Sunderland on song in title race
Motogp O WSB O BSB O Roads O Off-road Brit Dakar hero secures victory in opening round of World Cross Country championship
Having become the first British rider ever to win Dakar in January, Sam Sunderland continued his stunning form to wrap up victory in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge – the opening round of the FIM Cross Country World championship.
Sunderland combined his ability as a ultra-fast desert racer with perfectly executed tactics to win the five-day race and take the lead in the world championship standings.
Speaking to MCN after the race, the Dubai based Brit said: “It feels really good to win a home race. Yeah it’s not like winning a race in the UK, but I live here in Dubai. I’ve raced this event quite a few times now but I always seem to come unstuck one way or another so it’s really good to get the job done this year and take the win.”
Just like Dakar, race tactics are crucial with the position a rider finishes in each day dictating their start position the following day. With the top riders heading off at threeminute intervals at the start of each day a rider starting further down the field has the potential to make up big chunks of time. Especially as it’s easier to hunt down another rider and follow their tracks in the sand, rather than being the first rider who has to open the route, set the pace and navigate by themselves.
“It may look easy on paper with my strategy working, but in reality it’s really difficult and there is a lot of pressure and a lot of fighting to make it all happen. Tactics for this race are all centred around the prologue. You need to try and win the prologue and then choose to start last of the top guys because it’s a five-day race which means you gain time, lose time, gain time, lose time. Because it’s an odd number of race days you need to gain time on day one and then hope it works out at the finish. It looks easy on paper but there are still 1500 miles of special stages to race so you still have to do the job!
“To win the first race back after Dakar is a really good feeling. It puts me in a good position to fight for the world championship. It’s a long series with a lot of races so you have to pay attention and obviously the focus will still be on Dakar 2018 so I need to not take any big risks in the World Championship so that I can be 100% fit for Dakar like I was this year.”
At the end of the five-day race and 18h 14m 3.5s of timed special stages Sunderland’s winning margin was just six minutes over reigning Cross Country World Champion Pablo Quintanilla aboard his factory Husqvarna. Sunderland’s Redbull KTM teammate and Dakar runner-up Matthias Walkner secured third.
The next round of the FIM Cross Country Championship takes place in Qatar on April 17-22, before heading to Chilli, Argentina and then Morocco.
‘ To win the first race back after Dakar feels good’
Sunderland is all smiles after negotiating 1500 gruelling miles in style