Dakar Rally favourite Joan Barreda says that the absence of Marc Coma from the bikes category will not make the task of winning the rally any easier in 2016.
With Coma and long-time rival Cyril Despres both out of the picture, a new two-wheel champion in the Dakar is guaranteed this year - and Honda rider Barreda will start as favourite, having dominated the opening half of last year’s rally before technical gremlins wrecked his challenge.
While Coma – who is now the Dakar’s sporting director – went on to take victory, Barreda won three stages, more than any other rider, to take his career total to 13.
"I understand why people are labelling me the favourite, being the rider who has won the most stages in recent editions of the Dakar,” Barreda told Motorsport.com.
“But this pressure is always there in every race. Just because Marc and Cyril are not here does not mean that the other riders won’t make it difficult.
“Our rivals have prepared very hard to win the race – our goal is to show that we are better.”
Barreda has the chance to become the first Honda rider to win the Dakar Rally since Gilles Lalay in 1989, but the Spaniard thinks that this year’s route could work against him.
"I do not think that the route this year especially favours me,” he admitted.
“Although there are fewer dunes, the organisers have put in even more navigational challenges. They have done a great job and we’ll have to discover the rally step-by-step.”
Alongside this, a knee injury sustained in the Argentina-based Desafio Ruta 40 event in May required surgery, ruling Barreda out of action for three months – although he reckons this should not prove too detrimental to his chances.
"We kept the same preparation conditions of the past but with slightly different conditions this year, as I've had an injury that prevented me from training on bike,” the 32-year-old explained.
“Instead, I could reinforce the psychological part of me. So I think in this sense, I am better prepared than last year.”
Interview by Luis Ramirez