Matthias Walkner (KTM) is the 2021 champion for the motorcycle category at the Silk Way Rally.

The Silk Way Rally wrapped up today in Russia, running an altered course and shortened schedule due to the coronavirus pandemic. Originally, the rally was supposed to start in Russia and end in Mongolia, and at one point was also supposed to enter China. Due to increasing numbers of COVID-19 infections in Mongolia, organizers decided to re-route the event, running entirely in Russia.

Today was Stage 5, and it was essentially a re-run of the same route used for Stage 2. Organizers shortened the day’s course somewhat, to 110 km, and bulldozed some sections that the larger 4x4s had cut up, smoothing them out for the re-run. Overall, racers saw hard-packed dirt roads, sand, mud and forest. Definitely a big change from the stereotypical desert racing that you expect from an FIM Cross Country Rally event.

Daniel Sanders finished first in Stage 5 on his factory GasGas, good enough to nail down fourth overall in the race. Walkner was second in Stage 5, which cemented his overall win.

Franco Caimi (Hero) finished third in Stage 5, which clinched third overall for him. Caimi continues to impress aboard that factory Hero bike, and may turn that team into a podium threat at Dakar if he keeps it up.

Fourth in Stage 5 went to Skyler Howes. The American rider took his factory Husqvarna to second overall with that finish, certainly a positive sign for his new team.

“I wish we had another ten days ahead of us still and could have gone to Mongolia,” Howes said after finishing. “We had five good days of racing. I’m really proud of my result.”

Sebastian Buhler rounded out the top five in Stage 5, riding for Hero. Again, the Indian manufacturer’s factory team is looking good, much better than Yamaha.He echoed Howes’ sentiments: “I feel very good, it was a nice race, but short. We can make nothing about it. At least the organizers tried to make the best out of it and I would like to thank them for the nice race.”

Yamaha’s factory team was unable to take a top-five spot, after losing Ross Branch in Stage 3. Adrien Van Beveren, in sixth overall, was Yamaha’s top finishing rider. Photo: Yamaha

Despite Yamaha’s decades of rally experience, its highest-ranked rider was Adrien Van Beveren, who finished sixth overall. Ross Branch, the Johnny-come-lately who appeared ready to turn the team’s fortunes around, exited in Stage 3 due to mechanical issues. Branch won the previous event in Kazakhstan, but like everyone else on the Yamaha team, was forced to exit Dakar over a breakdown. Not a great look, but then, Yamaha’s rally team is seriously underfunded compared to much of the competition. If management can figure out how to bring more cash in, we might see quick improvement. The riders themselves are more than capable, as Branch, Van Beveren, Andrew Short and others have shown.

As for Honda: None of its major stars were at Silk Way, although we’d certainly expect to see them at the Morocco race.

For full Silk Way Rally results for all categories, visit the rally’s website here.

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