Everything is all set to go. Riders today had the final chance in Asunción to go over the last minute details of the opening few days. Next stop is the final meeting with race authorities followed by the ceremonial starting ramp. Then the real battle for the Dakar Rally 2017 will commence.
With the technical and administrative ‘shake-down’ firmly behind them, the Monster Energy Honda Team have occupied the eve of the Dakar Rally engaged in various activities. With less than twelve hours to go until the event gets underway, riders were able to take a final breather before the start of the first special stage. The final free moments, both before and after the rider’s briefing, will be used to go over the roadbook in preparation for the 39 kilometre curtain-raiser. The riders also get one final opportunity to do gym and physiotherapy sessions to make sure they are in tip-top condition for the onslaught ahead.
The spirit of the Monster Energy Honda Team crew is buoyant and the group are particularly eager to get into the Paraguayan fray astride the Honda CRF450 RALLY bikes. Without the injured Kevin Benavides, the rider’s line-up consists of Joan Barreda, Paulo Gonçalves, Ricky Brabec and Michael Metge, all of whom will be busy doing last minute race analysis as the clock counts down towards offroad’s blue riband event.
TOMORROW’ STAGE – Monday, January 2
STAGE 1: ASUNCIÓN RESISTENCIA : SELECTIVE SECTOR 39 km TOTAL 454 km
START YOUR ENGINES!
It won’t be the distance that will preoccupy the competitors, but rather the tension that will accompany the opening days of competition. Everyone will have to be aware that an error on the technical tracks and even the trial-style sections early on could be costly. The tactic for the following day’s starting positions will also have its importance for the top contenders.
Joan Barreda #11 : « We are all fired up and really looking forward to starting the race. We want to put on display all the hard work that we have put in this year. We are hoping that the mistakes made last time out become distant memories and hopefully we will be able to have a trouble-free race. We will try and be as focused as possible, right from the outset, with a good pace and look to establish our place in the race. We know that it is a very long rally and we know that anything can happen. The final days will be really tough so we don’t want to go too crazy on the opening days. If we get any chances we will try and take advantage of them, but we know that in the second week there will be stages which will really mark the difference between the top riders and we have to be ready to take advantage of them and not get ahead of ourselves. »
Paulo Goncalves #17: « We are really convinced that we have done all the right preparation for the Dakar 2017 as well as we could. The team has worked really hard all season for that. In just a few hours the biggest challenge of the year starts up and what I want, more than anything, is that everything goes really well for the Honda team. Hopefully we can celebrate what we have been chasing for the last couple of years. As long as nothing strange happens we will be on the right path to achieve it. There will be very tough conditions for several days. The riders who live at sea-level, like I do, have trained to support altitude because different bodies work in different ways. I had a bit of trouble last year and this year we have more than double the time above 3,000 metres, so I’ve tried to prepare myself better. I expect to suffer quite a bit because you can’t perform as well as at sea-level, but I’m sure that the HRC staff have worked well in that sense. We are ready to do battle. »
Ricky Brabec #9 : « Here we are in Paraguay getting ready for the Dakar. It’s a bit better for me to be here this year because last year was my first year, so now I have more experience. I’ve had a lot more time on the bike and a lot more training has been done in California and Africa as well as Chile. I’m a lot more confident and comfortable this year and the team and riders are more prepared than ever with all the testing that has been done in recent months. Tomorrow is the first day so we’ll see how that goes and today is the final day of rest and preparation. I think most of us are ready to get the job done. At the Dakar there will be hard days and easy days, long days and short days. As far as altitude goes, I went to Bolivia last year and seemed to do fine. They are ramping it up a bit as 14,000 feet is a lot of elevation. 4,000 metres is a lot to be risking our race at. Up there there’s no oxygen, you try to push but you can’t breathe. Your head might explode. It’s going to be tough and very different from racing on the desert floor. We will have to manage ourselves and ride smart. Last year I had little or no experience riding a rally bike, so this time I’ve spent more time at that testing with Taichi and Johnny in California, doing navigation with Jimmy Lewis and being sent out to Africa and Chile with the Honda guys. This year I have a lot more experience than last year so I’m excited to get it going. »
Michael Metge #15 : « I think that this year things will be different from other Dakar Rallies as physical fitness is going to be a key factor. Let’s see how the role of altitude plays an important part in Bolivia it will be very difficult to handle this factor as we even have the rest day at altitude. We will have to face all the inconveniences and prepare to tackle some really long special stages. We will be forced to get up really early every day this time. It will be really complicated. In effect it will be the toughest Dakar yet, but we have prepared very well for this challenge. The bike is running really well and we will have to try and enjoy the race as much as we can. »