As the Rally Dakar 2019 approaches, speculations on who’s going to place where, and why, are getting hotter and hotter. The favorites in this 41st Dakar edition motorcycle class are Toby Price (KTM, Australia), Sam Sunderland (KTM, UK), Matthias Walkner (KTM, Austria), Paulo Goncalves (KTM, Portugal), Kevin Benavides (Honda, Argentina), Adrien van Beveren (Yamaha, France), and Joan Barreda (Honda, Spain) – and no doubt, these riders will be a sight to behold.
But many Dakar superfans and spectators have said that while watching the favorites is incredible, it’s sometimes much more interesting to follow riders who do not expect to win, but simply to place within the top 15-20. These are the riders that struggle the most and often put everything on the line for the rally.
Laia Sanz, a Spanish rider for KTM, has been placing among the top 20 for five consecutive years. “The Dakar is a special race. We have been there several times, but never get enough. You go there, you ride, suffer, but you always want to come back. It’s magic,” – she said.
The rest of the pack – the Malle Moto class, the privateers, and the rookies – promise to be just as intriguing.
Jan Vesely, a Dakar and Malle Moto vet, says the “Original by Motul” class captures the true essence of the Dakar. “I prefer to be in the Original class, with no assistance at all. That’s the spirit of the original Dakar. There’s a really good atmosphere between Malle Moto riders. We help each other out, borrow each other’s tools, it’s not really a competition!” Jan said.
Nathan Rafferty, a US privateer, says Rally Dakar 2019 will be fast – and fun. “The Dakar is the ultimate thing. I believe there are many similarities between skiing and riding a bike, between snow powder and sand dunes. The faster you go, the easier it is in both. The objective is to first be safe and come home in one piece, then finish, and I’d like to be in the Top 40. I don’t worry too much about my body or navigation. My main concern is having a mechanical issue because you have zero control on that. And of course, I’m going to the Dakar to enjoy myself. Before, on my first races, I didn’t know what to expect. There was anxiety. Now I do, and I want to have fun!”.
Personally, I will be rooting for Gabriela Novotna this year – a Czech rider who only started motorcycling in her twenties and who still has to keep a day job to race.
“I bought another enduro bike, found a personal trainer and started riding motocross, training systematically five or six times a week. My grandmother said, ‘And that’s why you went to three universities, to ride a bike in a forest?’ If I could afford to just ride it would be a dream, but I think it will be necessary to keep up my day job! I loved the Dakar last year. I loved every second, every minute, I was so grateful every morning. It was such a disaster for me not to continue. Even though it was horribly painful, with a broken collarbone, I would have kept going. I’m excited to go back. For me it’s very important not to focus on position. I will try not to follow the results, but I will push myself to my very limit, to go as fast as I can”, – Gabriela promised.