KTM riders line up favourites for the Dakar
When the 29th Dakar 2007 gets underway on Saturday in Lisbon, eight KTM factory team riders make an impressive line-up, including the absolute favourites for the race that many see as the ultimate test of man and machine.
Marc Coma (Repsol KTM, Spain) is the title holder after defeating his close rival Cyril Despres (Gauloises KTM, France) when Cyril, winner in 2005, broke a collarbone last year. Coma?s team-mates Giovanni Sala and Jordi Viladoms make up the Repsol line-up while Isidre Esteve Pujol, Frans Verhoeven and David Casteu race with Gauloisses KTM. American Chris Blais, fourth last year races alone for Red Bull KTM of the USA.
Coma was unbeaten in the 2006 championship rallies and is relaxed about his favourite role. “There is always pressure,?? he said. “I?m more or less used to that, because it is part of the job.” Coma said he uses the pressure to keep focussed and concentrated and as positive energy to get the best out of himself.
KTM riders are on the new 690 Rally machine and Coma has been testing it for most of the year. “The new bike feels like it is a part of me. It has improved a lot over the year. Almost everything is new, very well developed and much better. It?s lighter, faster, easier to steer, reliable. I think it is ready for the biggest test: the Dakar.??
Coma sees his two KTM colleagues Despres and Pujol as his main rivals for the title. The Frenchman Despres has had a difficult year. In February he lost his best friend and later, his neighbour and close friend Henri Magne ? a leading navigator in the Dakar ? died in the rally in Morocco. Despres broke his shoulder while testing in Italy in the summer forcing some unwelcome downtime. Now the injury has healed and he has had some welcome recuperation time.
“The preparation for this Dakar has not been easy,?? Despres admits. “But by now I have the feeling that I?m more relaxed and at ease with myself. It is the start of a new era for me. The last Dakar was difficult because of some injuries and I just couldn?t win that race. The good thing is that unlike Marc I don?t have the pressure of riding with the number one plate. This makes it a lot easier.??
Starting right behind Despres will be Isidre Esteve Pujol. He is well aware of the risks of this special race after having suffered a major crash in the Dakar last year when his life was saved by team-mate David Casteu. He welcomes the new neck protection even though his own injuries were spleen related and internal bleeding. “It?s good that the riders? safety has not been overlooked by KTM. Besides having built a newer and faster bike, they also look after the riders.??