KTM factory riders continued to deliver strong results in the seventh stage of the 33rd edition of the Dakar Rally as riders resumed the competition after the one rest day on Saturday. While victory in the stage in the Chilean desert went to home-grown rider Chaleco Lopez, KTM’s Cyril Despres and Marc Coma were close behind in second and third. French-born Despres also clawed back a little over a minute from overall leader and arch rival Coma who continues to lead the overall standings by a margin of 7:24. The competition is shaping up to be a great battle between the two KTM factory riders who are aiming to give the Austrian brand its 10th consecutive title. Other serious podium contenders as the riders settle into the second half of the rally are Lopez and Helder Rodrigues of Portugal while the two co-riders for the KTM teams, Ruben Faria (Portugal) and Juan Pedrero of Spain are fifth and seventh overall.
Despres was elated at the end of the day saying that the rest day had been “good for man and machine”. “Today was one of the best days of motocross-type racing of my entire life. Not only was it a beautiful stage, it was also a fantastic one to ride - a really great day, even in terms of results.”
Dealing with the dust
Coma also commented that the day had been another technical one in the sands of the Atacama, which he described as “nice but demanding”. “I suffered in the first part, because I was behind Ruben Faria and I was getting a lot of his dust; it was hard to pass. But in the last part, the sand dunes, I could ride at my own pace,” he said. Coma, who has won this great event twice, is riding his ninth Dakar and he says the rally has been the focus of his life for the past seven years. “My life revolves around it – around getting ready and working hard day after day to keep myself competitive and in a position to fight for the win. I’m proud to be part of the Dakar family,” he told reporters.
Positive first half, Despres says
On the eve of Stage 7 three times Dakar winner Cyril Despres said the first half of the rally had been very positive. “The pace has been fast right from the beginning and we have had some great specials. I am also satisfied with how I have been riding. I haven’t had any big crashes, I’m not caring any injuries, my navigation has been precise and my speed good. The team is also functioning very well and Ruben (Faria) has been doing a great job supporting me on the piste.”
Strong KTM riders give six in top ten on Sunday
The day’s ride was also characterized by increasingly good performances by two other KTM riders, Stefan Svitko of Slovakia, riding his first Dakar, who was sixth in the stage and is eighth overall and veteran Pal Anders Ullevalseter who continues to improve day by day. He was seventh across the line on Sunday and is 10th overall. The efforts of the four factory riders and Svitko and Ullevalseter gave KTM six riders in the top 10.
Sunday a shortened stage
Organizers perhaps took pity on the riders and on Sunday what was intended to be the longest stage in the rally was shortened to a 273 km special stage. This year’s Dakar is shaping up to be a very close race with mere minutes separating the riders. This makes the second half of the rally all the more nail-biting and even though the two KTM front runners are now well placed, many things can happen between the desert sands and riding into Buenos Aires in triumph on January 16th. The winner will need perfect physical fitness and mental concentration and reliability of machine over what is undoubtedly the ultimate test of rider and bike.
More sand on Monday
Stage eight on Monday sees the riders stay in the desert as they travel from Antofagasta – Copiapo – on 268 km of road and a 508 timed special. The tricky navigation continues and they have a long sandy section at the end of the day. Still in the field for the second half of the rally are 125 bikes remaining from the original start list of 186.