Toby Price says his fitness is more important to him than the overall lead which he holds with one week down and one to go at Dakar 2021.
Price will hold his 2:16s advantage over the chasing pack until Sunday morning (Sunday afternoon AEDT), when proceedings resume after the rest day.
The two-time champion had predicted “some big swings in the standings” after taking out Stage 1 and even said following his Stage 3 victory that it “doesn’t mean much” due to his expectation that results would continue to fluctuate.
Those comments have proven accurate over the first half of the event, with road order having a major influence on how stages have played out.
According to Price, he is in good physical shape and therefore well-placed for the latter six stages.
“It feels great to have taken the overall lead, but after such an up and down week, the most important thing is we’re fit and in good shape for the second half of the rally,” he said.
“The plan now is to enjoy the rest day and then hopefully more of the same next week.”
The Australian led at Kilometre 158 on the journey from Al Qaisumah to Ha’il before finishing the day with the seventh-quickest time, 3:54s slower than pace-setter Joan Barreda Bort.
“Today they cut about 100km out of the stage and that definitely helped us because it’s still been a really tough day out there,” recalled Price.
“It took a while, but I managed to catch the two guys ahead of me and luckily we were able to keep up a really good pace right at the front.
“I did have one little get-off that twisted the roadbook tower a little bit but apart from that there were no problems.”
Countryman Daniel Sanders ended the day an improved 12th and 18:01s away from the lead in the general classification after bagging a second Dakar stage podium.
The 26-year-old also remains the top rookie by a margin of almost one-and-a-half hours.
“It was definitely a physical one today that’s for sure, and on top of yesterday, it’s been a really tough couple of days,” said Sanders.
“I tried my best to make up time today and think I did a good job. The stage started off quite tricky and then opened out to be really fast.
“This first week has gone well, I’ve certainly learned a lot too, and I’m happy with my pace.
“We’ve still got a long way to go, but I’ve been really enjoying myself.”
After the rest day is the first marathon stage, during which competitors cannot receive outside assistance, including from support vehicles and crews.