Van Niekerk and Curtis both in top 20 after one week
The first week of the
is now over and with it the hopes of many riders and drivers. Among those who have successfully negotiated the first eight special stages and will have a chance to rest their weary bodies and attend to their battered bikes on Sunday’s rest day are both members of the proudly South African Broadlink KTM Rally Team, Riaan van Niekerk and Darryl Curtis.
The final stage of the week, between Salta and San Miguel de Tucuman in Argentina, was almost washed out by torrential rain and flooded rivers that particularly affected the cars, which started well after the bikes on Friday. The previous night’s downpour presented the riders with lots of puddles and the stage was notable for the number of riders who got lost, including both South Africans.
Van Niekerk, on Broadlink KTM #40 finished 24 minutes behind the winning Husqvarna of Spaniard Joan Barreda in 38th place, but improved his overall position to 14th behind race leader Frenchman David Casteu on a Yamaha. Curtis, on KTM #37, was among a large group of riders who took a wrong turn at the 122 kilometre mark and lost a considerable amount of time. He reached the final control in 77th place after losing well over half an hour. Overall he is now an hour and nine minutes behind Casteu in 18th place and trails team-mate Van Niekerk by over 26 minutes.
It was a confusing day for the bikes in the wet conditions and even some among the elite riders lost their way. Race favourite and 2012 winner Cyril Despres of France, team leader of the Austrian factory squad that includes Van Niekerk and Curtis, was the beneficiary of a selfless act by Pole Marek Dabrowski that enabled him to start the stage.
Despres had been struggling with his bike’s performance for a couple of days and had slipped to fifth overall after stage seven on Friday. There was no team servicing allowed in Friday’s bivouac in Salta. Dabrowski gave Despres his KTM engine, enabling the defending champion to tackle Saturday’s stage with a born-again motorcycle and stay in the race. He picks up a 15-minute penalty for the engine change, but remains fifth overall although the gap to race leader Casteu has opened up to more than 24 minutes.
“I got lost so, so badly today,” admitted Curtis. “We all did, some more than others. I did a proper job all on my own and didn’t have any elite riders to follow and get me near the front. The rest day is very welcome, time to relax a little. I’m happy to have reached the end of the first week and be in the top 20. It’s a lot better than my first time last year when I was 32nd at the same point in the race.”
Van Niekerk, who has been steadily climbing the leader board and has maintained a top-20 position since special stage four on Tuesday, commented: “Today was really tough with the weather making life very difficult. I’m gaining in confidence every day and happy to be improving my position. There’s still a long way to go and I’ll be sticking to my game plan of taking it one day at a time.”
The KTM factory technicians will be giving both Broadlink machines a thorough check-over on Sunday in preparation for Monday’s special stage, a 593-kilometre reminder that the Dakar is far from beaten.
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