The ninth stage of the Dakar turned out to be an extremely tough one. All the riders arrived at Neom exhausted after the 465-kilometre looping special stage on the shores of the Red Sea, which proved highly-demanding in terms of both riding and navigation. 1-2-3 for the Monster Energy Honda Team: the victory on the day went to Benavides, second place for Brabec while Cornejo, third, did a splendid job defending the overall lead.
The Neom loop rewarded the Monster Energy Honda Team with some excellent results. The 465-kilometre special was both physically and mentally demanding, with competitors battling over hard track, with plenty of rocky areas and even some sand, on a day in which sweltering temperatures – in excess of 30°c – tested riders to their absolute limits.
The battle for the final overall victory in this Dakar Rally looks set to be a long and arduous one. However, José Ignacio Cornejo took advantage today to consolidate his leadership in the overall rankings with a noteworthy result at the finish-line situated six kilometres from the Neom bivouac. The Monster Energy Honda Team rider kept a cool head and showed some deft navigational skills, opening the track throughout the day to reach the Neom finish-line among the front-runners. The Chilean now holds an 11’24” gap over his team-mate Benavides.
All Monster Energy Honda Team riders now occupies the top five positions in the 2021 Dakar with Kevin Benavides alongside team-mate Cornejo. The Argentine, second in the general standings, claimed the top honours on the special stage. Kevin dedicated the win to the memory of his ex-team-mate Paulo Gonçalves who was killed in the Saudi desert a year ago.
Meanwhile, Ricky Brabec, who showed good pace throughout the morning, stopped to help out Toby Price who had fallen on the track. Brabec got back into the special once the medical helicopter service reached the spot of the accident. At the end of the day, Brabec had the lost time deducted and was second of this stage.
Joan Barreda, likewise, arrived back at the Monster Energy Honda Team bivouac completely exhausted. A crash earlier in the race had hampered the Spaniard’s progress, however, Barreda was able to make it to the end of the stage and back to the camp, where he can now recuperate before starting out tomorrow morning from an advantageous position from further back.
The rally will now head south towards Jeddah, but will feature a couple of major stops on the way. The first of these will be at Al Ula. The 583-kilometre total stage will include 342 kilometres against the clock raced across sandy areas.