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Normal business was resumed in Stage 3 of the #abudhabi Desert Challenge with Red Bull KTM Factory #racing Team’s Dakar Rally winner #samsunderland reclaiming both the stage victory and the overall lead. The rally is the opening round of the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship and is a race over five stages where tactics and race craft can often play a decisive role.
Second home on Tuesday was Chilean rider Pablo Quintanilla with Sunderland’s factory teammate Matthias Walkner (http://www.ktm.com/racing/rally/riders/matthias-walkner/) in third place. Antoine Meo (http://www.ktm.com/racing/rally/riders/antoine-meo/) rejoins the KTM factory lineup after a long injury break and he was sixth across the line in the third stage.
Sam Sunderland (http://www.ktm.com/racing/rally/riders/sam-sunderland/) (GBR) won Sunday’s opening stage, and he knew on Monday, with the responsibility of opening the track, that he would probably drop down the order. He went on to finish sixth and was classified fifth in the standings. This
put him in perfect position for Tuesday’s third stage and he took advantage of it, coming home in 3:55.23 hours, six minutes ahead of Quintanilla. He now has a 3.06.7-minute overall lead on the Chilean with two stages to go to set up what will probably be a tight last stage on Thursday.
Sunderland: “My start position was more favorable today and I pushed really hard until the refuel stop because I wasn’t really sure about the rhythm of the riders in front of me. Now we have a new starting system and we leave at three-minute intervals so it makes the field a lot more spread out. I only saw the other guys just before the refueling but I made good time and took back almost 15 minutes. It was a good day and the bike’s going well. There are two stages to go so we will just keep ticking along.”
Even after the second stage, Walkner, the factory team’s Austrian rider said he was feeling more and more confident in the soft dunes but at the finish of stage three be added that he expected the end result to be similar to the opening day. “Here every day is almost the same. This morning I tried to push and then I caught the group with (Paolo) Goncalves and from 180 km we were five riders all together. Then in the last 15-20 km everyone one tried to push to be the first at the finish line. It was a fun stage with nice dunes and I really enjoyed the ride. But here, with the navigation, it’s hard to break away from the group.” Walkner is 5:14 minutes off the lead pace with two stages left to ride.
Riders are encountering extreme temperatures in the mid- to high 40 degrees Celsius in the desert sand and Meo, making his comeback to rally raid, admitted after Monday’s second stage that the going was tough. “It is good to be back #racing but it was a pretty long day for me. We can train as hard as we want, but #racing is #racing. At the moment I don’t have the level of Sam and Matthias, but I try to learn the navigation and to enjoy the rally.”
Meo finished sixth after Tuesday’s third stage, 17.43 minutes off the fastest pace and is currently sixth overall. The French rider said the stage had been very good for him: “The first part of the stage was so good and I have a better feeling. I lost less time than on the other days. I feel tired but I have less pain and every day I have a better feeling with the bike. I’m starting to enjoy riding in the dunes and I hope to continue this dynamic through to the next rally.”
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