Dakar 2016: A primer

Christmas is over, New Years is just around the corner, and (most importantly), racing at the Dakar rally starts on Jan. 3.

While the race seemed to have settled into a pattern of predictability in the last few years, with KTM dominating since the event moved to South America, 2016 is a year of change.  Marc Coma and Cyril Despres, who won every event between them since 2005, are both gone.  With that in mind, here’s a peek at what’s ahead for the motorcycle class in 2016.

The riders to watch

The actual racing starts Jan. 3.
The actual racing starts Jan. 3.

Toby Price — The Australian rider took third last year, as a rookie. With experience of that first race under his belt, and once more aboard the top bike at Dakar, odds are that the Price is right. He’s probably the man with the best chance to win.

Joan Barreda — “Bang Bang” is the most explosive rider at Dakar, but his win-it-or-bin-it approach means he can win a lot of stages, but he always loses out in the end after bombing on one or two days. He’s Honda’s star, and he seemed to learn a lot from Coma last year, but he blew it as always. He’ll have to break his self-destructive riding habits if he wants to challenge the podium this year.

Laia Sanz — Sanz finished ninth for Honda last year, their second-best rider. Her formula was simple: Put in a strong effort every day, without risking it all. It worked. She had the top finish ever for a female rider, and for 2016, she’s aboard a KTM. Given KTM’s seeming superiority over Honda, it’s possible Sanz could end up on the podium this time around.

Ruben Faria — Ever year, it seems Faria is going to break out, but he hasn’t progressed to the top of the pack yet. With Coma gone, he’s one of KTM’s more experienced riders now.

Alain Duclos — Duclos shows up every year aboard a Sherco, and does very well without a mega-corporation backing him. Last year, his ride was ruined by salt-filled Stage Eight, but expect Duclos to challenge for the win in a few stages, and finish somewhere in the top 10 once again.

Paulo Goncalves — Goncalves is likely Honda’s best chance at an overall win; he finished second last year, and he puts up a solid fight every rally. His problem? He’s aboard a Honda, and Big Red’s bikes haven’t managed to handle the abuse as consistently as the competition.

Helder Rodrigues — Olivier Pain was the only Yamaha in the top 10 last year, but this year, they’ve lured Rodrigues away from Honda, and he’s their top-ranked rider. That’s good news for Yamaha, once a dominant force at Dakar. If they don’t turn it around this year, it would be surprising to see many riders showing interest in their machines.

The stories to watch

Paulo Goncalves is the top-rated rider this year, but if Honda's rider wants the win, his bike will have to hold together.
Paulo Goncalves is the top-rated rider this year, but if Honda’s rider wants the win, his bike will have to hold together.

Honda vs. KTM — Since their return to Dakar in 2013, Honda has pushed hard to return to the top. Unfortunately, things haven’t gone well. Minor missed details (dodgy connectors, etc.) have derailed Honda’s top riders time and time again. With the company’s new emphasis on adventure riding, particularly with the advent of the Africa Twin, you know they have to be aiming for better results this year. However, Honda lost several good riders this year, and KTM has a dozen riders who could easily take any stage win. Years of high performance at Dakar have given them a great reputation, attracting all the top racers, and crushing them will be a very hard task.

Changing plans — Originally, organizers planned to take this year’s Dakar through Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru. However, disastrous flooding in Peru led that country to back out, so they could focus on rebuilding efforts. This means months of route planning are useless, and as a result, this year’s race might look a bit different than previous years. Peru had been added to replace the dunes of Chile; without those legs in the route, there will be less sand-bashing than in other years. The big question is, how will this affect moves in the long term? It seems the race isn’t likely to return to Africa anytime soon, but it’s been a bit unstable ever since moving to South America. Will organizers ever be able to get a consistent route nailed down?

How to watch Dakar

As usual, it’s difficult to find Dakar on Canadian TV, although Sportsnet and RDS are supposed to have some coverage this year, and if you get Eurosport or NBC Sports, you can also watch it there. As always, they’ll have daily video updates on YouTube, and we’ll also share periodic updates on the race here at CMG as well.


    • Thanks so much for your comment. It’s pretty much impossible to find it on Canadian TV. Can’t believe that lot of Sportsnet is about Poker. Great. But thanks Chris, you have found something, cheers……….. 🙂

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