KTM’s 3-times Dakar Rally winner Cyril Despres opened his account confidently in the opening stage of the new 6-Stage Desafio Litoral Rally in Argentina when he finished second behind KTM rider Chaleco Lopez of Chile and trailing by 1 minute 49 seconds.
KTM rider and rally specialist Jakub Przgonski of Poland was also in good form and finished third. Despres’ KTM teammate Taddy Blazusiak, riding in his first ever rally started and finished in fourth and trails the leader by around 13 minutes.
As the number one rider, Despres had the task of opening the road in the first stage that took riders from the world famous Iguazu waterfalls to Posadas. The first day took riders into dense jungle and they rode over hard packed surfaces that were narrow and fast paced, a far cry from the usual rally terrain that Despres is used to. There were two times sections separated by a neutral stretch where the terrain could change quite dramatically within meters, requiring not only high speed but also absolute and undivided concentration.
Blazusiak, KTM’s EnduroCross specialist is in Argentina to ‘stay on two wheels’ during a long break in the US EnduroCross Championships. He is not only new to the sport of rally but he also has to master navigating via the road book of riders’ directions mounted on the handlebar of his KTM 450 series edition bike. Despres, by contrast is not only a veteran but also one of the great exponents of rally sport and is riding his KTM 450 Rally factory bike.
The riders faced undergrowth so thick that at times it was necessary to ride with a headlight and they also had to contend with very heavy humidity which organizers promised would radically change the ground temperature and thus the tire grip at different times of the day.
Despres is a master tactician and finishing close behind his rival Chaleco Lopez means that the Chilean will have to open the track in tomorrow’s stage and that will play into the hands of the French rider. Despres admitted that to win would be difficult in unknown conditions, even though he came to Argentina with that intention. Before the rally he also expressed respect for the South American riders who have been tough rivals in other rallies on the continent.
After stage one Despres said it had been a difficult day’s ride and at one time he had a close encounter with the jungle and hit his arm. “After that, it wasn’t so easy riding one hand,” he said. “You have to really take care. The jungle is not only thick; you are also going up hill and down and when you get to the bottom of the hill it’s very humid. The ground is hard and compact and it can be very slippery. It was a bit like riding on ice.”
Taddy too was satisfied with his first ever stage. “I took it a little bit easy because I have to get used to navigating with the road book and I didn’t want to get into any difficulties on my first day. There was a lot of Enduro style riding in the first test so that suited me but the second test was very slippery and fast so I decided to take it easy and not get into any difficulties. It was fun for me but it is very different,” he said from the bivouac.
Image courtesy KTM Racing