Meo takes stage as Barreda and Walkner bow out of Dakar

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Stage 7 Uyuni – Salta SS 336 km – liaison 481km

The return of the Dakar circus to Argentina with the seventh stage from Uyuni to Salta marked the end of the first week of racing. Before the rest day in Salta, the competitors faced an exhausting stage of 336 km divided into 2 timed sections and 481 of liaison for a total of 817 km.

The bad weather affected also today’s stage with the second timed section in Argentina cancelled for the bike category, because a small torrent had turned into a river due to the heavy rain fallen the previous night. The classification is consequently calculated according to the arrival at the end of the first timed section of 230 km on the Bolivian ground.

The cars, on the contrary didn’t see their stage modified as the situation returned under control after a while. The day was marked by sad news as the organization reported a fatal incident occurred at km 82 of the special stage when the race was still on the Bolivian soil. The car competitor nr 409, Frenchman Lionel Baud, hit a 63 year old man who was on the race track. After arriving on site, the medical service of the organisation could only declare the death of the injured person.

While the assistance team are still on the way with a 20 hour drive heading to Salta in Argentina, the five time enduro world champion Antonie Meo celebrated his first stage win and a superb performance on his debut year. The second place went to Paulo Goncalves, the first rider to rescue Matthias Walkner who crashed and broke his femur. Although he finished 15th , the Portuguese got 10’53” back, corresponding to the time he lost helping the Austrian rider.

The same happened to Pablo Quintanilla, who got eight minutes back for the same reason. Another great performance for Benavidez from the South American Honda Team left him third, while Toby Price finished in seventh position. The race is over for Joan Barreda who was not at the start this morning. Yesterday the Honda rider broke the engine and was tow tracked by his team mate Paolo Ceci. In the liaison he had an incident with a car and injured his hand. It was another tough but good day for Chris Cork who finished 116th .

“I'm discovering the Dakar” said the stage winner Antoine Meo, “it's still hard to judge, but I’m really pleased with result. I wanted to be in the top 10 and, so far, it's even better. I try to be consistent and not to get too tired. I feel okay physically, but I know we've still got to tackle the toughest week. Today the first part was real tough, we couldn't see the terrain properly because of the sun glare. I really enjoyed the ride after the neutralised sector, I caught two riders and, because it was moist, there wasn't any dust. I rode fast, I made no mistakes, and I navigated properly towards the end.”

"At the start of the special, I stopped to help Matthias Walkner, who had taken a tumble, and I stayed with him until Pablo Quintanilla got there” said Goncalves, “ the first part of the stage featured some navigation, but then the profile was a bit like two days ago, with lots of rivers. In the second special, after the neutralised sector, it was raining cats and dogs, I was almost scared, it was almost snow. The weather cleared up a bit towards the end. I'm rather pleased with today's stage, and even this week. If I can repeat this in the second weeks, I'll certainly be very pleased, but I think the stages will be very different, so we'll see."

"I've led the race for the last two days. I won yesterday, but I don't know exactly how high I finished today because riders who stopped to help Matthias will get the lost time back. It's great to keep an eye out for others” said Toby price, “Anyway, I'm happy with my performance today. There were Australian flags at the finish of the special. It's nice to get support when you're racing so far from home. You must never drop your guard, it's the best way to make mistakes. I'm happy with the work we've done so far. It's far from over, a mechanical or a navigational mistake can destroy everything. My aim is to finish the race and get a podium spot. We'll see... We had a good first week, no significant mistakes. Our objective was to get to the rest day in a good position."

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Maria Guidotti

By Maria Guidotti