracks and sandy valleys proved to be a huge challenge to all competitors as they made their way through the stage.
Third overall coming into stage nine, Sam Sunderland was the fourth competitor to take to the start of the special. With times between the top riders being very close, the Brit successfully passed the first three checkpoints inside the top five. Two kilometers from the fifth checkpoint, Sam unfortunately came across teammate Toby Price who had crashed heavily and needed medical assistance. Staying with Price until he was airlifted to hospital, Sunderland then continued on with the remainder of the stage. Finishing in a commendable fourth place once his time lost helping Price was recovered, the 2017 Dakar Champion lies third in the provisional overall standings.
Sam Sunderland: “Obviously, it’s been a pretty rough day today. I started off strong, and was making good progress, handling the tricky navigation well. Then I came across Toby lying in the riverbed with Brabec already stopped with him. I helped there till the helicopter arrived then set off again and tried to get back into a good rhythm. Around 100 kilometers or so after that I was opening up for the group I was with and was looking down at the road book, hit a rock and was sent over the handlebars. It was quite a big crash, quite a big impact, and luckily I wasn’t too badly hurt. But I damaged the road book tower on the bike had no navigation from then on. I managed to reach the finish by following others but that’s always hard. A really tough day for the team, but this is Dakar and it’s always a challenge. We’ll regroup and do our best again tomorrow.”
Enjoying the start of stage nine as riders raced along the shoreline close to Neom, Matthias Walkner put in a strong performance, maintaining his position inside the top 10. As the terrain switched to more technical rocky tracks and riverbeds, the Austrian rider eased his pace so as not to make any mistakes on the high-speed special. Opting for a safe finish to the stage, Walkner placed sixth at the line, just over 14 minutes down on the day’s winner.
Matthias Walkner: “Yeah, it’s been a really, really tough day through lots of canyons with rocks everywhere. In the beginning it was very enjoyable, starting close to the ocean and then heading into a nice valley. But then when we came into the stony pistes it was a lot more challenging and I just tried my best to stay safe through there and make it to the finish line. I’m happy with how I rode, but obviously with my friends and teammates having crashes today, it is not such a good feeling. I wish them all the best and will try to focus again for tomorrow.”
KTM Factory Racing’s Daniel Sanders showed great speed throughout stage nine - the young Australian continuing to learn and improve his navigation and road book skills. Unfortunately, suffering a couple of crashes in the stage, Sanders lost a little time on his rivals. Nevertheless, in completing the stage as ninth fastest, Daniel now sits in sixth overall in the provisional standings.
Daniel Sanders: “It was a really hard day today. It started off nice on the beach with some cool sand tracks and I got into a nice rhythm and felt good on the bike. Then at the 50-kilometer mark I had a crash in the rocks, snapped my gear lever and banged myself up pretty good. I got going again but had lost all the water out of my water pack, so it was a bit of a thirsty day today. Then when I came across Toby, I stopped quickly just to make sure he was ok before carrying on to the finish. I did have another crash, which bust the bike up a little, but I made it back ok. There’s still three days to go, so let’s see what happens tomorrow.”
As the former leading KTM rider at this year’s event, Toby Price was well placed to fight for the event’s final podium positions. Unfortunately, while pushing hard, right at the front of the field on today’s special, the experienced Australian suffered a fall around the 155-kilometer mark and required medical attention. Airlifted to the hospital in Tabuk, and confirmed to have suffered a broken collarbone, the two-time Dakar winner will sadly play no further part in this year’s event.
Stage 10 of the 2021 Dakar Rally, totaling 583km, heads south from Neom towards AlUla. On the 342km timed special, riders will have to carefully navigate the twisting, sandy tracks that lead through the picturesque valleys and rock formations of the area.
INCREDIBLE RUNNER-UP FINISH FOR PRICE ON DAKAR RALLY STAGE EIGHT
Marking the second half of the rally’s marathon stage, the 709km day eight offered no respite for the riders. Leaving the temporary bivouac at Sakaka behind and heading west, a 226km liaison led riders to the start of the 375km timed special. Comprising a challenging mix of sandy tracks followed by difficult to navigate stony pistes, the stage to Neom would test all riders’ skill and endurance on the second of two incredibly tough days in the desert.
