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Ricky Brabec leads Dakar Rally at halfway

Ricky Brabec has yet to win a stage, but he's on track for his second Dakar Rally title after taking the lead of the bike category through six of 12 segments.

The Mira Loma, California, native, who became the first American to win the Dakar in 2020, led by 51 seconds over Ross Branch entering Saturday's rest day. Brabec finished third in the 48-hour sixth stage that included the event's longest racing stretch of 549 kilometers and an overnight stop.

"There was a lot of time in the dunes but I didn’t mind that as the challenge of going for many hours and kilometers made it a lot of fun," Brabec, 32, said in a Honda Racing release. "Camping with the boys was a blast, we had a really good time last night although we didn’t get much sleep.

"The stage was 100 percent dunes, but it was really cool and I hope they do something like this again. Rocks and open deserts are a bit better for me and with the dunes I really pushed but I also played it safe toward the end as I didn’t want to open Stage 7. I’m in a good place going into next week."

A stage victory sometimes can be a disadvantage because the winner opens the next days route on a fresh course that is unmarked by previous riders whose tracks can lead the way.

Brabec, who also finished runner-up in the 2021 Dakar, has finished between second and seventh so far in each 2024 stage. He is the lone U.S. hope remaining in the bike division.

Honda teammate Skyler Howes, who finished third last year and became the fifth American to make the Dakar Rally podium, withdrew after a mechanical problem in Stage 6.

"I’m gutted to have to exit the rally early," Howes said. "After a less than ideal start I was looking forward to the chrono stage and the second week to claw back the time that I lost in the first couple of days. The issue that took me out is nobody’s fault, not mine, mechanics or the team. When you’re pushing at the maximum level for this many days, luck has a big part to play, and yesterday I drew the short stick. Sometimes this happens in racing and all we can do is learn from it.

"Now I’m looking forward to the year ahead and focusing on being better. Failure and adversity can be the best teacher, one I’m familiar with."

Privateer Mason Klein, a 22-year-old rising star, also was forced to retire from the event by a broken engine in the second half of Stage 6.

As Brabec tries to become the first two-time U.S. winner in the bike category, his longtime girlfriend also has a shot at Dakar Rally history.

Sara Price, a former trophy truck champion and an Extreme E winner with Chip Ganassi Racing, is making her Dakar debut in the SSV category with the South Racing Can-Am team. With U.S. co-driver Jeremy Gray, Price is ranked second through six stages and trails the overall lead by just under 3 minutes.
In the overall ultimate car category, three-time Dakar Rally champion Carlos Sainz has built a lead over more than 20 minutes on teammate Mattias Ekstrom. Stephane Peterhansel is in third, giving Team Audi Sport the top three spots through six stages.

Defending winner Nasser Al-Attiyah, who was seeking his sixth Dakar victory, lost three hours in Stage 6 because of a broken steering arm.

American Seth Quintero, who set a record with 12 stage wins in the 2022 Dakar, has moved into the top car category this season. After finishing 191st in Stage 5, Quintero rebounded with a 12th in Stage 6.

Daily coverage of the Dakar Rally resumes 7:30 p.m. ET Sunday on Peacock. Highlights and interviews also will be available on Peacock and NBC Sports Digital platforms.