Van Beveren takes bikes lead; Loeb tops Dakar stage 7

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Van Beveren takes bikes lead; Loeb tops Dakar stage 7

Off Road

Van Beveren takes bikes lead; Loeb tops Dakar stage 7

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Momentum shifted with the seventh stage of the 44th Dakar Rally, opening the second half stage of the grueling Saudi Arabian desert marathon’s second half.

In the bike class, GasGas rider Sam Sunderland, who held the lead much of the first half, saw his advantage evaporate with a problematic run to 28th while his teammate Daniel Sanders, who had been third overall, dropped out altogether with a crash. The day belonged to Jose Ignacio “Nacho” Cornejo Florimo, while Yamaha leader Adrien Van Beveren took over the overall lead with a selectively aggressive run to 10th in the 701 km/436-mile run through rocky terrain between Riyadh and Al-Dawadimi.

“Today was a great day to attack and that’s exactly what I did,” declared Chile’s “Nacho” Cornejo, whose stage win moved him back inside the overall top 10. “I knew the navigation would be sketchy, so I eased up a bit to avoid navigation mistakes. I think it was the right choice.

“Navigation is my forte, but I’d struggled a bit and on the first day I made a mistake that sapped my confidence. This victory is a boost for morale. We’re coming out swinging this week, as we showed today. We’ll try to claw back as much time as we can.”

Frenchman Van Beveren says he has learned from his bitter experience in 2018, when he also led overall before crashing out in the run-up to the finish.

“I’ll do my best to defend my lead, but without going crazy. My goal is to make it to the finish line,” he said. “I’ve been saying it from the beginning and that hasn’t changed. I’ll draw upon my experience and stick to the original plan. It’s still far from over, and I intend to push hard until the end. If it all falls into place, it will be fantastic.”

Sunderland put his disappointing result down to luck, and the Briton remains upbeat about the rest of the rally despite dropping to fourth, now 5m38s behind Van Beveren, who leads Austria’s Matthias Walkner by 5m12s and Kevin Benavides by 5m23 in a close fight at the front.

“It was a bit of a rough day. It started out bad for Sanders with a crash in the liaison and then the stage was really, really difficult with the navigation, so not ideal to start in front,” he noted. “Where the rains have passed through after the 00 car, so many of the tracks are washed away, so it’s a bit of a casino. You just flip a coin and hope it’s that one. Honestly, it’s a bit frustrating, but at the same time I’m sure the next days will be the same for the other guys. We still have so many long days in front of us and I’m sure there’ll be some more opportunities to attack, to recuperate some time. I’m happy for him [Van Beveren], but at the same time, he’ll have to open tomorrow, so he’ll have the same job. This is a race and why it’s interesting.”

America’s Ricky Brabec had a good run to seventh, moving the defending champ up to 13th overall. Andrew Short is the highest ranked American in 10th, 28 minutes off the lead.

In the car ranks, Sebastien Loeb led the way for Bahrain Raid Xtreme, moving him back into second overall, albeit still 45m behind lead Nasser Al-Attiyah, who followed Loeb home today by 5m26s with his Toyota.

“We had a fantastic special until 50 kilometers before the line, when we started having engine problems. It just sputtered on, off and on again… We lost a lot of time near the end, but we still came out on top, so no complaints from my side,” said Loeb. “We’re not in a position of strength — there are no questions to be answered. There is no strategy. We’ll just do our job and see how it plays out.”

In the Light Prototype T3 ranks, another day brought another stage win for America’s Seth Quintero. The Red Bull Junior driver led home Spain’s Cristina Gutierrez by 5m11s and finally cracked his way into the overall top 10. But Chile’s Francisco Lopez Contardo has padded his overall lead out to a comfortable 1h24m, after second-place Sebastian Eriksson lost over an hour on today’s stage.

“If we break that record, I’ll be super stoked to get to 11 wins in a 12-stage Dakar. It’s gonna be nuts, so hopefully we can get it done and we’re definitely going to have some fun doing it,” declared Quintero. “It was super-close to Cristina. The last 60-70 km, we really tried to drive as hard as we could and bring it home. That record’s not gonna be easy to break, so now we got a little more leeway, hopefully we don’t need it, but we’re going to go for a few more stage wins to break that record.”

In trucks, Anton Shibalov had a turn at the front for the dominant Kamaz team, leading home teammate Eduard Nikolaev by 1m37s. But the Russians’ teammate Dimitry Sotnikov continues to lead overall over Nikolaev by 5m14s after a fourth-place run today.

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