José Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Cornejo has topped the timesheets ahead of Kevin Benavides and Joan Barreda after the first rest day for stage seven of the 2022 Dakar Rally.
It was a big day with a big shakeup in the standings with Adrien Van Beveren taking the overall lead with the leader going into the stage, Sam Sunderland, losing almost 23 minutes in the tough conditions and dropping to 4th in the overall standings.
After what was a truly awesome first week of desert racing by Daniel Sanders, the Australian’s rally came to a disappointing end today when a crash in the liaison stage resulted in the Aussie charger fracturing his left elbow and wrist! Sanders will remain in hospital overnight tonight while undergoing ongoing medical checks, ahead of expected surgery on his elbow tomorrow.
To kick off the second and decisive week of racing, the opening kilometres of the seventh stage – after a liaison section – were battled out over fast tracks, some peppered with stones, followed by a hundred kilometres of dunes. There was plenty of sand and navigation in store over the timed 402 kilometres which took in valleys featuring some parallel tracks that proved the undoing of more than one rider.
Young Chilean José Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Cornejo took advantage of a good starting position this morning to set a lightning pace throughout the stage. With the terrain in optimal conditions, the rider from Iquique registered the quickest times at almost every waypoint en route, reaching the finish line with the top marker after taking three-and-a-half hours to complete the special. Nacho now lies in ninth in the general standings, 26’37” behind the leader.
“Today was a good day,” Cornejo enthused. “I started from a nice position, so I hoped to take the opportunity to attack, make up some time in the general classification and maybe even the stage victory. In the end, I achieved both of them. I tried to stay calm, to keep my concentration and not get lost with the navigation and that’s the way it worked out. I’m happy for my fourth victory in the Dakar, the first of this 2022. The bitter taste of the first days is behind us and we are highly motivated for the week to come. We will fight until the end.”
Reigning Dakar Champion Kevin Benavides made the very best use of his 13th place start position to work his way up through the field to ultimately complete the stage in second. The result gives the number one plate holder a huge boost in the overall standings, moving him from eighth up to third, just over five minutes behind the leader.
“I really pushed today, and it feels good to have that hard work pay off with a strong result,” Benavides said. “Navigation was tricky, especially later on, and I did make a couple of mistakes that cost me some time, but I was able to fix them quickly and keep a good rhythm going to the finish. I’ll be up near the front tomorrow, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Joan Barreda once again pulled off an epic performance and was able to finish the stage amongst the frontrunners in spite of a shoulder injury – an arduous feat given the demanding terrain. Bang Bang reached Al Dawadimi to the applause of the entire Monster Energy Honda Team, gritting his teeth throughout the entire stage, with surprising speed, to eventually post third. The Spaniard now occupies seventh in the Dakar, 8’30” behind the leader.
“I tried to start with some pace,” Barreda said. “At the beginning, it was hard, with a rocky terrain that made me suffer a lot. I got a bit stiff when I was forcing my arms until I was able to relax a bit more in the faster sections. From the 100th kilometre onwards, I was able to push. I realised that the harder I pushed, the more confident I felt physically. I had some good feelings and I couldn’t have asked for anything better considering all I’ve been through.”
Adrien Van Beveren’s 10th place finish moves him to the top of the leaderboard with a healthy five-minute advantage over Matthias Walkner. Delivering a masterclass in navigation today when many of his rivals struggled with some of the tricky notes found in the roadbook, Van Beveren delivered a strong result with five days of racing remaining.
“Today was a great day for me,” Van Beveren said. “There was some really tricky navigation and I didn’t make any big mistakes, which was good and where I felt I could push, I really pushed where it was possible to do so. It feels great to be leading after everything that has happened to me over recent years but I know all too well that the race is far from over. I’ll continue to focus on each day and keep fighting to the end.”
Despite finishing in 24th place, just over 10 minutes down on the stage winner, Matthias Walkner remains in second overall and will now enjoy an advantageous start position for Monday’s long 830-kilometer stage eight.
“It was super tricky to navigate stage today,” Walkner said. “I think with the rain that we had here last week it’s washed a lot of the pistes away, so it’s difficult to know exactly where you are sometimes. There was one waypoint that was especially hard to find, and I know I lost a lot of time on that one alone. Other than that, the stage went well, I was opening for a lot of the first half until I got lost a little and I’m happy with my pace. Stages like that are especially tiring, it takes a lot out of you, so I’m looking forward to getting some rest now and attacking again tomorrow.”
Putting in a solid day seven performance from his eighth-place start position, Toby Price knew the special would throw up a few surprises and so focused on accurate navigation for the entirety of the stage. Completing the initial dune section as one of the fastest riders, Toby showed more caution as the terrain got technical in the latter half of the stage. Coming home in ninth place, Price moves up one more place in the overall rankings to 11th with five stages left to contest.
“Not a bad stage for me today, there was one really tricky bit of navigation in the middle there, so I took my time through that section to make sure I got through ok,” Price said. “I’m here safe in one piece, so can’t complain at all. On the whole, it’s been a really good day today, so we’ll focus on tomorrow now and hopefully more of the same.”
With a total of 830 kilometres by the end of the day, tomorrow will be the lengthiest stage of the 2022 Dakar Rally. After setting off the Al Dawadimi bivouac, there will be a liaison to reach the start of the special. Awaiting will be “just” 395 kilometres of special stage with a lot of sand and dunes through the valleys of the south of the country, arriving at the Wadi Ad-Dawasir bivouac after another very long liaison by road.
STAGE 7 TOP 20 RESULTS
TOP 20 OVERALL STANDINGS FOLLOWING STAGE 7