José Ignacio Cornejo has taken a second stage victory at the 2024 Dakar Rally with a dominant performance on stage four into Al-Hofuf.
Monster Energy Honda Team teammate Ricky Brabec finished just behind in second while stage three winner Kevin Benavides rounded out the top three.
The second half of a semi-marathon stage, Stage 4 was yet another long, hard slog of 632 km from Al Salamiya to Al Hofuf. After spending the night all by themselves in the marathon bivouac, the competitors retrieved their bikes from the parc fermé early in the morning to conquer this long stage. Even though the terrain was faster and easier in today’s 300 km special, the road book instructions were quite tricky, making it difficult like the previous days.
Having narrowly missed out on a maiden podium at the Dakar Rally in 2020, 29-year-old Cornejo has his eyes on the top prize. The Chilean notched up his eighth Dakar stage victory, flying across stage four to propel him to the top of the overall standings now leading Ross Branch by over a minute.
After being separated from the team last night after just a two hour service followed by camping under the stars, the conditions didn’t deter the riders from finding their rhythm and putting in another assault on the general standings.
“It was a good stage, it was a mix of terrains and they did say it would be a little bit easier,” Cornejo said. “It felt faster and not as physical as the previous days, but there were some sections of tricky navigation so I had to stay focused. I did some little mistakes at the beginning but then I pushed harder with a good solid pace and finished in a positive way. Tomorrow we start with the dunes so let’s see how it goes.”
Making sure to rest up with an early night in his tent, a re-invigorated Ricky Brabec made it a one-two on the podium as he accumulated a minute in bonuses on the shorter 299 km special stage. It was a great result for the American rider as he opened the way with Kevin Benavides on what promised to be a day with very tricky navigation.
“Stage four was good, it was the shortest one yet so I was happy to have a shorter day,” Brabec said. “We’re at the bivouac an hour earlier than we have been, so that’s also nice and it gives the mechanics some more time to work on the bikes. I was second on the road which definitely wasn’t easy as navigation is really tricky this year. It can catch you off guard quickly so if you’re not on your toes from sunrise to sunset then it really can throw you. Tomorrow’s stage five is a sand dune day, it’s a short one but it’ll be long day in the saddle with the liaison. It’s going to be an interesting next three days, everyone in the team is doing a great job and I’m looking forward to getting to the end of this rally.”
Leading out into the fast tracks and open desert of the stage, Kevin Benavides, who celebrates his 35th birthday today, did an incredible job of opening the special. Although he was eventually caught by one rider at the 178-kilometer mark, he continued to lead, and as such, accumulated the maximum in bonus time. Completing the stage as third-fastest moves Kevin up to fourth in the provisional overall standings.
“It’s been a good day for me today,” Benavides mused. “I really enjoyed opening, and I think I did a good job and didn’t lose too much time to the guys behind. The stage was really fast – a lot different to the previous few stages – and there was still quite a lot of tricky navigation, so I had to really focus on my roadbook. At the refuelling, I noticed I had a big cut on my rear tire, which was worrying, so from there to the finish I tried to take as much care as I could. Tomorrow, we have a shorter special, but a lot of liaison with a really early start, so I’ll get some rest now and hopefully carry today’s speed into stage five.”
For the Rally leader going into the stage Ross Branch, Stage 4 was a tough day in the saddle. He encountered two minor crashes across the day, once early on around the 40 km point, and then later just about 20 km from the finish. He still rode strong to finish the stage just outside the podium. After enjoying 3 consecutive days at the overall first place in the Dakar 2024 classifications, the Botswanan star dropped one step down to the overall second place, after losing his lead today in the stage.
“Stage 4 was also a tough one,” Branch said. “Navigation was tricky this morning, so just took it easy and made sure I got everything right. I had a small crash at around 40 kms, but I was okay. We pretty much all stayed together until refuel. And towards the last, around 20 kms before the finish I had one more small crash. I think I should focus on staying on the bike for the next week! But otherwise, everything’s good today.”
Fifth placed Adrien Van Beveren has now got himself dialled in and with dunes coming up tomorrow in the hostile Empty Quarter, the three-time Le Touquet beach race king will be on the hunt for his first stage victory this year on his favourite terrain, aiming to rise up the overall standings from his current fifth position.
“We’ve had two good days, I feel really good on the bike and the rhythm is good now,” the Frenchman said. “I feel happy as I’m enjoying my riding, although today it was bit more stony so I enjoyed it a little bit less than yesterday. We had some dunes at the end which was fun and there are more to come tomorrow. The goal was to get back on the overall classification and I’m now fifth and not far off the front, so everything is possible to get back that time.”
Toby Price had a tougher time racing through the 299-kilometer timed special on day four. Following a solid start to the stage, a mistake just over 100 kilometers into the special dropped Toby down to 23rd on the timesheets. After regrouping and fighting back, the Australian was able to gain back several minutes and several places to ultimately finish in 15th. Price now lies eighth in the overall standings at the close of day four.
“Not the best day for me – with so many tracks ahead of us in the sand and some tough navigation on the stage, we got lost a little midway through and ended up losing some time,” Price explained. “It’s still very early days with a long way to go, but it’s always frustrating to have a rough day. There were a lot of spectators out there on the special, which is always good to see. Overall though, I’m happy to be here at the finish in one piece and still well in the race, so we’ll focus on tomorrow and see what that brings.”
Still reacquainting himself with rally racing somewhat after a lengthy spell off the bike due to injury in 2023, Daniel Sanders got on with the job at hand and safely completed stage four. Placing 20th today, the Aussie now lies just outside the top 10 in 11th overall. But with the times in the overall classification pretty tight, it could all change again after stage five.
“A bit of a rough one today and I struggled a lot with my riding,” Sanders lamented. “It was pretty tricky to ride with a good pace while keeping an eye on the roadbook and those two things aren’t really coming together for me at the moment. Not my best day at the Dakar, but we’ll be back again tomorrow to fight another day.”
As the 48 Hour Chrono gets ever closer riders will have to muster up all their energy for stage five tomorrow. Although it’s only 118 km against the clock in the dunes, a very early start will see them covering a 527 km road section as they head towards the Red Sea and the city of Shubaytah.