Brits battle to the top in race for Dakar glory
Brit battles to the front as he bids to make history
Brit Sam Sunderland goes into the second week of the 2017 Dakar Rally calm, cool and in control – despite a slight wobble on Monday. He led the race going into the weekend after some brilliant navigating. The Red Bull KTM rider has made the most of a cancelled stage and a rest day to regroup for a major push as he aims not only to win but to finish for the first time.
Often a victim of his own overaggressive riding in recent years with crashes taking him out of contention (or even preventing him from starting, as was the case in 2016), Sunderland seems to have brought a new approach this year. He has adjusted well to taking on the mantle of team leader after defending champion Toby Price fell and broke his leg early in the event.
“It’s been hard with a lot of crazy things to deal with – temperatures of 45 degrees to 5 degrees in Bolivia and altitude of 4500 metres. The navigation has been heavy and there’s been very physical riding as well. It’s good to have the lead at halfway but I know it doesn’t mean much because we still have a long way to go. I need to stay focused until the end.”
However, while the first week of the race was punishing on both riders and machinery thanks to climate and terrain, Sunderland isn’t expecting conditions to ease up too much in the second half of the race. Organisers promise a race designed to keep the racing close until the very final stage in Buenos Aires.
“For this week I am expecting rougher times to come. We’re heading back into Argentina but first we have the marathon stage, which is always interesting. We’ll be on our own in the desert, so that will be a bit rough. I think the organisers have planned in some really tough navigation, with long stages of riding, and lots of riverbeds, dunes and camel grass. I’ll just be trying to focus each day because this year I really want to see the finish line.”
Those navigation issues came into play for Sunderland on the first day of the second half of the race, when, running as the first bike on the road, he managed to get lost on Monday’s modified stage seven. However, losing only three minutes to stage-winner Paulo Goncalves, difficulties for his opposition as well means that not only was the Brit able to limit the damage done, he was able to actually extend his lead over Pablo Quintanilla in the overall standings to nearly 20 minutes.
Sunderland has had to overcome vast contrasts in race weather conditions
Sunderland shows the skills that helped to put him in pole position Sam Sunderland looks set to be in the final Dakar Rally shake-up once the dust has settled