Benavides clinches Dakar title in Honda one-two

Kevin Benavides pic: Dakar Twitter

Kevin Benavides has become a Dakar Rally champion on a day when Monster Energy Honda team-mate Ricky Brabec took stage honours.

Benavides finished second to last year’s champion by 2:17s in the final, 200km special which took the field back to Jeddah after a Prologue and 12 stages through Saudi Arabia.

It meant that the Argentine beat the American to the title by 4:56s, with Red Bull KTM’s Sam Sunderland rounding out the podium and his works stablemate, Australian Daniel Sanders, taking fourth overall at his first attempt.

Sunderland had thrown everything at the penultimate stage in a bid to put himself back into contention for the crown, but that victory on Stage 11 gave him the unenviable task of opening the road on the last day.

Worse still, the Briton’s deficit to the overall lead was revised upwards to 5:07s before the start, and he battled thereafter anyway.

Brabec had 1:14s on Benavides at the first waypoint, 99km in, while Sunderland was already more than 10 minutes in arrears of the would-be champion.

The margins remained similar for the next 101km, meaning a second straight triumph for Honda after 18 years of KTM dominance, and its first event one-two since 1987.

KTMs rounded out the top five on the stage, with Matthias Walkner (Red Bull KTM) third, from Skyler Howes (BAS Dakar) and Sanders.

With that, Sanders ended up finishing the event just inside 39 minutes behind the champion, all told, and a bit under 14 minutes ahead of Howes.

Despite a gearbox-related problem which cost him two hours on Stage 2, Walkner’s speed and consistency thereafter saw him claw his way back to 10th overall, 2:32:12s from victory.

Another Australian debutant, Michael Burgess (BAS Dakar KTM) is currently showing as finishing 27th overall, although riders are still making their way to the finish, including compatriot Andrew Houlihan (Nomadas Adventure).

The latter rode on despite fracturing a scaphoid over a week ago, while another commendable performance is that of Frenchwoman Audrey Rossat (Team RS Concept).

She too is on debut, but has persevered with a broken rib since Day 5 and also looks poised to make it all the way to the end of Dakar 2021.

The factory Monster Energy Yamaha team, on the other hand, looks to have lost its last rider after Adrian van Beveren struck technical dramas just 30 minutes into the last stage.

Already, team-mates Ross Branch, Franco Caimi, Andrew Short, and Jamie McCanney had dropped out of the race.

General classification: Bikes Top 10

Pos Rider Nat Make Time/Gap
1 Kevin Benavides ARG Honda 47:18:14
2 Ricky Brabec USA Honda +0:04:56
3 Sam Sunderland GBR KTM +0:15:57
4 Daniel Sanders AUS KTM +0:38:52
5 Skyler Howes USA KTM +0:52:33
6 Lorenzo Santolino ESP Sherco +0:58:30
7 Pablo Quintanilla CHI Husqvarna +1:16:39
8 Stefan Svitko SVK KTM +1:43:07
9 Martin Michek CZE KTM +2:22:37
10 Matthias Walkner AUT KTM +2:32:12

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