OD: How has the 2017 Dakar been for you?
CS: I think the organisers set out to make this Dakar more challenging than before and I think they achieved it. The first leg of the Dakar was really tough not just in terms of the stage but in terms of navigation also. Overall the weather has played a factor, the navigation, the stages, it’s all been like the Dakar that you would expect.
OD:Â So far you have done it as a privateer and you were on your own. This year you have a factory team Hero backing you. How is the association working for you?
CS: It is a dream come true. To be able to represent Hero at the Dakar is a dream and I am really fortunate. The team has put a lot of effort into it. It is a massive team and I am happy to be here and doing justice to all the effort that goes into it behind the scenes.
OD: Starting off from stage one you had a rough opening. How were the first few four or five stages for you?
CS: I think the first two stages for me were just as I had expected. I knew that I would drop a few places in the Prologue stage which is only 30 kilometres. I started at 42 position but finished at 47. The next day I moved back into the top 40. I knew I had the speed to be in the 30s and that was the goal in the first half of the Dakar, to be the amongst the top 40 and then probably move from there going into second week.Â On the third day of the Dakar stage I got a spanner thrown into the works and I lost a lot of time and it has been tough after that.
OD: You got a one hour 20 min penalty. How did that happen?
CS: I lost a way point along the way. The thing is that nothing was working. I didnâ€™t expect the stage to be so hard. The 70 kilometres totally took me by surprise. In terms of riding it was really difficult to ride through that stage. I was getting passed by everybody and I was thinking about the top 40 and things got compounded. By the end of it I had spent so much energy that the next couple of kilometres I didnâ€™t have it in me to make progress. Even though it was tracks that I like to ride on, I had hit a wall. Like running a marathon you hit a wall and then everything goes backwards.
OD: And that is part of the challenge to keep everything together. You have to have your energy, ride at the top and keep everything together. How is that working out for you?
CS: My speed this year is a lot different than before. So I am spending a lot of energy on the motorcycle. Although I am more prepared than I have ever been, it is not enough and that for me has been the problem so far.
OD: You have been quicker this year than in previous attempts.
CS: Yes I have been but it is not showing as of now apart from the first two days. I havenâ€™t been able to do justice to what I can do but it is only halfway through the Dakar and I still have a lot of mile to put in.
OD: Whatâ€™s been the biggest challenge for you this year?
CS: Once you are in the top 40, your goal is actually in front of you and you start thinking that you can actually make it. That is when I started making mistakes. So thatâ€™s what happened this Dakar. I need to work more on that.
OD:Â So far you have kept yourself and your motorcycle safe and sound. Going forward is it going to get tougher?
CS: For me, everyday when you get the roadbook, you get worried thinking about how long the stage will be and whether it is going to be tough or easy. But now I have just accepted the fact that this is the Dakar. You are not going to have it easy. That is one part of the hurdle that I am happy I am over with. I expected it to be tough and the fact that I am ready is going to change everything.
OD: How is the motorcycle performing so far?
CS: The bike is fantastic and it is doing pretty well at the Dakar. I have no issues with the bike. The team has done a great job so far.
OD: Is there someone who is inspiring you to ride harder or push more?
CS: When I am on the stage I am just thinking of what the top guys are doing on the stage. When I am going through a tough stage I just think the top guys are just going to pin it through these stages. So, I think about that and try and go as fast as I can.
OD: You have a fantastic partner who is a novice at the Dakar? How is the relation working out between the two of you?
CS: Joaquim is a talented rider and in the years to come he is going to do very well at the Dakar.
OD: Whatâ€™s your strategy for the remaining stages?
CS: I have made all the mistakes. There is nothing to lose. From now onÂ I only have progress to make. I am not someone that has a hot head. I have had bad days and I am going to have good days. When the good days come I am going to capitalise on them.Â The most important thing is to try and finish the rally as this is the first time for hero.