Luciano Benavides has claimed his second stage win of the 2023 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and moved to second in the overall rankings behind Adrien Van Beveren with one stage remaining.
Benavides took advantage of his later start position to make up the maximum time on his rivals while Van Beveren and Ross Branch made up the top three. Toby Price endured a challenging day opening the long, 308-kilometer timed special on stage four. However, despite battling through a difficult day, he remained focused to secure a solid seventh place result. Price dropped to sixth overall in the provisional rally standings.
The fourth stage of the rally featured yet another dune-fest in the Liwa desert. Riding over 308 kms of special sections and another 149 kms in transit, the riders found the bright sun and the extreme heat of the terrain quite exhausting. However, the lack of many steep drop-offs unlike the previous days provided some respite to the competitors.
Similarly to his winning performance on stage two, Benavides demonstrated his immense pace and skill at reading the mixed terrain, right from the start this morning. The Argentinian was ahead on time straight away, opening up a one-minute advantage on his rivals by around 100 kilometres into the 308-kilometre timed special. He increased that advantage to well over three minutes by the finish, despite not earning any bonus time.
His excellent winning result on stage four moves Benavides up into second place in the provisional overall rally standings, where he trails the current leader by under three minutes. Despite having to open the fifth and final stage of the race tomorrow, the 27-year-old will give his all and aim to finish his 2023 ADDC on a high.
“It was a really good day in the desert for me,” Benavides said. “After the delay this morning, I was really motivated to push as hard as I could right from the start and try to make up as much time as I could to the guys in front. This stage on last year’s race was the first stage I had ever won, so it was nice to top the timesheets again this year. The bike is working really well, and I’m really happy with the job the team are doing here. There’s one day left, and I will be opening the stage. My goal is to take the win, it won’t be easy, but I’ll certainly do my best.”
Third-placed on stage Adrien Van Beveren remains the leader with almost three minutes in front of second place and is confident going into the final day.
“I knew today was the day to push, so I did it from the beginning,” The Frenchman said, “I was able to reach Nacho at around kilometer 100 and then rode with him – it was great to have him by my side because when you ride alone it is more difficult to keep a high rhythm. We did a good job together and I am happy about my day. The goal was to do a good time and that is what we accomplished.”
Ross Branch crossed the finish line of the penultimate and longest stage in the third fastest time. His consistent performance during the rally keeps him in the fourth position in the overall standings.
“Today was a really long day with over 300 kms in the dunes,” Branch said. “However, there weren’t as many drop-offs as in the past days, so we could open it up a little bit. Lots of flowing valleys, and some really good fun. I’m happy to be on the podium once again this week, and I know it’s going to make things a lot more interesting tomorrow. Everyone at the top is riding really well. Happy to be where I am now, and looking forward to the final day.”
Following on from his stage three win, Toby Price was the first to encounter the tricky visibility and unpredictable terrain as he opened the stage from the front. Using his skill and experience to ensure a fast but safe passage through the special, Price delivered a strong pace without any major navigational errors.
However, with the sand damp due to the morning’s fog, Toby’s rivals behind had clear tracks to follow – a huge advantage for the chasing pack. Completing the stage without incident, Price accumulated close to six minutes in bonus time, which earned him a seventh-place result for the stage. Now lying in sixth overall, the Australian will make the best use of his later start position for tomorrow’s fifth and final stage as he aims to gain the maximum amount of time on those ahead.
“Not the best day for me today, unfortunately,” Price lamented. “We had a delay at the start of around two hours while we waited for the fog to lift, then when we finally got going, the sun was a lot higher in the sky, making it really difficult to see while opening the stage. I did my best and didn’t make any big mistakes anywhere, but with conditions like that, on the longest stage of the race, it was tough to lead out. Pablo (Quintanilla) caught me around 80 kilometers in and took the lead for a while and it was so much easier to follow someone else’s tracks. I brought it home safely, which is the main thing, and now there’s the fifth and final stage left to go, where I’ll give my all as usual.”
The last stage of ADDC ’23 will take the riders on a 370 km ride from the bivouac in Qasr Al Sarab to Abu Dhabi, of which the 206 kms of timed special will decide the winners of this year’s Challenge.
2023 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge – Stage 4 Provisional Classification
1 Luciano Benavides (Husqvarna) 3:47:08
2 Adrien Van Beveren (Honda) 3:50:30
3 Ross Branch (Hero) 3:51:14
4 Ricky Brabec (Honda) 3:51:25
5 Skyler Howes (Husqvarna) 3:52:41
6 Jose Ignacio Cornejo (Honda) 3:53:44
2023 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge – Provisional Overall Classification [After Stage 4]
1 Adrien Van Beveren (Honda) 14:45:32
2 Luciano Benavides (Husqvarna) 14:48:30
3 Jose Ignacio Cornejo (Honda) 14:51:46
4 Ross Branch (Hero) 14:52:10
5 Skyler Howes (Husqvarna) 14:52:48
6 Toby Price (KTM) 14:54:07