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2024 Dakar Stage 3: Kevin Benavides Takes First Stage Win While Ross Branch Maintains Overall Lead

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Photo of Kevin Benavides at the 2024 Dakar Rally Stage 3
Stage Three winner Kevin Benavides knew he had to deliver his best over the course of day three to make up time on his rivals.  Photo: Rally Zone

Kevin Benavides has topped the timesheets on the gruelling third stage of the 2024 Dakar Rally ahead of Ricky Brabec and Adrien Van Beveren while Ross Branch retains his overall lead.

Putting in an impressive performance Benavides moves up to sixth in the provisional overall standings. Meanwhile, after an action-packed day in the Saudi desert, Australian Toby Price wrapped up the stage in ninth place and now lies seventh overall while compatriot Daniel Sanders was thirteenth and sits eighth overall.

It was a frustrating day for Sam Sunderland, the two-time winner of the Dakar was forced to withdraw from this year’s event after suffering from a mechanical issue just 11 kilometres into the special. Following an unfortunate crash and injury to his back, Sebastian Buhler was also forced to retire from the race.

Including a long-timed special of 438 kilometres, stage three of the Dakar proved to be another huge test of skill and endurance for all competitors. Leaving the bivouac at Al Duwadimi, riders covered a total distance of 733 kilometres to Al Salamiya. Marking the first half of the event’s opening marathon stage, just two hours of assistance were permitted before competitors left their teams and completed a final liaison to a separate bivouac to spend the night.

Starting stage three from 19th, due to losing several minutes from a small mistake on the previous day’s special, Keving Benavides knew he had to deliver his best over the course of day three to make up time on his rivals. Using his experience and speed, the reigning Dakar Rally Champion put in a superb ride over the mixed terrain, immediately slotting into second on the timesheets at the first checkpoint, and carried that momentum to the finish. Securing his first stage win of the 2024 Dakar so far, Kevin’s result elevates him to sixth in the provisional overall standings.

“A much better day for me today. It was a long, long stage, but after making a couple of mistakes yesterday, I set off with the plan to focus more on my navigation,” the Argentinian explained. “It definitely paid off – there were already a lot of tracks on the ground ahead of me, but I concentrated on my roadbook and was able to find a good, solid rhythm over the different types of terrain. I’m happy with my pace today and the result. We have a couple of hours now to work on the bikes and then we head off to the bivouac. I feel good and the bike is in good shape – I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

Photo of Ricky Brabec at the 2024 Dakar Rally Stage 3
Second place on stage three keeps American Ricky Barbec right at the pointy end of the overall only 5 minutes of the lead. Photo: Rally Zone

Second-place finisher Ricky Brabec put in a fantastic ride to end the day just over a minute behind stage winner Kevin Benavides. He kept his third place in the overall standings and more importantly, took time out of overall leader Ross Branch.

“I recovered some time today and rode the best I could. It was a long day and I had a couple of hiccups early on but here we are at the end of day three so I’m happy to be able to start stage four. There’s a long way to go but we will keep fighting,” the American said.

Photo of Adrien Van Beveren at the 2024 Dakar Rally Stage 3
Adrien Van Beveren had his highest stage finish so far with third and is firmly in the top five overall. Photo: Rally Zone

Adrien Van Beveren was disappointed with his result yesterday after a couple of navigational issues, but today saw him up amongst the front runners on a much happier day for the Frenchman as he mastered the conditions for third and into fifth in the overall standings.

“Today was a better stage for me, it was a really tricky one and there was a lot of navigation,” Van Beveren said. “Some parts were fast, some slow, but I’m happy with my day. This stage will have been hard for a lot of riders but we need to stay focused as we’re only on day three, yet it feels like it’s been six!”

Photo of Skyler Howes at the 2024 Dakar Rally Stage 3
American Skyler Howes had his best stage finish in his Honda debut finishing the stage fourth fastest and making a small gain in the overall standings. Photo: Rally Zone

Skyler Howes also spent most of the day in the fight and despite stopping to assist Sebastian Bühler after his crash, time spent at Bühler’s side was given back to the American. A hugely positive fourth place was his result just six seconds behind Van Beveren.

