The 2021 Silk Way Rally is underway, but changing on the fly. After originally planning to run through Russia and Mongolia, the coronavirus pandemic has once again disrupted the schedule.

Now, because of increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases in Mongolia, the Silk Way Rally has cut the country from its schedule. Organizers have instead laid out an alternate route,with five stages running entirely in Russia. Thankfully, they’d planned ahead: “At the reconnaissance, sporting directorate usually considers two or three route options at the same time to use them in case of any force majeure event.”

July 6 will be the last day of racing, then, with the race ending in loops around Gorno-Altaisk and Kosh-Agach.

Several of the biggest names are missing from the rally—no Toby Price, no Ricky Brabec. Sam Sunderland broke his pelvis at Rally Kazakhstan, so he’s staying home. Plenty of big-shot riders are there, though, including KTM factory rider Matthias Walkner, Husqvarna’s recently-signed Skyler Howes, Franco Caimi (riding for Hero), Adrien Van Beveren (Yamaha) and Daniel Sanders (aka Mini Mullet, riding for GasGas).

Although Hero’s not reckoned as strong a team as the KTM-based squads or the Japanese factories, Caimi’s put in a very solid performance so far, and will likely get a podium. Speaking of the Japanese factories, Ross Branch came out strong for Yamaha, showing he’s got the talent to be a champ in the FIM Cross Country Rally series. Alas, a mechanical issue put him out of the race in Stage Three. That’s a major bummer, as Branch had to exit this winter’s Dakar over a mechanical as well.

As for Mini Mullet: He’s putting in a strong showing as he learns his new role on the GasGas team. “There was a lot of tricky navigation,” he said after Day Three. “We went through some really nice terrain, like four or five big river crossings. I was happy with the road and enjoyed the day, it was a good fun.”

The river crossings are definitely making a mark; Andrew Short almost had to exit the rally after dumping his bike during a ford. It’s certainly a lot different riding from the bone-dry deserts of Dakar. Some riders are happy with it, but others miss the arid sands.

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