Toby Price endured a mixed first leg of the marathon stage. The Australian led till well over the halfway point when unfortunately a rock sliced open his rear tire, forcing him to ease his pace to the finish. Not able to change or swap the damaged item due to the marathon stage rules, Price carried out a makeshift repair last night before today taking on the 709km stage eight. Riding cautiously, Toby successfully completed the stage in an incredible second place. Testament to the quality of the tire, and the repair made by the Australian, Price remains well in the hunt for the podium, lying second overall in the provisional standings.
Toby Price: “It’s been a really tough couple of days for me. I damaged my tire yesterday and of course, not being allowed to change it, I had to repair it as best I could for today and hope it held up. I rode a good stage, but all the while I was trying to be as smooth as possible – not accelerate too hard in case the issue got worse. Second on the day is not bad at all, I lost a little more time to the rally leader, but I’m just glad I got to the finish line.”
Following his solid performance and fourth fastest time on stage seven, Sam Sunderland soon found himself near the front of the pack on stage eight, having to carefully navigate his way around the mixed-terrain special. Despite losing a little time early on, which dropped him down the closely-fought leaderboard to 13th, Sam steadily fought his way back to ultimately complete the stage in fourth. Although not enjoying the best start position for Tuesday’s stage nine, Sunderland, lying third overall, will have the opportunity to chase down the two riders ahead of him in the provisional standings.
Sam Sunderland: “I’m just trying to take each day as it comes at the moment. My pace has been good over the two days of the marathon stage, but it’s certainly been tough. Riding about 1,600km on the same tires and wheels is pretty good going, although they are looking a little second hand now. The pace is so fast and at the same time you’re trying to look down at the road book and check your navigation – it’s not surprising you’re going to hit a rock now and again. I’m glad to get another day done and I’ll keep on doing my best and we’ll see where we are at the finish.”
Another top-10 stage result moves Matthias Walkner up to 21st in the overall standings. The Austrian, having aided teammate Price on the first leg of the marathon stage, was able to use his 17th place start position to great effect today – chasing down the leaders to finish in a strong eighth place, just six and a half minutes down.
Matthias Walkner: “It’s been two really challenging days for me and the whole team, but on the whole we’ve come out of it quite strong. Yesterday Toby caught me, but then I could see he had some tire issues and I stayed with him to the finish. Today was difficult for me because I started quite far back and spent most of the day on my own. It’s always difficult to judge your own pace when you have no reference. It was a beautiful stage today though, I really enjoyed the landscapes and now I have a good start position for tomorrow, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Suffering a nasty fall while cresting a dune on stage seven, Daniel Sanders required several stitches below his lip at the overnight bivouac. Although feeling tired and a little sore this morning, Sanders impressed once again with a superb ride that took him to seventh place on the stage. Safely inside the top 10 overall, the young Australian will now aim to get plenty of rest before Tuesday’s stage nine.
Daniel Sanders: “I struggled to focus a little today, I think I was a little tired from yesterday and the crash I had. Thankfully I didn’t have any major problems, I just tried to put in a solid ride through the stage. I’m glad I’m here at the finish near enough in one piece. Both me and the bike have certainly had a tough couple of days, but we’ll get fixed up now and look ahead to the rest of the race.”
POSITIVE OPENING LEG OF DAKAR RALLY MARATHON STAGE FOR KTM
Heading north from the rest day bivouac at Ha’il, stage seven of the 2021 Dakar Rally led riders to Sakaka. This first half of the event’s marathon stage will see riders sleep in a temporary camp before continuing with the second leg on Monday, stage eight. Arriving at the bivouac, competitors are forbidden from receiving any outside mechanical assistance on their machines and must carry out maintenance and any needed repairs themselves. As such, bike preservation over the entire two-day challenge is extremely important.
With Sam Sunderland’s tactic of stringing together solid, consistent finishes paying off, the Brit has elevated himself to third in the general overall standings due in part to his excellent performance on stage seven. Racing much of the 453km special on his own, by concentrating on his navigation Sunderland gradually moved up the order as the stage progressed, ultimately claiming fourth at the line.
