Following the rest day, Hero MotoSports Team Rally’s Joaquim Rodrigues finished Stage 7, first of the two-part marathon stage, in P8. The strong finish has pushed him up from P19 to P16 in the overall standings. Teammate Sebastian Buhler put in another consistent run to bring the bike to Sakaka at P23 to retain his P21 spot in the overall standings.
Stage 7 was tricky for a couple of reasons. With the new regulations that allow only six rear tyre changes per bike throughout the season, the riders had to carefully navigate around and over the rocks to avoid damage to the tyres. Adding to that pressure, the two-part marathon stage does not allow any support vehicles or team members. Should something go wrong, only the competitors are allowed to work on their vehicles.
JRod lost some time in the initial part of the stage as he took some time to find his flow. Once he got into the groove, he made up for the lost time and finished in P8. After the day’s stage, he said, “I wasn’t really feeling it in the morning when we started the stage. I couldn’t find my flow but luckily, things started getting better and I found my pace.” When asked about the condition of his tyres, he said, “We have the marathon stage today and I tried to save my bike. There were lots of rocks and I tried to avoid them as much as possible. Of course, it is impossible to avoid all of them. I got scared a little bit when I hit a few of them, got my heart rate pumping but luckily, the tyres aren’t in a very bad condition. The front wheel is okay, the rear tyre has a little cut but nothing major. I think we’re going to be okay for tomorrow.”
Teammate Sebastian Buhler too had a very cautious approach to the stage as he had to look after his bike as well. So far, Buhler has been very consistent for the team and is roughly two minutes shy of being in the top 20. Buhler said, “The first part of the marathon stage was very tricky with a lot of rocks. The sand was also wet initially because of the rains and with the camel grass too, it really was tricky.” Talking about his tyre, he said, “The bike and the tyres are good. Just a small cut in the front tyre but that won’t be a problem. So I think we can finish the stage with that tomorrow.”
Stage 8, the final part of the marathon stage, will take the riders from Sakaka to Neom, a total of 709km including a timed special stage of 375km. Apart from the tough terrain, the stage is said to reward the riders with one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country as well. Much like today, the riders will have to tread cautiously to preserve the bike in the best possible way without losing out on time.