Red Bull KTM Factory riders launch their Dakar Rally bid in Argentina

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The 2016 edition of the famed Dakar Rally got underway in Argentina on Saturday with a short 11km prologue to decide the starting order for Sunday’s opening stage. Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s team’s veteran Jordi Viladoms finished in tenth place but was just 13 seconds behind the leader.

“Normally in this kind of stage it is important not to make mistakes. There’s not too much to win and a lot to lose, so I tried to get a good rhythm and to be in the first 20 riders. The real race starts tomorrow,” said Jordi Viladoms.

He was followed by teammates Matthias Walkner and Toby Price, 17 seconds and 18 seconds off the pace of Spain’s Joan Barreda and Ruben Faria of Portugal who shared fastest time honors. Walkner said he had approached the prologue just to get himself into a good rhythm ahead of the real opening stage on Sunday.

Walkner: “It wasn’t too bad. I didn’t want to push too much because I don’t want to start in front tomorrow. I didn’t even lose 20 seconds.”

Price said it was ‘all good’ at the end of the stage. “I was aiming for a 10-15 position. I had a little problem at the river crossing when the filter got a bit wet. We just nursed it through and still ended up where we wanted to be. It was a good start to it all and I’m keen for it tomorrow.”

Team rookie Antoine Meo also lost time at the river crossing that proved to be much deeper than expected.

Meo: “The briefing said it was about 30cm deep but I think it was more than a meter. So the bike took on water and I had to take off the filter and remove the water to get it restarted.”

Walkner took a more careful approach to the river crossing saying: “I thought about going in fast but the water was very dirty and you could not see how deep it was so I went in slowly. It was quite deep but I didn’t have any problems.”

KTM Factory rider Laia Sanz was another rider who had some trouble at the same location. “I felt comfortable with the bike then it stopped in the river. I got started quite quickly but to lose 2-3 minutes in the prologue is not a good start. I now need to be calm and have no problems like today. And I need to be smart and improve each day.”

This was the first time that the Dakar has started with a prologue but the riders also had to travel a total of 335km from the ceremonial start in Buenos Aires to reach the bivouac in Rosario. Many of the more experienced starters opted for a cautious approach so they would not have the responsibility of opening the track in the first stage.

On Sunday riders travel from Rosario to Villa Carlos Paz over a total distance of 632km, including a timed special of 227km. The first part of the stage will be fast and then it will move into a section that features narrow winding tracks. The rally, which continues until January 16, will cover more than 9,000km and visit Argentina and Bolivia.