Of the 5427 miles slated for the motorcycle/quad classifications, 3248 miles will be timed. According to Dakar organizers, more than 40% of these miles will be separate from the route used by the car/truck categories, allowing for tighter, more technical terrain. In Stage 7, competitors will face their second marathon stage and enter the mountains of Bolivia for the first time in the Rally’s history. As always riders will face a wide array of landscapes, huge altitude shifts and unpredictable conditions on the way to the finish-line in Valparaiso, Chile.
The competitor list features on the top riders of the international rally stage, with Cyril Despres and Marc Coma headlining the field. Despres is a five-time Dakar champion; should he add another Rally win to his total in 2014 he would tie his countryman, Stephane Peterhansel, at the top of the all-time Dakar win list. It would also be Despres’ third consecutive Dakar victory, which would tie him with Peterhansel once again; making the two the only riders in the event’s history to notch three in a row.
Coma, however, was absent from the 2013 Dakar recovering from an injury sustained during the Rally of Morocco. He finished second to Despres in 2012 and took his third Dakar win ahead of the French rider in 2011. The KTM ace returned after his injury to win the first three rounds of the World Cross Country Rallies Championship in ’13, eventually finishing second overall. He will be a prime candidate for this year’s top-step.
“It is important to take care of your body because the race is very long and very hard,” said Coma. “I expect that this will be a very open Dakar. The other factories are coming up and it looks like it is going to be very interesting.”
Despres and Coma previously rode together under the KTM banner, but Despres moved to Yamaha following his 2013 Dakar victory. Yamaha hasn’t won a Dakar race since 1998 at the hands of Peterhansel, whereas KTM has 12-straight Rally wins to its credit entering the 2014 Dakar. In short, the stakes are quite high for both riders this year.
The wrench in the machine for both KTM and Yamaha’s title hopes might be the factory-backed Honda squad. Team HRC has a solid line-up, comprised of Joan Barreda, Helder Rodrigues, Paulo Goncalves, Javier Pizzolito and Sam Sunderland. Goncalves is the 2013 World Cross Country Rallies Champion and earned a number of top-five stage finishes at Dakar in ’13. Barreda notched four stage wins in ’13, though he finished 17th owing to a big loss of time thanks to a broken wheel early in the Rally and a number of hang-ups during the later stages, including a crash, navigation errors and a 17 minute penalty.
Rodrigues finished seventh and Pizzolito took eighth overall during last year’s rally, Honda’s first factory foray in the Dakar in over two decades. Since then the team has been developing the CRF 450 Rally machine further, with Goncalves riding it to victory in the Rally of Morocco in October and Sunderland topping the podium at the Merzouga Rally later the same month.
Seeing the new threat on the horizon, KTM revamped its multi-Dakar winning machine for ’14 and bolstered its team with formidable riders. Ruben Faria returns to the Factory KTM squad after finishing second overall in the ’13 Dakar. Francisco “Chaleco” Lopez took third in the previous Dakar and also returns aboard a KTM. Jordi Villadoms was recently added to the roster as well, following the untimely death of American Kurt Caselli during the 2013 Baja 1000. Villadoms’ best result in the Dakar came in 2012 when he finished fourth overall.
KTM is also supporting riders such as Jakub (Kuba) Przygonski, Riaan van Niekerk and Ben Grabham during the upcoming Dakar.
Yamaha’s supporting cast is also strong, with riders such as Oliver Pain and Frans Verhoeven returning to compete on the blue machine. Pain lead the rally overall for a number of stages mid-Dakar 2013 and Verhoeven earned a stage win late in the Rally. Pain finished in sixth position overall while Verhoeven claimed ninth. French rider Michael Metge will ride as support for Despres in the ’14 edition.
Other riders have the potential to vie for top-five finished as well, such as David Casteu who is now on a KTM and Alessandro Botturi, who remains with Speedbrain . Botturi faced a number of challenges in 2013, with a late engine issue eventually forcing him out of competition, but Italian rider finished 8th overall during his inaugural Dakar in 2012.
The opening stage from Rosario, Argentina to San Luis, a 390-mile stage with a 111-mile timed section, starts January 5, 2014. Competitors head west until reaching San Rafael in Stage 3 and then move northward until January 11th, which is the designated rest day in Salta. More north-bound travel commences the following day into Bolivia. Riders make their way further west until reaching the ocean in Iquique, Chile, from which point they will descend south through four stages to the finish line.