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

Motorcycle News (UK) - - News - MORE GREAT SPORT NEWS AT By Michael Guy SPORTS EDITOR WWW.MO­TOR­CY­CLE­NEWS.COM

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

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