Sam Sunderland: “It has been quite a hectic stage today – really long and difficult to know where the others are and where you are in terms of time. All you can do is keep pushing, but you don’t really see anyone else out there for three or four hours. I relied on my own judgement today and it seemed to have paid off. Even when you see the tracks ahead in the sand you have to focus on the road book to make sure you’re not making the same mistake as the riders ahead. I’m happy with how things went today, feeling good and the bike’s in good shape so I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Toby Price made the most of his seventh-place start position by immediately chasing down his rivals in front to gain as much ground on them as possible. Leading on time for the majority of the special, a small issue in the final section ended up costing the Aussie a few minutes, but he was able to push on to the finish for seventh fastest. Despite losing the lead of the rally, Toby will be the seventh rider to start Monday’s second half of the marathon stage, giving him a superb opportunity to once again close in on the riders ahead.
Toby Price: “Everything went well today, I just tried to manage the stage as best as I could and not make any huge mistakes. It’s been a tough day but I’m happy with how things have gone, and it looks like we’re in good shape for tomorrow. Seven days done now, but still a fair few to go.”
2018 Dakar Champion Matthias Walkner rode a solid stage seven, choosing to maintain a safe, steady pace while minimizing any navigational errors. Matthias crossed the line as 17th quickest, but with times at the top being so close, his deficit to the leader was a mere 11 minutes. Continuing to fight back following his technical issue on stage two of the event, Walkner lies 24th.
Matthias Walkner: “That has been a tough day for me today, even the long liaison stage leading to the special was very cold and wet. The first 100km of the timed section looked more like the Netherlands with really sandy bumps and was very physical. After that, the sandy pistes were very fast, but there was a lot of hidden stones and so as well as focusing on your navigation, you had to take extra care not to hit a rock when you’re going really quickly. The whole day has been really tiring physically and mentally, but the bike is in good shape, so I’ll get some rest tonight and then hopefully another good day tomorrow.”
Continuing to impress, a third-place start position into today’s stage meant that rally rookie Daniel Sanders would soon be opening the special. Navigating well and soon passing the two riders ahead of him, the KTM 450 RALLY mounted junior delivered an excellent performance that kept him inside the top five for much of the stage. Even a crash over one of the dunes couldn’t slow the Aussie’s pace too much and Daniel crossed the line in an impressive fifth place.
Daniel Sanders: “I was having a pretty good day today until I had about 100km to go. I had been leading out a lot of the stage and was first to one big dune. I knew I had to turn left off the dune and go off piste, but I managed to hit a rock hidden in the sand with my front wheel and it just threw me straight off. I was going pretty fast and I just flew off and went head-first into the dune. Ricky stopped, which was good of him, and after rolling around winded for a bit I was ok. I damaged the bike a little – bent the front wheel and bars, but it was ok. Luckily, I was able to charge on to the finish. I’ll go over the bike and try and straighten it out for tomorrow and then I might need to get a couple of stitches myself.”
Toby Price - Red Bull KTM Factory Racing - 2021 Dakar Rally Stage Six
Following Thursday’s exhausting stage five, riders were hoping for an easier time on the final special before the rest day. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. Despite being shortened to 347km from the original length of 448km, stage six truly tested all competitors’ navigation skills and stamina by delivering a tough day made up of sandy, twisting tracks, before opening out into a mixture of both hard dirt trails and soft dunes.
Toby Price backed up his strong third-place finish on stage five with a storming ride from the front on day six. Setting off as the third rider to enter the special, the two-time Dakar champion had caught the two riders ahead of him by kilometer 100. Riding in a group of three from there to the finish, Price was able to find a solid rhythm and navigate through the dunes without major issues. With his seventh-place result, Toby lost the very minimum of time to his rivals, completing the special less than four minutes down and in doing so takes the lead of the 2021 event.
Toby Price: “Today they cut about 100km out of the stage and that definitely helped us because it’s still been a really tough day out there. It took a while, but I managed to catch the two guys ahead of me and luckily we were able to keep up a really good pace right at the front. I did have one little get-off that twisted the road book tower a little bit but apart from that there were no problems. It feels great to have taken the overall lead, but after such an up and down week the most important thing is we’re fit and in good shape for the second half of the rally. The plan now is to enjoy the rest day and then hopefully more of the same next week.”
