Dakar 2011 -- Coma and Despres lead at the half way mark
The Dakar 2011, the 33rd edition of the world's most famous rally paused on the border of Chile and Peru on Saturday for the one rest day in this more than 9000 km ride through Argentina and Chile. At the half way mark at Arica, the two dominant riders are still the KTM factory duo Marc Coma of Spain and French-born Cyril Despres.
So far the two rivals who are considered to be the best contemporary exponents of rally sport, have taken two stage victories each and are eight minutes apart in the overall standings with Coma having the edge. With the field starting to spread out, Francisco (Chaleco) Lopez is in third place some 22 minutes back from Coma. While this may be a comfortable margin, it is a well documented fact that in the Dakar anything can happen and usually does. The two KTM front runners must now focus on the fact that there are still three stages in the dreaded Atacama Desert on the coastal plain of Chile and this is home territory for the wily Lopez. The bottom line is that no-one can rest easily and the rally is still wide open. It is a long way back to the finish at Buenos Aires on January 16th.
Solid performance from all four KTM factory riders
Coma and Despres, and their two "water carriers", Juan Pedrero of Spain and Ruben Faria of Portugal have all been performing well so far on the brand new KTM 450 Rally bike, developed to conform to the regulation introduced in mid 2009 that limits professional class riders to bikes not exceeding 450 ccm. At the half way mark Faria is fifth overall and Pedrero is ninth overall. Ruben has twice crossed the line in first place only to have his line honors canceled out after organizers handed him time penalties.
Ultimate test for the new KTM 450 Rally bike
The new bike, developed with valuable input from the two top KTM riders Despres and Coma, was first ridden competitively in the Morocco Rally in late October, an event that was won by Despres. But while there has been a massive amount of testing time invested in the new bike, this is its first Dakar, a rally that is like no other. If either Coma or Despres succeed in taking the title, it will be the 10th in succession for the Austrian manufacturer. Despres has won three times and Coma twice so there is a huge sense of rivalry between them, which adds another layer of excitement on the result. In addition, both have felt the pain of being close to victory only to see it slip from their grasp in the closing stages. The Dakar, as they both know for experience, is never over until it is over.
KTM privateers leaving their mark on the top 20
Apart from the four KTM factory riders, the numerous privateers that favor the Austria brand have also stamped their impression on the first half of the rally. Stefan Svitko of Slovakia is currently tenth and riding in his first Dakar. Pal Anders Ullevalseter of Norway, who took second place last year is feeling increasingly at home on the smaller KTM 450 Rally bike and is now overall eleventh. Brazilian KTM rider Jean De Azevedo is thirteenth, Dutch pair Henk Knuiman and Teus Visser are fifteenth and sixteenth and Poland's duo Jacek Czachor and Marek Dabrowski are seventeenth and eighteenth. KTM is proud to have 63 riders onboard their bikes for the Dakar 2011 and the company is present with full service facilities, including the provision of comprehensive customer package service for privateers that can include hire bikes and full service and spare parts.
Plenty of tough riding left
When riders get back in the saddle at first light on Sunday they face their longest stage in this year's edition. Stage 7 from Arica to Antofagasta takes them on a liaison of 208 km of road before they plunge back into the desert for two special stages that total 631 grueling kilometers. Organizers have promised that there will be about 40 km of Endurance style riding and dunes that will test both the skill and fitness of the riders. Stage 8 is hardly less strenuous with another daunting 508 km special in the Atacama, considered the driest place on the planet. Stage 9 stays in the Atacama for another energy robbing ride before riders turn back across the Andes on the following day and into Argentina for the ride home to the capital.
But even after they escape from the tricky sands of the Atacama, there will still be plenty of action for the remainder of the rally. Organizers have promised that the stages in the second half will be even more difficult than the first as they aim to increase the excitement and ensure a dramatic final ride back to Buenos Aires.
KTM wishes all Dakar riders an exciting, competitive, fair and injury free ride as they embark of the second half of the Dakar 2011.