Adrien Van Beveren put in a commanding performance across two days of rallying in Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter with victory on an enormous stage six ahead of Toby Price and new Rally leader Ricky Brabec.
It was a stage that would turn things on its head in this vast area of desert that with 650,000 km of dunes is larger than France but gives staggering endless vistas for a spectacular place for the riders to attack. No stranger to sand, Van Beveren used his extensive Le Touquet experience to carve out a narrow lead over Price and teammate Ricky Brabec, getting as far as bivouac F after 513 km of rallying when the clock stopped at 4 pm yesterday.
On a stage that demanded so much from the riders physically, basic food rations, no assistance, no phones and a night on the sand in a tent also added to their depleted energy levels. However, with just 112km across the dunes remaining for Van Beveren at 7 am today, the Frenchman cemented his position at the top of the timesheets as he clawed back a huge amount of time in the overall standings. Going into the 48h Chrono he had a deficit of nearly twenty minutes and this has now reduced to just over nine as he now starts the second week as one of the favourites for victory.
“This stage was really important for me since we’d known what it would entail I knew that I could do well here in the dunes and make a difference,” Van Beveren said. “I went fast at the beginning but emptied the first fuel tank really early so I had to change my riding style and make it smoother to try to improve my fuel economy. I got into a good rhythm and to get the win was nice. I’m glad I did the 48 Hour Chrono, it was a good experience to tackle this long stage in the dunes. Yesterday we all arrived completely destroyed, it was really physical but I’m glad that we had this opportunity.”
Going into the marathon stage Toby Price knew his later start position would prove advantageous. Arriving at the rest point yesterday as third-fastest, The Australian went one place better today to complete the full sixth stage as runner-up. The result now moves him up into the top five overall where he trails the provisional race leader by exactly 27 minutes. Although the gap is a little higher than the two-time Dakar champion would like, he now looks ahead to the second week of competition, confident of gaining time on his rivals.
“The marathon stage has definitely been a little tougher than we thought it was going to be,” Price lamented. “It was such a long day yesterday – we did about 513 kilometers in the dunes and raced for around six hours and 40 minutes! At the bivouac, we were just given a sleeping bag, a tent, a small box of food rations and tried to get some sleep. Today was good – just 112 kilometers – and it felt great to reach the finish line. We all deserve our rest day, that’s for sure. Overall, at the end of this first week, I’m feeling good, and the bike has been faultless. We’re not quite where we’d hoped we would be in terms of time, but there’s still a whole second week to go, so we’re ready for it.”
A fan of the whole 48 Hour Chrono experience, it was a solid third place finish for a sleep deprived Ricky Brabec, as it now sees him in the overall lead with just a 51 second gap to Hero Motorsports Team Rally’s Ross Branch as he continues to do battle with the Honda riders at the top of the standings.
“There was a lot of time in the dunes but I didn’t mind that as the challenge of going for many hours and kilometres made it a lot of fun,” the American said. “Camping with the boys was a blast, we had a really good time last night although we didn’t get much sleep. The stage was 100% dunes but it was really cool and I hope they do something like this again. Rocks and open deserts are a bit better for me and with the dunes I really pushed but I also played it safe towards the end as I didn’t want to open stage seven. I’m in a good place going into next week, so let’s see what happens in the next six days.”
Fourth-fastest time overall was a great result for Daniel Sanders and moves him up to seventh overall now and he’s close to the top-five in the provisional standings.
“Together, stages 6a and 6b were very long! Yesterday was definitely a tough one and afterwards I didn’t get much food or sleep,” Sanders said. “Luckily, I got a fair way through the stage yesterday, so it was a quick sprint to finish today which wasn’t too bad. I’m happy to make it to the finish line and looking forward to the rest day. It looks like week two will be just as hard, so we’ll see how we go.”
Rally leader going into the stage Ross Branch was well within the top-10 on day part one, ultimately finishing in fifth place which saw the Botswanan lose the overall lead, he maintains second overall in the rally – just 51 seconds behind the top position holder.
“Here we are at the end of the longest stage ever, we rode 530 kms in the dunes yesterday and another 120 today,” Branch explained. “It was super long and tough on the bike and body. But we’re here in one piece, and the bike has been running amazingly well. Ready for the rest day tomorrow, and looking forward to a great week 2 of racing. Thank you so much everyone, for all the support!”
Once riders got to the finish a skeleton crew were there to receive them before packing up their bikes to drive them to the next stage bivouac at Riyadh over 853 km away. The riders were spared such a long road trip and went to the Saudi Arabian capital by plane where they will reconvene with other team members before a much needed rest day tomorrow.