There will be no fairytale back-to-back Dakar wins for British ace Sam Sunderland, after the defending champion was forced to withdraw after crashing heavily on day four.
The Dubai-based 28-year-old, originally from Poole in Dorset, became the first British rider to win the gruelling desert rally last year and was leading this year’s edition, when he crashed out 230km into a 330km special stage in the deep Peruvian sand. The KTM rider was able to remount his machine but retired after five kilometres, when the pain became unbearable. Medics airlifted the stricken racer back to the bivouac, before taking him to hospital in Lima for further examination.
Sunderland’s team boss, Alex Doringer, commented: “Unfortunately Sam had an accident today while searching for a waypoint around the 230km mark. He jumped into a hole and compressed his back. Although he was able to continue for the next five kilometres, he was then forced to retire when the pain became too bad. Initially he was airlifted back to the bivouac but was then taken onto the hospital in Lima for further checks. I managed to talk to Sam, before he flew to hospital, and although disappointed, he was still in good spirits.”
KTM has won the legendary event every year since 2001, but Sunderland’s departure will give hope to Yamaha, whose rider Adrien van Beveren won the four hour stage to take the lead with four of the 14 days completed. The Dutchman holds a near two minute lead and believes that he has the endurance to keep his lead all the way to the finish in Cordoba, Argentina, on January 20th.
He said: “I am happy with the victory on this stage. We all started together on the beach and I was in the second group of riders to take the start. It reminded me a lot of the massive start in Le Touquet and it was great fun for me. I knew I had to stay focused on my riding and navigation and this is exactly what I did. We came across some parts where there was a lot of dust during the stage. My goal was to win it, so I knew I had to be patient and attack whenever that was possible. It all went well for me and I managed to pass many riders even from the first group. When we reached the big dunes we raced alongside Xavier and actually helped each other to the finish. It was a great day for me and a great day for Yamaha. We proved that we have a bike capable of winning long stages. There is still a long way to go but I will do my best to keep this momentum going.”