Two-time Dakar motorbike champion Toby Price crashed out of this year’s rally in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, the Australian having to be airlifted to hospital after a serious accident as French veteran Stephane Peterhansel took a massive step towards a record 14th title.
Peterhansel has one hand on the trophy again after landing his first stage win of 2021, the Mini driver emerging from the ninth stage Red Sea run over dirt and rocks with a near 18-minute overall lead in the car category.
But the day was marred by Price’s crash which left him dazed after hitting his head.
He had started the stage in second place overall, a little over a minute adrift of Chilean leader Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo.
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At the time of his fall in which he also hurt his left arm and shoulder, Price had actually taken the lead and appeared to be gearing up for a victory before being airlifted to hospital.
“Toby fell and hurt his arm badly. He had no idea where he was when I got to him, so I waited until the doctors got there,” fellow contender Ricky Brabec said.
Price’s accident comes on the first anniversary of the death of Portuguese motorcyclist Paulo Goncalves.
Later, Peterhansel’s deep experience paid off as he finally got a win to go with all his placed finishes this month after several of his top rivals suffered mechanical problems.
“I wasn’t sure any of us were going to make it, that was a real Dakar day where not only speed counts,” said the 55-year-old former skateboard champion.
“First we caught up with Carlos (Sainz) who had a puncture, then the same with Nasser (Al-Attiyah). We played a game of nerves, lost time early, won it all back later,” Peterhansel explained.
The grizzled Frenchman, known as ‘Mr Dakar’ after his six bike titles and seven on four wheels, now leads by 17min 50sec with only three stages to go until the finish line at Jeddah.
Al-Attiyah, a three-time Dakar titleholder and winner of four stages this month, also showed great grit.
“Well, we made it to the finish line at least, that’s life, we had three punctures and had to watch Stephane cruise past us, but that’s life,” said the Qatari who saw his deficit on Peterhansel increase significantly after starting the stage only 4min 50sec behind.
Defending champion Sainz suffered a break failure after his flat and was 22 minutes down on the day.
Argentina’s Kevin Benavides on his Honda came out on top in the motorbike category in Tuesday’s 485km run along deserted dirt tracks overlooking the Red Sea from Neom.
Cornejo Florimo now leads Benavides by 11min 24sec and Briton Sam Sunderland by 14min 34sec.
Sunderland is expected to be given a time reduction after stopping to comfort the stricken Price after his crash.
“I’ll be fighting for every minute, as you can see the whole race can turn from one second to another,” Benavides said after the stage.
On Monday, French rider Xavier de Soultrait pulled out following a heavy crash and is being treated in the same hospital as Price.
Some riders have simply become lost on the race with some reportedly spending the night in a makeshift bivouac in the dunes.
The most gruelling event in the motorsport calendar wraps up in Jeddah on Friday with three stages remaining.