Claiming another top-five Dakar stage finish, Matthias Walkner rode a strong but calculated day six. Making the best use of his eighth-place start position, the experienced Austrian focused on both his pace and navigation to stay within five minutes of the leaders throughout the special. Ultimately completing the day as fifth-fastest, just three minutes down, Matthias is in good shape to attack the second week of the event.
Matthias Walkner: “It was a really nice stage today, but surprisingly fast. I pretty much rode my own race but was caught by Ross Branch at one point and his pace was really strong, so we rode together to the finish. Overall, I’m happy with my first week, it’s just frustrating that the issue I had on the second day has prevented any chances of fighting for the podium. All I can do now is keep pushing every day, get to the finish, and enjoy the race.”
Showing the sort of consistency that took him to the win at the 2017 Dakar Rally, Sam Sunderland delivered another solid performance today, finishing as ninth fastest to complete the first week of racing in sixth position in the general rankings. Trailing his teammate and overall event leader by just less than four and a half minutes, Sunderland will enjoy a strong start position for the dune-heavy stage seven and hopes to claw back valuable minutes on his favored terrain.
Sam Sunderland: “Another long day and it was really, really fast. I tried my hardest to catch up to the guys in front but their pace was quite high and so I ended up riding most of the stage on my own, concentrating on my road book and trying to ensure a safe finish before rest day. This first week has been good, I’ve been able to avoid the big yo-yo effect of leading out and then playing catch up by just staying consistent every day. It seems to have paid off too, because I’m in a good position overall and feel strong for next week.”
Continuing to both increase his cross-country rally knowledge and impress the event regulars, KTM Factory Racing's Daniel Sanders has once again claimed a top-three stage finish at the 2021 Dakar. With the fast pace and open dunes much to his liking, the young Australian was able to confidently push right from the start of the special and increased his position throughout the 337km to claim third at the finish. Despite a seven-minute penalty incurred early on in the event, Sanders lies in an excellent 12th place in the provisional overall standings and leads the rookie class by close to one and a half hours.
Daniel Sanders: “It was definitely a physical one today that’s for sure, and on top of yesterday, it’s been a really tough couple of days. I tried my best to make up time today and think I did a good job, the stage started off quite tricky and then opened out to be really fast. This first week has gone well, I’ve certainly learned a lot too, and I’m happy with my pace. We’ve still got a long way to go, but I’ve been really enjoying myself.”
Toby Price - Red Bull KTM Factory Racing - 2021 Dakar Rally Stage Five
Leaving Riyadh behind, stage five of the rally delivered one of the physically toughest timed specials of the event so far. For 456km, riders raced against the clock over a variety of terrain, starting with rough, stony tracks in the early stages, before opening out into softer, undulating dunes on the drop down to Al Qaisumah.
Another impressive performance by two-time Dakar winner Toby Price saw the Australian hunt down the riders opening the route. As the 16th competitor to take to the special, Price had to deal with both the extremely demanding navigation required to complete the first part of the stage, and a number of slower rivals ahead of him. Unfazed by the challenge, Toby got his head down and placed inside the top 10 by the third checkpoint. Continuing to charge through the second half of the special, which consisted mostly of sandy tracks and dunes, the KTM 450 RALLY mounted rider ultimately clocked in third, just over one-minute down on the eventual stage winner.
Toby Price: “Quite a difficult stage today – the first 200 kilometers involved some really technical navigation. We thought the first few stages were tricky, this one was another couple of levels worse. I made a few mistakes early on and the guys ahead got away a little bit, but overall I tried to manage the pace of the whole special and make sure I got through with no issues. That’s day five done, day six is looking pretty tough too, but then it's on to the rest day.”
Demonstrating his trademark consistency over the course of stage five, Sam Sunderland navigated superbly through the technically demanding first part of the special, losing the minimum amount of time compared to some of his rivals. As the stage opened out into the dunes, Sam was able to stick to a solid but safe pace, slowly moving up the stage ranking as he went. Fourth at the penultimate check, Sam dropped down to fifth at the line, due to the hard-charging Price slotting in ahead. With five stages safely completed, the British rider lies fifth in the provisional standings.
