Abu Dhabi: When Sam Sunderland sets off in pursuit of a second bikes’ crown in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Powered by Nissan, the British rider faces a number of battles over five days in the deserts of the UAE from March 31.
Taking place under the patronage of Shaikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in Al Dhafra region, the Desert Challenge is also supported by Abu Dhabi Aviation, Abu Dhabi Police, ADNOC, Al Dhafra Region Ruler’s Representative Court, National Ambulance, Nissan, UAE Armed Forces and Yas Marina Circuit, while the Nissan Patrol is the official car.
Sunderland, winner in 2017 shortly after capturing the Dakar Rally title, will be up against the cream of cross country rallying talent in a line-up of 41 riders for the opening round of this year’s FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship. None of them know the demanding terrain better than the KTM star for whom Dubai became his adopted home ten years ago, and when the rally breaks out in to the Al Dhafra region on Sunday morning, no one will be better prepared for the gruelling test ahead.
For bike and quad riders, particularly the amateurs sharing the stage with the world’s best, the threat of dehydration is ever present in the desert heat, with many facing the exhausting task of digging themselves free from the soft sand traps along the five-day route from March 31.
“All of our races are in extreme environments and it’s necessary to take care about your fluid and electrolytes, but I think most of the top riders have this under control,” said Sunderland, speaking from the KTM training camp in Morocco.
“It’s normally new riders that aren’t used to the heat or exertion for long periods. I’m in very good shape, which is important at the start of a new season. Once you have won the race once it has to be your goal to do it again and that’s what I will be aiming for. We will just have to see how the strategy plays out without a prologue,” he added.
Runner-up last year, Sunderland faces top opposition this time from a succession of factory team stars, including the rider who finished just behind him Argentinian Kevin Benavides and his Honda teammates Joan Barreda Bort of Spain and Chile’s Jose Cornejo, as well as KTM’s Argentinian rider Luciano Benavides and American Husqvarna contender Andrew Short.
The Desert Challenge riders’ line-up has a family flavour, with the Dubai-based Irish father and son combination of David and William McBride trying to outdo each other again after William finished ahead in the recent Dubai International Baja.