Australia’s Toby Price is the latest rider to take the motorbikes lead in the Dakar Rally but unlike cars leader Nasser Al-Attiyah, he has very little breathing space.
Price, who opened the race in sixth place and has stayed in touch with the leaders, finally bagged the lead almost by a process of elimination during the 360km eighth stage from San Juan de Marcona up the Peruvian coast to Pisco.
Overnight leader Ricky Brabec was out of Tuesday’s race after 56km when his Honda engine broke, the same fate he suffered last year.
Price led for most of the stage until near the end when he was overtaken by defending champion Matthias Walker, the stage winner, and Pablo Quintanilla, who was 45 seconds back in second.
Nevertheless, Price, third on the stage, moved into the overall lead.
He won the Dakar at his second attempt in 2016 – the first Australian champion – and went to this Dakar having won his first cross-country rallies world title and the Morocco Rally.
“Today, I knew it had to count,” Price said.
That was my maximum … I can’t do any more. My wrist is on fire.
“There’s times when you can rest and when you can’t. You’ve just got to somehow shut (the pain) off. When you throw your helmet on you go and ride and just want to do the best you can, and do it all again.”
Quintanilla, chasing his first Dakar title, was only a minute behind and defending champ Walker and 2017 champ Sam Sunderland were six minutes back.
Apart from a slow puncture, Al-Attiyah remained remarkably blunder-free. He extended the lead he’s held for all but one day from 29 minutes to 46.
Barring a major mistake, the Qatari will win the world’s toughest rally for a third time on Thursday after taking the title in 2011 and 2015.
He’s been runner-up three other times, including last year.
His biggest rival, 13-time champion Stephane Peterhansel, found trouble along with defending champion Carlos Sainz and Cyril Despres in the dunes of Ica.
Peterhansel got stuck in the sand twice, dropping him from second in the general standings to fourth, 53 minutes behind Al-Attiyah.
Peterhansel can still fight for a podium place with Nani Roma and Sebastien Loeb, who are only seven minutes ahead of him.