Sam Sunderland: “Day five is in the books and done thankfully. It involved a lot of tricky navigation through the canyons and rocks at the beginning of the stage as there weren’t many references and it was difficult to find the right track. I certainly did a few circles there in the first part. After that I had to push because I knew I had lost some time, but everything went well, and I was happy to reach the finish. It’s been another long day, especially with the liaison back to the bivouac, so I’ll get some rest now for tomorrow. One more day of racing and then it’s the rest day and I’m definitely looking forward to that.”
Despite a couple of early navigational errors that ultimately cost him considerable time to the stage leaders, Matthias Walkner subsequently put in an incredible ride to complete the special in a highly-commendable eighth place after clawing back almost 10 minutes. Happy with his performance, the Austrian will enjoy an advantageous start position for Friday’s stage six.
Matthias Walkner: “The stage started really badly for me today. I think by kilometer 65 I had lost over 20 minutes. It’s frustrating when a stage starts off like that, but it’s so hard to keep pushing and looking at the road book – finding that balance is tough. On the last half of the stage, I tried my best to push over the dunes to make up time, I really enjoyed it but of course it was hard to improve my result after losing ground early on. I’m happy with how I rode though and eighth is a pretty good result.”
KTM Factory Racing’s junior team member was the second rider to enter stage five. Despite making a couple of errors early on that cost him some time on the chasing pack, Daniel Sanders soon came into his own when the terrain switched to sand and soft dunes in the latter part of the special. The Australian Off-Road Champion, riding as part of the leading group, made the most of his desert racing experience and sustained an incredible pace to the finish to claim 15th for the day.
Daniel Sanders: “I really enjoyed it today, even though it was really, really tiring by the end. I lost a fair amount of time first thing, but then we hit the dunes and I just checked out a little bit and opened it up. It was great jumping off the top of the dunes, and I think I made up some time there too, so that helped. I knew the guys behind would be pushing hard too, so I just tried to keep a really strong pace. It was good fun but physical – I’m glad to get to the end of a really tough day.”
SANDERS CLAIMS THIRD ON DAKAR STAGE FOUR
Stage four of the 2021 Dakar Rally, the longest of the event at 813km, was billed as being less demanding on navigation than the previous few days. Comprising a 337km timed special, book-ended by long liaison sections, the route ultimately led competitors into Riyadh, the capital of the country. With the majority of the day consisting of fast, wide-open tracks across the desert, riders’ focus and skill were tested to the maximum, with a safe stage finish a priority.
One rider who did push hard over the entirety of the special was KTM Factory Racing’s junior rider, Daniel Sanders. The 26-year-old rally rookie was the eighth rider to enter the stage following his strong performance on day three. Finding the high average speed special much to his liking, and feeling comfortable on his KTM 450 RALLY, Sanders was able to successfully chase down his rivals ahead and make up good time. With four strong stage results under his belt, in what is his debut Dakar Rally outing, Daniel goes into Thursday’s stage five provisionally lying 14th overall and as top rookie.
Daniel Sanders: “Today went really well, I didn’t have any issues for the first 100km or so and was able to close in on the front pack of riders. I had a strong middle section, I just kept pushing and was able to correct a couple of mistakes that the guys out front made, so that put me up on time a little. When we hit the dunes, I did have one big crash and got stuck on one too, luckily both myself and the bike came out fine. Towards the end I was able to push on again and apart from one little mistake things went really well. I’m really happy with third and thankfully it means I don’t have to lead out tomorrow either.”
Using his knowledge and experience to gauge the stage, Sam Sunderland rode the majority of today’s special alone. Minimizing any navigation mistakes, while maintaining a strong pace throughout the fast sections in between checkpoints, Sam completed the stage 10 minutes down on the eventual winner. Sitting seventh in the provisional overall standings, the Brit will enjoy an advantageous start position for Thursday’s stage five.
Sam Sunderland: “We had an idea that today’s stage was going to be fast and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Rather than push too hard and risk a big mistake, I chose to keep a steady rhythm and just aim to get to the finish in one piece. I’m happy with how the stage has gone and the bike, as ever, has been flawless. Stage five is looking quite a challenge, so we’ll see what tomorrow brings.”
