Following a cancelled stage nine, the first day of racing in Argentina was a difficult one for all Dakar competitors.

A 424km liaison brought riders to the beginning of today’s timed special – a 373km long route that twisted its way through the dunes and riverbeds of the Catamarca region before finding its destination at the city of Belén.

As it happened, it wasn’t the intense heat that proved most difficult for the competitors but the navigation.  Matthias Walkner was running third at the start of the second leg of the timed special, six minutes behind the leader.

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Taking extreme care to find each waypoint, Walkner navigated his way successfully to the finish and was surprised to find himself the first rider home. The Austrian now leads the provisional overall standings by a sizable 39 minutes and 42 seconds.

Matthias Walkner: “What a day. That was such a tough stage, not only because of the heat but because of the navigation, too. I knew today how important it would be to bide my time and concentrate on finding each waypoint successfully.

Better to spend a few seconds getting things right than pushing on, wasting a lot more time after getting lost. When the tracks from the guys in front disappeared, I got a little worried that I had made a mistake, but I carried on and trusted myself. It was a big relief when I saw the waypoint validated and I reached the finish. It’s always good to take a stage win.”

Toby Price and Antoine Meo, were in the leading group of three at the midway service. Unfortunately, as is often the case when following other riders, navigation becomes more difficult and mistakes are easier to make.

Forced to turn around and retrace their steps, Price and Meo eventually re-joined the correct route and made it to the finish. An early crash slowed Laia Sanz’ pace at the beginning of the stage.

Despite her navigation equipment being damaged, she rode on, taking more care to make each waypoint successfully and minimise the risk of any further mistakes.  Her diligence paid off and Laia completed the final part of the timed special without incident, finishing in a very strong 11th place.

Sanz: “My day started off pretty bad – I had a crash early on and damaged my trip computer. From then on it was very difficult to navigate and find the waypoints. I had to really ease off on my pace in order to not have an accident.

On the second leg of the stage my navigation was really good and so, in the end, it wasn’t such a bad day after all. I placed 11th at the finish which puts me in a really good start position for tomorrow.”

Laia’s KTM Factory Racing team-mate, Luciano Benavides was forced to retire from the rally after a crash on the first part of the timed stage.
The Argentinian, injuring his back in the incident, was airlifted to hospital for further checks.

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