There were high expectations of the HRC Honda factory team this year, and with a new Rockstar Energy Husqvarna factory team effectively bolstering the KTM squad, there were a good number of capable machines in the mix, not forgetting the Yamahas of course.
Machines aside, there was a huge amount of talent on the start line. New this year were some big-name rookies from other disciplines including Antoine Meo (5x World Enduro champion), Adrien Van Beveren, Kevin Benavides, Ricky Brabec, Pela Renet and Ivan Cervantes Montero.
We had two Brits representing us in the bikes category; Jamie Smith and a friend of mine, Chris "Corky" Cork. I followed Corky's race as closely as I could, and it was fantastic to see how much coverage he got on EuroSport thanks to the "My Dakar" feature. They were given helmet cameras each day to record their own footage, something I'd love to see a lot more of at future Dakars.
Chronologically, the dramatic events unfolded as follows (mostly withdrawals!). I'm sure I've forgotten a few, but here are the ones that come to mind:
- Stage 4: Pela Renet suffered a dramatic crash on his Husqvarna and had to withdraw. He was unconscious but was attended to by the legendary Laia Sanz and safely transported to hospital
- Stage 4: Corky's rear mousse disintegrated and the tyre soon went with it, leaving him to ride 70Km on the rim with cars and trucks passing
- Stage 6: One of our Brits, Jamie Smith withdrew with broken ribs and a dislocated thumb after a bad crash
- Stage 6: Ivan Jakes withdrew, and so did Ruben Faria after a big crash where he broke some bones
- Stage 7: Joan Barreda Bort, after some dubious tactical racing to manipulate the start order (deliberately speeding), had major bike problems and had to withdraw
- Stage 7: Matthias Walkner had a huge crash and broke his leg, but was attended to by Paulo "Speedy" Goncalves and transported to safety
- Stage 8: Paulo Goncalves has a huge crash but manages to continue unharmed
- Stage 10: Alessandro Botturi withdrew with mechanical problems
- Stage 10: After a very dramatic stage in the super-soft sand dunes, where he had been helping others and struggling through, Corky was running late and phoned the organisation to let them know he would wait for first light to continue to the bivouac. They agreed. In the morning, they changed their mind and a chopper arrived to collect him. Needless to say the poor guy was devastated.
- Stage 11: Paulo Goncalves crashes twice, the second time needing medical assistance and he was forced to withdraw
There are so many stories that could be told, congratulations to all the riders that took part - those who made it deserve every praise, comiserations to those who didn't. Those riders at the back of the field are the guys and girls that really earned and deserve every respect. By the end of the race, some of them have ridden over twice as long as the front runners. Amazing.
I'd also like to express my huge respect for the Malle Moto riders. What they do is incredible - riding the entire event with no assistance makes the toughest off-road race on earth that much tougher. Manuel Luchesse, the man who does "Dakar on a shoestring", finished a very impressive 2nd in this class, well done Manny.
There were quite a few complaints amongst fans this year due to numerous stages being shortened as a result of adverse weather conditions (extreme heat, heavy rain etc). Some of which appeared to play into the hands of some of the top riders and completely screwed over some of the others. The course was also deemed by many to be "too easy", particularly in the first week. I'm sure these will be discussed at length over the coming weeks. This year, 62% of the bikes finished, which is a significant increase on last year.
Here's my idea of the moments and people worth remembering this year.
Kevin Benavides in his rookie year, what a great performance.
Watching the riders struggle through what can best be described as "Welsh" conditions early on in the event, paddling through a mud bath, enduro style.
Corky's withdrawal. Crushing.
Joan Barreda Bort's "tactical" riding.
Most memorable moment:
Paulo Goncalves' huge crash.
It has to be Toby Price. What a race he rode - calm at the start, phenominally fast and consistent throughout, what a rider, and a well deserved victory.
Antoine Meo. Although Benavides pipped him in the end, Meo's performance was really impressive and he helped his teammate in the final stages.
Spirit of the Dakar:
Sylvain Espinasse, completing the entire event on a 2-stroke 125cc Husqvarna, what a hero!
Best moment of camaraderie:
Laia Sanz tending to Pela Renet after his huge crash, what a great lady and an incredible rider to boot.
Best skills demonstration (showing off):
Adrien Van Beveren and his monster wheelie on the desert trails. Magic.
Joan Barreda Bort and Paulo Goncalves bickering over tactics at the end of one of the stages!
Top 20 finishers:
- Toby Price
- Stefan Svitko
- Pablo Quintanilla
- Kevin Benavides
- Helder Rodrigues
- Adrien Van Beveren
- Antoine Meo
- Gerard Farres Guell
- Ricky Brabec
- Armand Monleon
- Adrien Metge
- Jacopo Cerutti
- Mario Patrao
- Emanuel Gyenes
- Laia Sanz
- Ivan Cervantes Montero
- Jordi Viladoms
- David Casteu
- Frans Verhoeven
- Jakub Piatek
Looking forward to next year already!