Main Contenders – Dakar Rally
January can only mean one thing – it’s Dakar Rally time! The longest, toughest, most brutal and gruelling race in the world is about to begin so let’s look at who we can expect to figure up the sharp end of the results…
Cyril Despres (Yamaha) #1 – As the reigning champion Cyril Despres starts as the obvious favourite. Carrying the #1 plate for good reason, the five-time winner of the Dakar Rally is a master tactician of the race. He’s fast, smooth, consistent and excellent at navigation – but more importantly crafty. He’s knows when and how to win a stage. He plays the race like a game of chess – one stage he’ll happily finish fifth while the next he’ll win by a couple of minutes. However, the greatest unknown about Despres in 2014 is his bike – the Yamaha YZF 450. He’s taken a motocross bike, built it into a rally bike and done it in a short amount of time. Will it be good enough to carry him to his sixth victory? Only Cyril knows the answer to that!
Ruben Faria (KTM) #8 – This is the year the Ruben Faria finally gets to step out of Despres’ shadow. For a long time the Portuguese rider has acted as water carrier to the Frenchman – aiding him through every twist and turn of the race. In 2014 he’ll ride his own race – there are no team orders in the KTM camp. Just about fully recovered from his nasty wrist injury sustained in the Brazil, can Ruben – runner-up in 2013 – bag his first piece of Dakar gold?
Chaleco Lopez (KTM) #5 – 2014 is the year the Chaleco Lopez has long been waiting for. After a couple of seasons on semi-factory support, the Chilean will leave the starting ramp in Rosario as a Red Bull KTM Factory Team rider. He has everything he needs to win and with the support of South America behind him will be trying to knock Despres off the top step of the podium. Third in 2013 – this time winning is certainly possible.
Paulo Goncalves (Honda) #10 – Last year has been an incredible one for Paulo Goncalves. The pint-sized Portuguese rider claimed his first FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship. In an all-out battle with Marc Coma he beat the Spaniard to the title. Armed with the mighty Honda CRF450 Rally, can Goncalves continue that winning momentum?
Marc Coma (KTM) #2 – Guess who’s back? Yes, Marc Coma’s back! Missing in action during 2013, Coma returns to the Dakar Rally in 2014. Eyeing up his fourth Dakar Rally win, the KTM rider is extremely motivated for success in South America. As the only rider to beat Despres since 2006, Coma rivals the Frenchman in terms of speed, talent, and navigation but most importantly experience. Now getting to race head to head with his great rival instead of shoulder to shoulder, Coma is determined to uphold KTM’s honour and secure their record breaking 13th consecutive victory.
Joan Barreda (Honda) #3 – Barreda picked up four stage victories during 2013 but like his nickname suggests ‘Bangbang’ has a habit of crashing and running into bad luck. Extremely fast, he sometimes pushes the limit too far and pays the price. But crashing is also part of learning so maybe this year he can turn things around. Barreda is definitely one to pencil in for a possible podium result and is certain to win some stages but is he ready to win it outright?
Sam Sunderland (Honda) #18 – This is essentially Sam Sunderland’s first true attempt at the Dakar. He missed 2013 with injury and stopped early in 2012 with a technical fault. Fast, committed and determined – he’s got the makings of a future champ. But for his first Dakar he knows reaching the finish line in Valpariso, Chile on Jan 18th is the most important goal of all. Winner of the Merzouga Rally and fifth in the Rally of Morocco, this United Arabs based Brit may snatch some stage wins during January and has a good chance at securing a top ten result.
Jordi Viladoms (KTM) #4 – Fourth in 2012, Villadoms is an experienced hand at Dakar. Initially planning on contesting the race with Gas Gas, Viladoms joined the Red Bull KTM Factory Team following the untimely death of Kurt Caselli. As a former member of the team, he knows exactly how they operate and won’t waste valuable time settling in. Determined to make the best of this golden opportunity, he is a strong contender for a top five result.
Keep an eye on Ben Grabham (KTM) #32 – the Aussie won the final stage of the Rally of Morocco and returns to South America for his second attempt at the race. South African Riaan Van Niekerk (KTM) #30 was the top-performing rookie in 2013 finishing 13th in the overall standings and is head strong for another top 15 result.
Top flight EWC riders Hans Vogels (KTM) #74 and Xavier De Soultrait (Yamaha) #103 embark on their debut Dakar Rally and are bound to figure inside the top ten during some of the stages.
And of course there’s also Laia Sana #50. The Spaniard has won the Women’s class for the last two years. With HRC support for 2014 she’s out to claim a hat trick of wins.
The 2014 Dakar Rally kicks off with the opening ceremony on January 4th with stage one getting underway in earnest on January 5th.