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Dakar: Is Price the new boss?

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From www.dakar.com…

Among the 149 two-wheel participants awaited for the start of the 39th edition of the Dakar, only a handful of elite riders will battle for the title. Last year’s dominator, Toby Price, comes in as the overwhelming favourite but he’ll be chased by a strong group of followers, both from his KTM squad, but also from Honda, Yamaha and Husqvarna.

The months that have come and gone have let everyone take into stock the exploit of Toby Price in the 2016 edition. None of the past stars of the motorcycle category, such as Stéphane Peterhansel, Cyril Despres or Marco Coma, won the Dakar in their second participation. The 29-year-old Australian did it with authority, winning five special stages along the way, while keeping the competition in check like a wily veteran on the second week of the rally. With this demonstration, Price took over the role of KTM team leader, and he kept the momentum going with victories in Abu Dhabi and Morocco. Will he know go on to string a series of triumphs as did his two predecessors in the Dakar record books? The challenge is colossal, and made even more ominous with stout rivals who are not about to just hand it to the Aussie, beginning with, 2016 runner-up Stefan Svitko. The Slovak, who last year didn’t have luck on his side just when he was closing in on Price, remains a real threat thanks to his solid experience (3 Top 5 finishes in his last 5 participations). In the KTM squad, the new generation is led by Matthias Walkner and Sam Sunderland. While neither has finished a Dakar yet, they won’t be too far from the top of the order if they manage to make it to Buenos Aires on January 14.
The Austrian constructor’s streak of 15 consecutive titles is not enough to put in a spanner in the hopes of their rivals, who just might have reason to believe in their chances this year. While it has lost its best rider for the 2016 assault, Kevin Benavides, the Monster Energy Honda team has a deep bench with Joan Barreda (special stage win leader in activity), Paulo Gonçalves (2nd in 2015), Ricky Brabec and Michael Metge. Yamaha, the other Japanese constructor, will answer with Helder Rodrigues, Adrien van Beveren and Alessandro Botturi. A little bit less supported, Husqvarna rider Pablo Quintanilla also ranks among the pre-rally favourites with the steady progress he has shown (4th in 2015 and 3rd in 2016) and after winning the World Cross-Country Cup. Others who will also race for a spot in the overall Top 5 include Juan Pedrero, who will lead the French Sherco team and “La Roja”, the nickname of the Spanish Himoinsa side that will line-up Gerard Farrés and four-time World Enduro Champion, Iván Cervantes at the start in Asunción. There won’t be enough places for everyone…

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