Toby Price had the task of opening a second stage of the 2021 Dakar today following his win on Tuesday. Leading out and pushing from the start, Price was fastest to the checkpoint at kilometer 43. A couple of navigation errors however, made later through the special, unfortunately ended up costing him some valuable minutes. Completing the remainder of the day just outside the top 20, Toby thankfully didn’t lose too much extra time on the eventual stage winner, ultimately finishing 14 minutes down. In the general rankings, the Australian sits in eighth place, less than one minute behind teammate Sunderland.
Toby Price: “Yeah it wasn’t a bad stage for me – for sure it was a little easier than on previous days in terms of the navigation, but I managed to make a small mistake after the first checkpoint and was caught by the rider behind. After kilometer 80 we pretty much rode the rest of the stage together, trying to stay out of each other’s dust. I made a couple more small errors later on, which cost me a few minutes, but on the whole, it was a solid stage and I’m happy with the result.”
Still playing catch-up following the technical issue that arose on stage two, Matthias Walkner’s goal for the remainder of the event is to take each day as it comes and push for strong results. Third into today’s special, a mistake by the Austrian before the second checkpoint cost him over 10 minutes and dropped him to 47th place. From there, the 2018 Dakar winner kept his head down and focused on the remaining 250km, ultimately clawing his way back up the order to claim a commendable 23rd place at the finish.
Matthias Walkner: “It was quite a tough day today. In the morning I felt really good but close to the second checkpoint I made a very strange mistake, and it took a long time to get back on track. At the refueling I was disappointed to see that I was about 15 minutes down on the leader but after that, I rode together with Skyler Howes and we both pushed really hard to the end. I’m pleased with how I rode the second half of the stage, as my pace was really good, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Toby Price - Red Bull KTM Factory Racing - 2021 Dakar Rally Stage Three
Totaling 629km, stage three of the 2021 Dakar Rally formed a looped stage with its 403km timed special taking place south of the bivouac at Wadi Ad-Dawasir. Riders faced another tough day of navigation and varied terrain, with soft sand dunes once again forming the first half of the special, before opening out into faster, sandy tracks.
Starting down in 29th was always going to be tough for Toby Price, with the KTM 450 RALLY mounted rider having to catch and pass several rivals ahead in order to make up time. Using his formidable cross-country rally experience, the Australian was able to push hard right from the off, making light work of the tricky-to-navigate dunes near the start of the stage, before subsequently making up even more ground on the faster, desert tracks towards the finish. Clawing back valuable minutes on his competitors and claiming a 13th career Dakar stage win, Toby now sits third in the provisional overall standings, less than one minute down on the current leader.
Toby Price: “Everything went well today – no crashes, the bike has been good, and I was able to find a good rhythm. It’s great to win another stage, but it’s a bit like a yoyo at the moment – it’s difficult to lead a stage out from the front as you can lose a lot of time, and then you have to push hard the next day to make it all up again. Hopefully one day we’ll catch a bit of a break, the navigation won’t be too tough, and I can stretch things out from the front. Right now, every day is crucial, and I think if it carries on like this, with everyone staying fit and their bikes working good, the battle for the win is going to go down to the very last day.”
After suffering a technical issue on Monday’s stage two, Matthias Walkner was the 32nd rider to enter today’s timed special. The Austrian put in a great ride, moving into the top three straight away, a position he successfully defended to the finish. Despite a sizeable deficit to the rally leaders in the overall standings, Matthias is focused on maintaining his efforts and pushing hard for stage wins as the event continues.
Matthias Walkner: “It was quite a nice day today, but so, so fast – I think for 70 or 80 percent of the day I was flat out. There was a good mix of fast tracks and tricky navigation, but in general, I enjoyed the stage. Obviously, I’m still disappointed after losing so much time yesterday and it’s going to be hard to improve my position in the overall, but my plan is to take each day as it comes now and do the best for myself and the team.”
Continuing to deliver strong stage results, Sam Sunderland completed today’s special as fifth fastest, eight-and-a-half minutes down on teammate Price. Despite a couple of small navigation errors early in the stage, after starting 16th, the 2017 Dakar winner moved into the top 10 by the first checkpoint and increased his pace towards the finish. Sam’s solid rides over the first three stages of the event have paid off as the Brit currently lies fifth overall in the standings.
