Curtis and Van Niekerk one stage away from finishing Dakar Rally
Riaan van Niekerk (Broadlink KTM #40) moved up to 13th in the general classification of the Dakar Rally after completing Friday’s special stage 13 between Copiapo and La Serena in Chile in 19th place, 21 minutes behind stage winner Francisco Lopez of Chile (KTM). Team-mate Darryl Curtis on KTM #37 fought through the pain barrier to reach the overnight bivouac in 69th place on the day and 30th overall
With just Saturday’s 128-kilometre stage between La Serena and Santiago remaining, the 36-year-old from Brakpan in Gauteng is headed for a memorable result in his first Dakar. He could yet finish in the prized top 10 if he has a good ride on Saturday. There is a time gap of 28 minutes between him and 10th-placed Paulo Goncalves of Portugal on a Husqvarna.
“The stress is mounting as we get closer to the finish. There’s so much that can go wrong and it means so much to finish,” said Van Niekerk. “This is no simple finish to what has been an awesome and unbelievable experience. One final, tough stage and it will all be over.”
Curtis described his day as the worst he has endured on his two Dakars so far as he battled a severely bruised shoulder suffered in a big crash on Wednesday’s stage 11. “I’m very sore right now and very relieved to have made it to the bivouac,” said the 41-year-old from Douglasdale in Gauteng. Thankfully there’s just one stage to go. I’m going to find a new stick to bite on.”
The two South Africans, riding KTM 450 Rally machines provided by the factory and prepared by the factory team, are on the verge of completing the world’s longest and toughest motor race that has seen 57 of the original 183 riders who started in Lima, Peru, on January 5 fall by the wayside.
Defending champion Cyril Despres of France on factory KTM #1 is headed for his fifth Dakar crown after finishing the penultimate stage in second place five minutes behind Lopez. Factory KTM team-mate Ruben Faria of Portugal is second overall, 14 minutes behind Despres and will be no threat to his team leader’s place on the top step of the podium in Santiago in Sunday’s ceremonial prize-giving.
The final stage on Saturday is anything but a stroll in the park. A 502-liaison section precedes the relatively short 128-kilometre special stage over fast tracks, before the triumphant finishers will be welcomed by a massive crowd of excited fans in Santiago, who will be treated to a bit of an exhibition finale over the last few kilometres. A highly emotional podium ceremony will follow in front of the Chilean capital city’s Palacio de la Monda. It will be the end of a remarkable 15-day journey that began in Lima, Peru, on January 5.