Ross Branch has bagged the top position of Stage 10 of the 2023 Dakar Rally adding a second Stage Win to his tally while Adrien Van Beveren and new rally leader Kevin Benavides rounded out the top three.
Riders left the bivouac at 3:30 am this morning to cover the 467-kilometer liaison that led them to the start of today’s timed special. Although short at 114 kilometers, the route raced against the clock was predominantly made up of rolling dunes, making navigation difficult and proving a real test of endurance for all competitors.
Starting the stage at the 28th position, Ross Branch posted the fastest time at each checkpoint, and finally emerged the winner of the first stage in the Empty Quarter.
“It was a really good day, though it started off slow in the morning, and I battled to get going in the sand,” Branch said. “But I started having a lot of fun halfway through the stage. I did make a few mistakes here and there, but I pushed on really hard, and I’m so grateful to get the win at the end. It has been a long week so far, and to get two stage wins in the Dakar means a lot. The bike was really amazing today, and I’m very proud of my team. Tomorrow I’ll have to open the stage – a long one at 280 odd kilometers. I hope to stay out in the front as long as I can, and keep it as safe as possible.”
Adrien Van Beveren took the silver medal with second position on this short and technical stage, just 21 seconds adrift of Branch. In the overall standings, the Frenchman kept his fourth place, 9:52 minutes gap to the leader Kevin Benavides.
“This was a good day for me, much better than yesterday for sure,” Van Beveren said. “I gave everything, trying to be fast riding on the dunes – a terrain that I love. I really push and I am happy with the outcome. I am ok physically, unfortunately it was only one hundred and fourteen kilometers but we have more chances in the coming days.”
Michael Docherty, one of the sensations of this Dakar, has become quite proficient at turning the lessons learned on his base camp in the Emirates into strong performances, with third place today.
As the seventh rider into the special following his strong performance on stage nine, Kevin Benavides was in contention for the stage win right away. Carrying good speed over the sandy terrain, the 2021 Dakar winner was just 10 seconds down on the leader by kilometer 84. Losing a little time in the closing stages, Benavides dropped to fourth place as he crossed the line, one minute from the win. However, with times tight across the top 10, Kevin’s solid ride moved him into the lead of the rally, where he enjoys a one-and-a-half-minute advantage.
“Today was really short, but really tough physically as it was raced all in the dunes,” Benavides explained. “I started off in seventh position and just tried to keep a nice flow through all the dunes and it felt really good. I did have one crash where I went over the handlebars, but it seems it might have had a positive effect because I only lost about one minute and that means I set of fourth into tomorrow’s stage 11.”
After losing time in the desert yesterday following a navigational error, Matthias Walkner bounced back in style on stage 10. Posting the fifth fastest time on the demanding special, Walkner moves back inside the top 10 overall and will be aiming to elevate himself even higher over the remaining four days of racing.
“I had a good day today,” Walkner said. “I really like this sort of terrain and was able to make up good time across the dunes. I wasn’t pushing too hard at first because I didn’t want to lose time like I did yesterday, but then towards the end I was able to increase my pace toward the finish. I’m feeling a lot stronger now, and coming in fifth today puts me in a good place for tomorrow’s marathon stage.”
Leader going into the stage Skyler Howes took some time to reacquaint himself with the Empty Quarter terrain and to ensure he made very little in the way of navigational errors crossing the line in 18th place. With Thursday’s stage 11 coming in at around twice the distance of today’s special, Skyler is fully aware of the importance of delivering a solid, mistake-free result on the way to the temporary bivouac of the marathon stage. Although Howes dropped down to second in the overall standings, he lies just one and a half minutes from the lead – time he hopes to make up tomorrow.
“Yeah, we knew what we were getting into coming into the Empty Quarter with all the dunes,” Howes said. “But today, with the special being so short, I wanted to make sure I was in a good position to push on tomorrow’s marathon stage. I took things a little easier today to get a feel for the dunes and just took things a little conservatively. I did have one awesome moment where I put on some style for the helicopter but messed up the landing. All was good though and now we have a much longer day of more dunes tomorrow – I’m looking forward to it.”
Toby Price was the second rider to enter today’s special, and again, using his skill and experience to good effect, chose to navigate carefully through the dunes to minimize any costly errors. With the leaders’ times extremely close over the short special, Toby ultimately completed the day in 19th, but only eight minutes down on the leader. As such, the Aussie remains very much in contention near the top of the overall standings where he now lies third.
“Today was a long day – we were up at 2:30am, but then just a short special,” Price explained. “I tried to pace myself a little today to make sure I didn’t make any big mistakes and to also get a good start for tomorrow’s longer stage. I dropped down a little in the standings, but didn’t lose too much time, and now hopefully I’m well-placed to attack tomorrow. So far so good.”
That’s stage 10 at the Dakar done and dusted for Daniel Sanders. With times at the top incredibly close due to today’s special being the shortest of the entire event, Sanders posted the 12th fastest time, finishing just over six minutes down on the stage winner. Perhaps not a great result on paper, it’s the overall time that matters most, and today Daniel clawed back vital seconds from the provisional leader while securing a perfect starting position for tomorrow’s first leg of the marathon stage. The race to the finish is just getting started.
Knowing full well that today’s super-short special offered little to no chance of reeling in the leading riders in this year’s Dakar by a considerable amount, Daniel Sanders rode tactically. Able to stay on pace and make up a small amount of time, Chucky got just what he wanted after completing stage 10 – a very favorable start position for stage 11.
“Yeah, today was pretty much full send in the dunes so that was fun, but with it being so short, something like 115 kilometers, today wasn’t the day to be making up too much time,” Sanders said. “It seems like this part of Saudi missed the rain we had during week one as the sand is dry and a lot softer, so it took me a little while to adjust to it. But all is good. I didn’t want to finish inside the top 10 today because of the marathon stage starting tomorrow so we’re a little bit back in the pack. That was the game plan though, so yeah, looking forward to seeing what we can do over the next couple of days.”
Thursday’s stage 11 marks the first half of the Empty Quarter marathon stage, where riders will spend the night in the desert and receive no outside help from their teams. Totaling 427 kilometers, the stage will include a dune-filled timed special of 274 kilometers.
2023 Dakar Rally – Stage 10 Provisional Classification
1 Ross Branch (Hero) 1:44:00
2 Adrien Van Beveren (Honda) 1:44:21
3 Michael Docherty (Husqvarna) 1:44:30
4 Kevin Benavides (KTM) 1:45:00
5 Matthias Walkner (KTM) 1:45:22
6 Pablo Quintanilla (Honda) 1:46:43
7 Mason Klein (USA), KTM, 1:47:05 +3:05
12 Daniel Sanders (GASGAS) 1:50:02
18 Skyler Howes (Husqvarna) 1:51:38
19 Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 1:52:16
2023 Dakar – Provisional Overall Classification [After Stage 10]
1 Kevin Benavides (KTM) 35:46:06
2 Skyler Howes (Husqvarna) 35:47:35
3 Toby Price (KTM) 35:48:16
4 Adrien Van Beveren (Honda) 35:55:58
5 Pablo Quintanilla (Honda) 36:01:04
6 Mason Klein (KTM) 36:01:44
9 Daniel Sanders (GASGAS) 36:09:46