Two-time former motorbike champion Toby Price has withdrawn from the Dakar Rally after the Australian took a severe blow to the head in a crash that left him in a hospital bed on Tuesday.
Price’s crash on stage nine comes on the first anniversary of the death of Portuguese motorcyclist Paulo Goncalves, on last year’s Dakar which was also staged in Saudi Arabia.
Racing largely on dirt tracks and dunes, Price had gone into the ninth stage in second place overall, a little over a minute adrift of Chilean leader Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo.
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.
Many riders have simply become lost on the race with some reportedly spending the night in a makeshift bivouac in the dunes.
On Monday, French rider Xavier de Soultrait pulled out following a heavy crash and is being treated in the same hospital as Price.
Tuesday’s 485km run along deserted dirt tracks overlooking the Red Sea from Neom and back was won by Argentina’s Kevin Benavides on his Honda.
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.
The race wraps up in Jeddah on Friday with three stages remaining.