2016 Dakar contenders: Matthias Walkner

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There are a lot of expectations for the 38th edition of the Dakar, which will take place on January 2-16 in Argentina and Bolivia. The route will lead the 354 race vehicles from the start in Buenos Aires to Uyuni in Bolivia and then on the return journey to Rosario over 14 race days, covering more than 9,000 kilometres, with approximately 4,500 km against the clock.

Universally recognized as the toughest rally in the world, the riders who enrol on the Dakar have the finishing line at the forefront of their minds. This goal is seen as an achievement in itself, but to triumph in Rosario, the winner will have to display special talent in navigation, stamina and mechanical skills.

After the Coma and Despres era, triumphant on the last 10 editions, the bike category is open to a renewal of generations. It didn’t happen since 1999, when Stephane Peterhansel switched to the car category after the record of six Dakar wins on a bike. The number one spot is up for grabs and this unexpected scenario offers veterans and newcomers the possibility to shine and to Honda and Yamaha the chance to interrupt KTM supremacy of 14 consecutive successes.

The battle is open and a victory from a different rider is expected everyday. Paolo Gonçalves, Toby Price, Helder Rodrigues, Jordi Viladoms, Olivier Pain or Ruben Faria have already climbed on the final podium, but the list of the pretenders to the title is much longer and you cannot rule out Joan Barreda, Matthias Walkner or Pablo Quintanilla. A real pity for the fast and talented KTM factory rider Sam Sunderland, out from the Dakar due to a leg injury suffered in the last Merzouga Rally.

Name: Matthias Walkner (AUT)

Age: 29

Bike/team 450 Rally Replica KTM – Red Bull KTM Factory Team

Dakars raced: 1 (2015)

Dakar record – withdrawn

Stage wins or best stage result: 1 Stage win (2015)

Last year the 3-time Motocross world champion signed his Dakar debut with a stage win. Fast and comfortable with the mad rhythm of the modern Dakar, more similar to a Motocross mono than an endurance race, Heinz Kinigadner’s successor has improved in navigation throughout the 2015 Cross Country Rally season. The newly crowned Cross Country Rally champion is among the favourite, although he lacks a bit of experience. 

Maria Guidotti

By Maria Guidotti