Curtis and Van Niekerk continue to beat the odds in the Dakar Rally
Darryl Curtis showed all the grit and determination of the champion extreme bike rider he is as he fought through the pain barrier to complete the third last special stage of the Dakar Rally in Chile on Thursday.
Hurting from his injuries – a sore back and arm and heavy bruising after a tumble on Wednesday’s stage – the Broadlink KTM Rally Team rider brought his factory-supplied and prepared KTM 450 Rally #37 home in a brave 75th place after a tough 319-kilometre test that ended in Copiapo, Chile. He was 1 hr 36 min behind the stage winner, Frans Verhoeven of the Netherlands, and 1 hr 21 min behind team-mate Riaan van Niekerk on Broadlink KTM #40.
Van Niekerk enjoyed another trouble-free ride to 21st place on the stage, which saw the surviving Dakar competitors re-cross the Andes Mountains from Argentina into Chile, where the rally ends in Santiago on Saturday, with a ceremonial podium finish on Sunday. He is now 14th overall in his first Dakar.
A total of 126 bikes from the original 183 starters made it to the end of Thursday’s stage, which offered a mixture of stony tracks in the beginning followed by mountains covered in sand and big valleys with a lot of navigation in the second part.
Leading overall with two stages remaining is defending champion Cyril Despres of France on a factory KTM. He has ridden a total of nearly 38 hours of special stages since the rally started in Lima, Peru, on January 5 and leads team-mate Ruben Faria of Portugal by over five minutes. Third is local Chilean hero Francisco Lopez on another KTM.
Curtis: “It was quite rough out there today – lots of sand. After my big crash yesterday I really battled through the stage. I’ve never experienced so much pain and I really had to dig deep to make it to the finish. I could barely hold on with my left arm, but I concentrated on riding safely and did as best as I could. I really didn’t think I’d finish.
“We have a long special stage tomorrow and I know I’m going to struggle through it, but I have some more pain killers handy. I’m going to try and take it easy and make sure I don’t fall off again.”
Van Niekerk: “Nothing exciting to report. We woke up at 3.30 am today for the early morning crossing of the Andes at more than 4 000 metres above sea level. It was bitterly cold. The special in Chile was quite rough – a lot of sand and a lot of navigation. It was hard to make up time, especially if riders were following you. Overall, I’m feeling good and looking forward to the last two stages and reaching the finish in Santiago.”
Friday’s penultimate special stage between Copiapo and La Serena in Chile will show respect to a local meteorological phenomenon called Camanchaca. This stubborn fog will be very dense during the first part of the morning and it will only be once it has lifted that the rally will get underway. Competitors will tackle the last dunes of this 34th edition of the Dakar. The sandy part represents a third of the 441-kilometre special stage. For the rest it is a trip south on wide tracks with lots of stones before they reach the last bivouac of the rally.