In the bike category, the 43rd edition of the Dakar offers extremely dense competition, following the victory by Ricky Brabec that halted KTM’s long reign. Nevertheless, the Austrian firm will be counting on three former winners with the ambition of retaking their crown.
However, the Saudi challenge will probably not be limited to a duel between KTM and Honda: Yamaha’s Van Beveren or Husqvarna’s Quintanilla, among other pretenders, boast the capacities to join in the battle for victory. Their hour has perhaps not yet arrived, but the leaders of the younger generation, whether they have already shown a glimpse of their talent such as Ross Branch, Skyler Howes and Jamie McCanney, or whether they are rookies like Daniel Sanders and Tosha Schareina, will be attempting to make an impression.
It just goes to show that they were not unbeatable. The threat had been growing for several years, but the blows struck against KTM failed to land properly until last January. As a reminder, the saga commenced by Fabrizio Meoni in 2001, then continued by the reign of Cyril Despres and Marc Coma, as well as via the emergence of a new generation at the end of the 2010s, was interrupted by Ricky Brabec and his Honda following 18 consecutive victories. For all that, whilst the Austrian firm’s pride has taken a blow, it has not lost any of its potential and its trio of former winners, made up of Toby Price, Sam Sunderland and Mathias Walkner are only thinking of climbing back to the rally’s summit. The team’s road captains still have a great chance of winning in Saudi Arabia, but the halt to success inflicted by the American rider who will be wearing race number 1 this year is very likely to give a boost in confidence to Honda, who have other cards to play in addition to their team leader. Among the favourites since his breakthrough in 2016 (4th), the dreams of Kevin Benavides could come true if he rides a flawless race. He managed to do this on the Rally of Andalusia, dominating his rivals on a less demanding racing format than the Dakar. His team-mate Ignacio Cornejo (4th on the Dakar in 2020), will also be on the lookout for victory, as will Spanish rider Joan Barreda who is still, after a long time, seeking a place on the podium.
While Honda can point to the boast of having been the first constructor to rock the KTM boat, Yamaha’s ambitions are just as legitimate, despite a 2020 edition marred by the premature exits of its two leaders. Adrien Van Beveren, whose taste of Saudi Arabia’s sands did not even exceed three days in January, has been whetting his appetite on the recent Bajas de Ha’il, where he won ahead of competitors that were less imposing than on the Dakar but sufficient to get him up to the right pace. In the blue bike camp, he will be accompanied by the newcomer to the team Andrew Short (6th in 2019) as well as by Franco Caimi (8th in 2020), while his former accomplice Xavier de Soultrait will be donning the colours of Husqvarna to join Pablo Quintanilla, the runner-up to Brabec in January, and a biker who also seems perfectly set to triumph after finishing in the top 5 in 4 participations out 8.
The places in this tightly packed elite will be even more sought-after given that a new generation is starting to break through, with Luciano Benavides (6th in 2020), Ross Branch, Skyler Howes or also Jamie McCanney, all of whom finished in the Top 15 on the last edition. Looking to the future, a watchful eye will also have to be cast over a handful of especially promising rookies who have caught the attention of the main constructors by shining in similar disciplines before making their debut this year on the Dakar. Such is the case for Australia’s Daniel Sanders, who aims to follow in the tracks of Toby Price for KTM, but also Portugal’s Rui Gonçalves enrolled by Sherco and Spaniard Tosha Schareina. Finally, the youngest rider in the category also deserves a mention: Konrad Dabrowski, who is the direct heir to Marek, one of the pioneers of the Polish rally-raid school in Africa (with a 9th place finish in 2003 in particular).
Original by Motul: robustness and performance
This year, there will be thirty brave riders setting out from Jeddah to meet the challenge of utmost difficulty. The riders who choose to participate without the services of an assistance team are forced to maintain their vehicles by themselves each evening and sometimes carry out more significant repairs with whatever they can lay their hands on, including when they finish late. In addition to demonstrating enduring robustness, they also reach a high level of performance, which gives even greater value to the title awarded to the quickest among them. Last year’s winner, who reached Qiddiya in 29th position, Romanian rider Emanuel Gyenes will be attempting to hold onto his crown and should be directly rivalled by Benjamin Melot, but also David Pabiska (Czech) who will be tackling this special approach to the race for the first time, after having completed the 2014 edition in 18th place in the general standings.
By: Dakar official website