The 2017 Dakar Rally on Thursday continued to surprise, and to exact revenge on the remaining field of 101 motorcycles in another stage that proved to be difficult for almost every rider. Despite losing time at the beginning of the timed special, Red Bull KTM factory rider Sam Sunderland held onto the overall lead at the end of the day, now in front of his teammate Matthias Walkner in second, even if both finished down the order in the stage results.

The British rider fought hard on the KTM 450 RALLY to make up his lost time, but the fact that Pablo Quintanilla, Sam Sunderland’s closest rival retired due to illness in the afternoon, allowed him to finish the day with an advantage of 30 minutes in the standings. Second is now his Austrian teammate Matthias Walkner with Spanish KTM rider Gerard Farres Guell in third place, 38:43 minutes off the leading time.

Stage winner was Spain’s Joan Barreda with Stefan Svitko of Slovakia (KTM) second and Argentinian rider Franco Caimi in third place.

The day’s results also reflected the level of difficulty of Thursday’s ride during which competitors had to recover their race rhythm after an enforced break on Wednesday. Stage 9 was cancelled after an avalanche on Tuesday cut the liaison road and leaving many riders and support and logistics vehicles stranded. They were still racing to catch up to the body of the rally at the overnight stop after the 10th stage, which took riders from Chilecito to San Juan. After the 449 km timed special of a total of 751 km, Sunderland finished in 12th 17:06 minutes off the lead. Walkner fared somewhat better. He was 10th in the stage, 12:53 off the fastest time.

Sunderland: “I started out thinking I’ve got a bit of a lead so I just wanted to take it easy and stick to my road book and try to start with a good rhythm. Then after about 40 km it was very confusing in some of the riverbeds. I went into the wrong valley and I got a bit stressed but I managed to correct pretty fast. Then I made another mistake. It was really hard. The road book said to follow the river but there were so many rivers all going in different ways. It’s quite hard to stay positive, especially when you make a mistake. But when I arrived at the refueling I saw there were only a couple of bikes there, so I didn’t actually lose much time.”

Walkner: “Actually it was not such a good day but it was very difficult for everyone with the navigation. I tried to give my best and I just got lost once, but it was a big mistake. Now there are just two days left and I will keep pushing and try not to do anything stupid because the situation is now quite good.”

While almost all the lead riders had difficulty with the stage, KTM factory rider Laia Sanz, the reigning World Champion in Women’s Enduro rode consistently well to finish 14th to trail by 21:39 minutes. She is now overall 18th and is within striking distance of her goal of a top 15 finish.

Sanz: “I really enjoyed the first part of the special because it was a lot of navigation. I made some small mistakes but nothing serious. I took it easy when I saw how difficult the navigation was because I didn’t want to get lost like I did in the first week. I was ninth in the first part but the second part was not my favorite kind of stage with Motocross and lots of bumps. I also ran out of water and it was very hot so I just relaxed and tried to reach the finish. I think the beginning of tomorrow’s test will also be very hard but I hope to have another good day.”

As promised by race direction, the first part of the stage had its share of challenges with a long ‘trials’ section, and this clearly proved difficult for many riders. After near freezing temperatures at Altitude in Bolivia, riders now also have to contend with temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius.

Friday, the penultimate stage takes the rally from San Juan to Rio Cuarto over a distance of 754 km of which 288 km is timed special, the first 50 km will be in the San Juan dunes. The rally finishes in Buenos Aires on Saturday.

Results Stage 10 Dakar 2017
Chilecito – San Juan: 449 km timed, 751 km total
1. Joan Barreda (ESP), Honda, 5:49:45 h
2. Stefan Svitko (SVK), KTM, +24 sec
3. Franco Caimi (ARG), Honda, +3:48 min
4. Pela Renet (FRA), Husqvarna, +4:21
5. Helder Rodrigues (POR), Yamaha, +5:45
Other KTM
6. Ivan Cervantes (ESP), KTM, +7:15
10. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, +12:53
12. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, +17:08
14. Laia Sanz (ESP), KTM, +21:39

Standings Dakar 2017 after 10 of 12 stages
1. Sunderland, 28:07:59 h
2. Walkner, +30:01 min (5 min penalty)
3. Gerard Farres Guell (ESP), KTM, +38:43
4. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA), Yamaha, +41:57
5. Barreda, +53:47 (1:01 h penalty)
Other KTM
10. Svitko, +1:48:45 h (1 h penalty)