Sam Sunderland: “It was quite a fast stage all-in-all, I think the average speeds were quite high today. I made a small mistake near the beginning, where I struggled to find one waypoint, but I don’t think I lost too much time. After that I was able to push on and found a good rhythm in the faster sections. For most of the day I was riding alone, I had to pass four of five guys, but after that it was just me versus the stage. The wind made things very tricky as it was hard to see the tracks ahead and you’re always fighting against it, which makes things even more tiring. Overall, I’ve had a good day.”
KTM Factory Racing’s Daniel Sanders continues to impress at his first Dakar – his second ever cross-country rally. The young Australian has been able to make the best use of his out-and-out speed on the faster tracks of each stage, while taking care with his navigation and steadily improving his road book skills. As such, with another top-10 stage result, Sanders now lies an impressive 16th in the provisional rankings and as the event’s top rookie, by close to 20 minutes.
Daniel Sanders: “Not a bad day for me today, I had a few crashes on the dunes early on and then racing through the tracks and canyons I made a couple of small mistakes with the road book. At the end it was nice and fast, which suits me, and I was able to catch some of the guys in front. I think I put in a good time today with no dramas, and the bike was perfect all day again, too. It’s only day three, so there’s plenty more to come.”
CHALLENGING DAY FOR KTM ON STAGE TWO OF 2021 DAKAR RALLY
Day two of the race proved to be incredibly tough for all competitors. Totaling 685km and leading from Bisha to Wadi Ad-Dawasir, the stage included a long timed special of 457km. Challenging riders with soft sand dunes for the first third of the special, the stage then opened out to faster, sandy tracks, winding their way through a series of canyons. Accurate navigation was once again key to securing a good time.
Fourth into today’s stage, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Sam Sunderland put in a great performance through the early part of the special, across the sand dunes that suit his riding style. Defending a top-10 position through to the last quarter of the stage, the Brit, like many others, made a small mistake that ended up costing him some time. Despite the set-back, Sunderland was able to get back on track to ultimately cross the finish line in a provisional 17th position, 23 minutes down on the eventual stage winner.
Sam Sunderland: “Well, they have really thrown us in at the deep end with these first two stages, but this is the Dakar – it should be tough. If yesterday was tricky because of the navigation, today was hard for slightly different reasons. Overall, the stage was a lot faster, but at the beginning we crossed some really soft dunes, and it was easy to lose time there, especially up near the front. I’m happy with my riding and the position today is not too bad – I think as the race goes on we’re going to see these changes to the lead each day, depending on who opens the stage. Still there's a long way to go, so I’ll push on again tomorrow.”
Winner of stage one, Toby Price had the unenviable task of opening today’s special. And with the route made up of a combination of tricky-to-ride dunes followed by navigation-intense tracks and valleys, the twice Dakar Champion had a huge challenge ahead of him. Putting in a mature ride, despite the difficulties he faced, Price was able to reach the end of the special safely and without any major issues. Although ultimately losing time on the new rally leaders, Toby is confident in his riding and knows that the result could well swing back in his favor during tomorrow’s stage three.
Toby Price: “Overall, I’m happy with how my day has gone. It was always going to be difficult to lead out, but I think that’s going to be the case every day this year. The first 100 kilometers went well, then Kevin (Benavides) caught up and I rode about 150km behind him until he made a mistake, and I took over the lead again. In the later part of the special I had a small issue with the fueling on the bike, which meant I had to ease off a little, but thankfully didn’t lose too much more time. We got caught today by the guys behind, but that was to be expected. Hopefully I can make some of that back again tomorrow in the dunes.”
Starting only his second ever Dakar stage, KTM Factory Racing’s Daniel Sanders was able to push hard right from the start. Second fastest to the first checkpoint at kilometer 46, the former International Six Days Enduro champion made the very best use of his riding skills to storm through the first half of the stage, making it to the check point at 351km still inside the top two. A small mistake in the final part of the stage ended up costing the Aussie valuable minutes, but he was still able to bring his KTM 450 RALLY home in an extremely respectable ninth.
Daniel Sanders: “Today started off really well for me, it was a fast stage and difficult to make up time on the guys ahead, but I was riding well and felt comfortable enough to push. Unfortunately, towards the end of the stage, I missed a note in the road book and ended up losing over 10 minutes. It’s frustrating, but all part of the learning process. I’ve got a good start position for tomorrow, so I’ll give it my best again and try and close down on the leaders.”
