The Dakar Rally is renowned for its intense physical demands, and Stage 5 of the 2023 race proved exactly why.
Heading into the stage, Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing rider Daniel Sanders was leading the bikes category but has now slipped to eighth in the general rankings after suffering from illness.
However, fellow Australian Toby Price has surged up the standings and now sits in second after an eventful stage that saw him caught up in a crash.
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Price had some navigation problems in the early parts of the 645-kilometre stage but gradually built momentum as he worked his way through the sandy route around the Saudi Arabian city of Ha’il.
The two-time winner was then caught up in an accident after re-fuelling, colliding with Joan Barreda after the Spaniard crashed in front of Price.
Despite time being of the essence, Price initially stayed back with Barreda to ensure his fellow competitor was not seriously injured.
Back on his bike, the Gold Coast-based rider powered on to finish third by the end of the stage, just under four minutes behind the stage winner Adrien van Beveren.
His effort also sees him sit roughly two minutes off the pace of overall leader Skyler Howes.
A shoulder injury sustained from his crash could be a hurdle for the experienced rider, though.
“[It was a] tough stage,” Price said.
“We got lost a little bit this morning [and] we lost a little bit more time there.
“Barreda had a crash in front of us and I ended up hitting him – more the bike … I’m not sure, I pretty much shut my eyes.
“So we stopped for him for about five or six minutes and made sure he was all good, and he continued on.
“All in all, it’s been not a bad stage. I don’t think we’ve lost so much time but still plenty more racing to go yet.
“We’ll just get back [to camp], have a look at this shoulder, and get it all sorted for the next day.”
Unfortunately for Sanders, his tough day in the desert saw him drop away from the overall lead.
After winning Stage 3 and maintaining his pace the following day, the 28-year-old was in a promising position as he looks to claim his first Dakar crown.
However, that will now be significantly harder to achieve after losing nearly 27 minutes during Stage 5 and falling to eighth in the general standings.
The Victorian revealed after the race that he had been battling food poisoning all day, which greatly impacted his performance.
“It’s been a bit of a struggle, to say the least,” Sanders said.
“When I woke up, I didn’t feel good at all. I had no energy, couldn’t really eat or drink anything, so it seems like I’ve picked up some kind of bug, I guess.
“It’s a bit of a bummer after starting the rally so well.
“What made things even tougher was that my bike is set up to work at higher speeds and I just didn’t have the pace I needed today.”