RIYADH – A crash put an end to Chilean rider Jose Ignacio Cornejo’s solid Dakar Rally run in the motorbike category, now led by Argentine Kevin Benavides, while Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel hung onto the cars’ category overall lead.
Heading into the tenth stage, Cornejo was over 11 minutes clear of his closest competitor, taking advantage of his then main rival Australia’s Toby Price’s crash, but yet another misfortune shifted the balance of power against him.
The crash, which occurred with nearly 100 kilometers to go on the special course, didn’t appear serious as he managed to complete the stage stretching between Saudi Arabia’s Neom and al-Ula.
Afterwards, however, Cornejo quit the race.
“He was not feeling well. He’s going to be examined by the medical team and has decided to abandon the race,” the Dakar Rally said on its Twitter account.
The crash allowed Benavides to reclaim the top spot in the general classification 51 seconds ahead of the defending champion Ricky Brabec, who earned on Wednesday his second stage win this edition.
“I’m sure Nacho has a lot of pressure. Leading the Dakar is not easy. I don’t think there’s a lot of pressure from the team, but for a personal goal, I think he has a lot of pressure,” said Brabec.
“He’s the best navigator at this rally. We all know we all wanna win. Winning is the best thing there is in life,” he added.
Briton Sam Sunderland is still third in the general classification, more than 10 minutes off the pace.
In the cars’ category, Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed al-Rajhi took the contenders by surprise to finish the tenth stage ahead of Qatari driver Nasser al-Attiyah and Peterhansel, respectively, despite the adversaries.
“We went fast, and Dirk also did a great job. However, with 30 kilometers to go, we had a flat tire. We decided to push on, reasoning that we were almost there,” said al-Rajhi, according to the Dakar Rally website.
“The tire ended up torn to pieces, but we finished with it. It was risky, but we wanted to win. We thought that stopping would cost us 1:20 minutes, whereas easing up a little might only cost us 45 seconds.”
Although al-Attiyah came in the second spot, 49 seconds ahead of the 13-time champion Peterhansel, his disadvantage to the Frenchman in the general ranking is still over 17 minutes with two stages to go.
“I think tomorrow will decide the Dakar. It’s going to be a tricky stage, but we’ll do our best,” the Qatari said according to the Dakar Rally website.
“There’s no strategy, we’ll just keep driving fast. Of course, Stephane is under the most pressure because he’s the leader, but I’m also under pressure: if I can’t make it, I’ll finish second.”
The second to last, 557-km stage will take place on Thursday between al-Ula and Yanbu.