Red Bull KTM’s Cyril Despres delivered what was necessary in Stage Six of the 2-13 Dakar Rally to finish third in what was one of the longest stages in this year’s edition and to trim the deficit between him and the current overall leader to a mere two minutes 22 seconds.
Despres: “I ate quite a lot of dust having started fifth this morning, but then I caught up with the stage leaders at the end of the first section. It was very quick, a WRC type route and finally there were some tracks and rocks. It was really nice to ride and on the second section, we all stuck together in single file. All in all, it was generally a good special and it’s great to be in Chile!” Despres and the other KTm factory riders are competing on the KTM 450 Rally bike.
With eight more stages to go in the 8000 km marathon, everything is still to play for and the KTM title defender is now well positioned ahead of two more challenging stages before the one reprieve rest day on Sunday.
Some observers said that Thursday was the stage that signaled the real start of the major battle for supremacy as riders raced from Arica on the Chilean border to Calama. It was a massive test of physical and mental endurance and the riders had a grueling dawn start to the 767 km, 464 km of which was in two times specials. They also faced a time zone adjustment after having passed the border from Peru into Chile that robbed them on additional sleep. The stage took them into the notorious Atacama Desert, the driest place on the planet including an encounter with the dreaded fesh-fesh, the typical powder fine sand. Sand and dunes made up two thirds of the stage, making it all that more strength sapping for the riders.
Fastest KTM official factory rider in Thursday’s stage was Despres’ KTM factory support rider Ruben Faria of Portugal who finished just two minutes 34 behind the leader, Chilean desert specialist ‘Chaleco’ Lopez, also riding a KTM. Fourth fastest was KTM’s Kurt Caselli, the American factory rider standing in for the injured Marc Coma to secure the top four positions for KTM riders.
Faria said his tactic was to make the most of the hard terrain in the beginning of the stage. “I set of in thirteenth place and tried to go flat out, but I wasn’t able to go as fast as I wanted with all the dust on the special. I found a good pace in the second half of the special and moved up.”
By the time the caravan of competitors had reached the bivouac in Calama they had completed 3000 km of the total of 8000 km making up this year’s edition and were at an altitude of 2500 m in the Andes.
Looking at the overall standings, after Stage Six there are five KTM riders in the top 10 and 10 in the top 20. This includes all of the riders in both KTM factory teams (Despres, Caselli, Faria and Pedrero in the main team and South African duo Darryl Curtis and Riaan Van Niekerk and Jakub Przygonski of Poland from the Factory B Team.
Stage Seven demands even more strength and concentration and takes riders from Calama to Salta (In Argentina) over a total distance of 806 km – a liaison of 586 km and 202 km of timed special. it is planned as a designated marathon stage, which means riders bikes cannot be serviced throughout the state. This however is to be confirmed at the team meeting on Thursday evening.
Image courtesy KTM