As the third rider into today’s special, Matthias Walkner immediately set about chasing down teammate Price. Unfortunately, just before reaching the checkpoint at kilometer 46, the Austrian suffered a technical issue on his KTM 450 RALLY. Stopping to repair the problem, Matthias lost just over two hours to the leaders but thankfully was able to continue.
TOBY PRICE WINS STAGE ONE AT DAKAR 2021
The opening day of the 2021 Dakar Rally presented riders with a 623km stage, including 277km of timed special. Held entirely on rough sandy tracks, the stage immediately challenged competitors with difficult navigation. The rocky nature of the course also made bike preservation a priority, especially with the new-for-2021 tire rules that allow the top riders a maximum of only six rear tires over the course of the event.
Ninth fastest in the qualifying Prologue, Toby Price used the first 75km of stage one to slowly build his confidence and speed. Placing second at kilometer 92, the two-time Dakar champ then moved into the lead, maintaining a strong pace to the finish. Leading the provisional standings by 23 seconds, Price will open Monday’s stage two.
Toby Price: “Overall, the day has gone well. Navigation was certainly tricky today – it was hard to find the right pistes and valleys and annoyingly I managed to get lost a little bit on the last few kilometers to the finish. Other than a few other little mistakes, the rest of the stage was good. I’m happy with how I looked after the bike and the tires because with the new rules we really have to be careful. Looking ahead at the whole race, I think there are going to be some big swings in the standings – the plan is to try and stay consistent and not lose too much time. I’m opening tomorrow so hopefully I won’t make too many big mistakes and we can keep this momentum going.”
Matthias Walkner put in a characteristically solid ride for third quickest on the opening stage. Riding consistently fast over the 277km special, the experienced Austrian minimized his mistakes to ultimately reach the finish just over 30 seconds behind Price. Combined with his Prologue time, Walkner also provisionally lies third overall and will be aiming to chase down his KTM 450 RALLY mounted teammate on stage two.
Matthias Walkner: “It turned out to be quite a tough day today. It was only 277km, but after a long liaison in the morning the stage was quite tiring, especially with its tricky navigation. There was one really technical section that looked more like the Erzbergrodeo than the Dakar, but the mix of terrain was a good thing and definitely very challenging. I’m happy with my start and looking forward to continuing tomorrow.”
Placing fourth behind Walkner, Sam Sunderland had to pass a number of riders and fight his way through their dust while pushing on towards the finish. Despite the conditions, the Brit was able to climb into the top four by the halfway point and from there, kept up a solid rhythm to the finish.
Sam Sunderland: “It was a really tricky stage today with some extremely technical sections – rocks upon rocks – and you had no choice but to trickle through in first gear. Overall, I feel happy with my performance, I caught a bit of dust in the first part, but I suppose with setting off 27th that was always going to happen. Working my way through to fourth at the finish is really encouraging though. Getting the road books just 20 minutes from the start makes things the same for everyone, but also makes our overall strategy difficult to gauge this early on. I’m setting off fourth tomorrow, so hopefully I can make up a little more time.”
KTM Factory Racing’s junior rider Daniel Sanders made a very strong start to his debut Dakar Rally, posting the third fastest time on the qualifying Prologue. As the third rider into stage one, the young Australian immediately set about chasing down the two riders ahead of him. With the leaders making a mistake before the first checkpoint, Sanders found himself opening the stage – a hugely demanding task for the rally rookie. Nevertheless, putting in a solid ride with no crashes, Daniel ultimately posted the 18th fastest time on the special. A seven-minute penalty, awarded for speeding, unfortunately relegated him down to 25th, both on the stage and in the provisional overall standings, heading into day two.
Daniel Sanders: “I really enjoyed that, the terrain was incredible with loads of rocks and some very tricky notes in the road book. It was really cool to start my first ever Dakar stage up near the front, some of the top guys made a bit of a mistake early on, but I wasn’t quite confident to trust my instincts and ended up losing a little time there, too. After that I was able to lead at the front for a while, which felt amazing. Overall, I’m good, the bike’s good, I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”