The situation in the upcoming Dakar is unique in the motorcycle category: Now that the Despres-Coma era is over, the rally is now wide open for a confrontation among its former rivals and probably some ambitious young talented riders in the mix.
There are many ready to take over! Following Cyril Despres and Marc Coma’s decision to take on new challenges, this year’s Dakar, for the first time since the very first edition, will not feature a past winner in the bike category. This explains the absence of a No. 1 plate in 2016. So who will be the rider to come out on top of those who had to settle for the lower positions during the double-rein of the former KTM riders? Precisely, perhaps the time has come to also question the domination of the Austrian bikes, which have seen the competition close the gap these past few years, but until now have controlled the threat with their two pillars. Among the contenders, the Honda team has the technical maturity of the machine and two equally experienced riders with Paolo Gonçalves, second in 2015, and Joan Barreda, winner of 13 stages in five years and capable of climbing onto the highest step of the podium this year. Staying with the Japanese manufacturers, Yamaha will rely on another safe bet having chosen Helder Rodrigues to be team leader, who has been a fixture in the top five for 10 years. He will be joined by the recent winner of the Merzouga Rally, Allesandro Botturi.
The KTMs will not want to be outdone, with the number of top names who have chosen the 450 Rally within the factory team or with other squads: last year’s two big revelations Toby Price (third) and World Rally-Raid Champion Matthias Walkner will defend the bike-maker’s colors, as will Jordi Villadoms (second in 2014) and the surprising Laia Sanz of whom no one knows exactly where her limits lie. They will most certainly battle with Olivier Pain and David Casteu on the one hand, and Stefan Svitko and Ivan Jakes on the other, all of whom will ride the same bike. Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla (fourth in 2015) and Portugal’s Ruben Faria (second in 2013), who will have nothing to be envious of their rivals for the win, will be the Team Husqvarna’s two leaders. They will ride a bike whose design is based on a well-proven machine.
It will be complicated for the outsiders to finish among the Dakar tenors, but it is Sherco’s ambition, knowing that Joan Pedrero has already won a stage with the French bike and that Alain Duclos could stay among the regulars if he finds the consistency that took him to sixth place in 2010. The abundance and quality of young talented riders coming from enduro incites one to think that at least one among them could join the best in the category: multiple-world champions such as Spaniard Ivan Cervantes and France’s Antoine Meo and Pierre-Alexandre Renet will be watched particularly closely on their Dakar debuts. While they have been successful in other events, Ricky Brabec, winner of the 2014 Baja 500 and Adrien Van Beveren, twice-champion of the Enduropale Touquet beach race, will also be among the newcomers capable of creating a surprise.