With the rally now past the halfway stage and heading back towards the host city of Lima, stage six covered some of the same ground as previous stages. An extremely long day for all competitors, the 838 kilometres total distance included a 336-kilometre timed special. The route took riders through the characteristic soft sand dunes of the Ica desert before subjecting them to faster, more open rocky pistes. A strong wind towards the end of the stage only added to the challenge.
Entering the second week of Dakar in high spirits, Pablo Quintanilla put in a great performance on stage six. Involved in a battle for the stage victory with fellow South American Kevin Benavides, Quintanilla took the virtual lead before the penultimate waypoint and never looked back.
Following a well-considered plan of attack, the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing rider has put himself back into the rally’s overall lead with four crucial stages still to be contested in the Peruvian countryside. Overall, the Chilean is now four minutes and 38 seconds ahead of his closest rival.
“Everything went according to plan today and I’m happy with the stage win. The day wasn’t easy, the pace was quite fast, and navigation was difficult,” Quintanilla explained.
“We also had to race through strong headwinds,” the 32-year-old continued. “We had a good battle with Kevin Benavides and at one point I managed to pass him and retain the lead. It’s good to be back on top in the overall. The race is still long and I want to stick to my plan. Tomorrow I will be the first rider to start the stage and this is surely a disadvantage. But my plan is to fight back for a good result on day eighth and then take advantage of the mass start on day nine. Lots of things can happen these next few days but I will do my best to keep my eyes focused on my goals.”
Kevin Benavides fought nail and tooth for the stage win and nearly pulled it off, coming home less than two minutes shy of stage winner Quintanilla. However, the Argentine Monster Energy Honda Team rider climbed the overall leader board from seventh to fourth place, eating one minute into the overall leader’s time.
“Today was a good day,” Benavides enthused. “I changed the strategy to start pushing this second week and today I started further out. The idea was to finish as well as possible later on, so this second position on the stage is fine despite having lost a bit of time towards the end. We have to keep going and not waste too much time in the remaining stages.”
Putting in a superb ride in the tough conditions, Matthias Walkner was able to navigate his way successfully through the stage despite riding alone for the majority of the day. His third position, just over four minutes from the leading time, moves the Austrian up to sixth in the provisional overall standings.
“I had a good ride today, navigation was really tricky, but I had some lines in front of me, so I just had to stay focused and use my head a little,” Walkner said. “I rode the majority of the day alone and that can be tough sometimes, but I’m pleased with my riding and the result, especially as the overall pace was so high. Overall, it has been a good day.”
Just 27 seconds adrift from teammate Walkner, Australian Toby Price continues to battle on despite the increasing pain in his wrist. The Australian’s fourth place result puts him in an ideal start position for Monday’s stage seven. Price lies third in the provisional standings.
“It’s been a really tough day today,” Price expressed. “My wrist is hurting more and more as the race goes on and it’s making things uncomfortable out there. I’ll keep cruising on though and I’m still in the race, it’s just a bit more like survival mode at the moment. Nevertheless, third overall with four stages left to race is encouraging. The goal is the same – make it safely to the finish – so I’ll keep on pushing on tomorrow.”
Enjoying a stealthy performance in the dunes of Peru, Yamalube Yamaha Rally team’s Adrien Van Beverenearned a fifth-place result for the day and remains fifth in the provisional overall standings.
“It was a hard day but everything worked fine for me. We woke up super early to start the stage and that was tough on our bodies,” the Frenchman said. “After we took the start of the special I saw Santolino on the ground and stopped to help him. I lost a few minutes there but got the time back when I reached the finish. As soon as the medics arrived I got back on my bike and returned to the stage. I pushed hard while also making sure I avoided mistakes. This race is all about managing your risks and keeping it on two wheels. Overall, I’m happy with my performance today and I my starting position for tomorrow is not that bad. There is still four days of racing here in Peru and it’s going to be pretty intense.”
Californian Ricky Brabec dropped a little time today trying to validate an awkward waypoint, which saw him concede the privileged position of overall race leader, although the American remains just four minutes adrift of the top spot.
“It was another tough stage,” Brabec lamented. “The temperature was nice but the wind was a big factor. It’s kind of hard to ride all day with the wind pushing you around. At one point for about 50 km I was concerned about fuel. I know that we had filled up at the top at kilometre 80 at the neutralization. I was freaking out because I ran out of one of my tanks earlier than expected. On the whole it was a good day. There’s four days left. I’m glad to be at this bivouac full of fesh fesh that makes everything such a mess. I’m looking forward to the next four days. Hopefully I can stay in the fight and keep pushing. I feel great and my body is at 100%.”
Slovak Stefan Svitko finished in the top ten with seventh on stage and is now eighth in the general classification.
Earning yet another top 10 stage result, Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s Andrew Shortwrapped up stage six with an eighth-place result. Battling through tough conditions and tricky navigation the American racer is now tenth overall, 38 minutes behind his team partner Quintanilla.
“It was a tricky day for me. The dunes are really soft and it’s hard to get a good rhythm,” Short said. “I saw a rider crash in front of me in the first part of the stage and that was a bit disappointing. It took me some time to find my pace. After the halfway point I caught up with a few other riders and we continued the rest of the stage racing alongside each other. It was a hard day for all of us with the wind and the terrain, everything was really tough. Despite all that, I’m still in a good position in the race and I have a few more stages to improve my position in the overall standings.”
Impressing again with another top-10 finish, Luciano Benavides has really come into form on the 2019 Dakar Rally. Riding intelligently, the Argentinian claimed ninth on stage six and sits just one place outside of the top 10 overall with four stages left to race.
“I feel good physically and mentally and the main goal is still to get a good finish,” Benavides said. “I am lying in 11th place at the moment and I would love to break into the top 10. I am really enjoying the rally because I’m learning all the time and I can feel my pace and confidence improving as my experience increases.”
Following his win on the previous day of racing, Sam Sunderland was given the unenviable task of opening today’s technical and gruelling stage. The British rider lead out from start to finish but unfortunately lost twenty minutes overall to the following pack due to a brake malfunction. Sunderland now lies seventh overall.
After having his start delayed by a fault in his tracking system, Xavier de Soultrait was unable to show his true potential on stage six. Suffering sea sickness in the massive dunes, de Soultrait had to settle for an 11th place result and is now 9th overall.
Australian Ben Young was classed 56th and appears 59th in the general classification. No word from James Ferguson and he did not appear in the results for the stage.
Stage seven of the 2019 Dakar Rally comprises the first looped timed special of the event, with riders covering 323 kilometres against the clock near the town of San Juan de Marcona. With the stage again covering previously used terrain, the tracks from previous days will make good navigation extremely important.