“It was another really fast and tricky day, for navigation as well. We did get into some nice dunes which was a good change of pace but there were a lot more rocks today which I’m having a lot of fun in,” The American said. “At the beginning of the special, I caught up to Toby (Price) and rode with him pretty much the whole day, so he took the lead through the dunes and I led through the rocks. It was a super fun day, not without mistakes again, so I know I can improve a little bit more.”

Photo of Ross Branch at the 2024 Dakar Rally Stage 3
Ross Branch was fifth on the stage and maintained the overall lead of the Rally. Photo: ASO

Fifth placed Ross Branch continued his consistent performance despite a couple of navigational mistakes, the Botswanan managed to improve his overall lead to a little over three minutes.

“It was in fact a really weird stage for me,” Branch reflected, “In the morning I was doing very well, but then ended up making some navigational errors and lost time with a particular waypoint. I’m happy however to be here in one piece. I hope my teammate Sebastian will get better soon, it was disheartening to see him lying on the side of the road injured. My thoughts are with him.”

Photo of Toby Price at the 2024 Dakar Rally Stage 3
Toby Price finished in a highly commendable ninth place and now lies seventh overall, just one position behind teammate Kevin Benavides. Photo: Rally Zone

After his stage victory yesterday, José Nacho Cornejo was faced with the difficult task of being first off the line to cover the 438 km test.  Pairing up with Pablo Quintanilla early on saw them both take advantage of the bonuses on offer for leading the way, on a stage which put them through their paces mentally as Cornejo took sixth and maintains second overall.

Stage three proved to be an interesting one for Toby Price. Despite showing good speed over the special, Toby’s day was far from straightforward. Stopping to assist two different riders didn’t slow the Aussie’s pace, however, and the two-time Dakar champion was able to make up ground on his rivals. Initially completing the stage in 23rd, with the time lost reallocated to him, Price finished in a highly commendable ninth place and now lies seventh overall, just one position behind teammate Kevin Benavides.

“Yeah, it was quite an eventful stage for me today,” Price said. “I made a small mistake early on, which cost me some time. Then I saw Sam (Sunderland) at the side of the track, I stopped to make sure he was ok, but it turned out to be a mechanical issue. After that, I got my head down and tried to make some good progress. I was stuck in the dust of another rider for a fair few kilometers but managed to get past him in the sand and was able to make some good time there. Unfortunately, towards the end of the stage, we came across another rider who had crashed, so we stopped to help him, call the helicopter, and make sure nobody else was in danger. So, it’s been a bit of an up and down day, but we’re here in the bivouac now, bike is good and getting service, and I’m ready for more of the same tomorrow.”

Photo of Daniel Sanders at the 2024 Dakar Rally Stage 3
Daniel Sanders rode a smart and steady stage and now lies eighth overall in the provisional standings. Photo: Rally Zone

Maintaining a consistent start to what is only his fourth ever Dakar Rally, Daniel Sanders focused on completing the tough stage three special without issue – a task made even more challenging due to the low winter sun – and that’s exactly what he did! Placing 13th was the result of a smart and steady performance by the Australian who now lies eighth overall in the provisional standings.

“Yeah, I’m feeling good after getting through another tough stage,” Sanders said, “It was another long one under the sunshine, and it was pretty dry out there with a lot of dust. Navigation was tricky too, but we made the best of it. No crashes today so myself and the bike are in good shape, which is good as today was the first leg of a marathon stage. I’m looking forward to getting some decent sleep tonight and then I’ll be out to the attack tomorrow’s stage.”

At the end of today’s stage mechanics had just two hours to work on the bikes before parting ways with their riders who will spend the night camping and with their bikes in Parc Fermé with nobody able to touch them.

They will set out tomorrow on another long day of riding as the exploration of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia continues at pace heading to the city of Al-Hofuf which is situated in the Al-Ahsa Oasis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A 299 km stage and 332 km liaison will be served up on the second half of this marathon stage before riders reunite with their teams.

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