Passion to win is probably just as important as physical fitness and talent in offroad racing. With Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Ivan Cervantes it’s clear that the passion and desire to race for wins is still very much apparent, despite the Spanish star being one of the more seasoned riders in the Enduro World Championship.
A four time Enduro World Champion, Cervantes is no stranger to success, but injury has thwarted his progress in recent years and the KTM racer has had a frustrating time leading up to the end of 2015, before he grasped the opportunity to achieve a life-long dream of racing the Dakar Rally. Having successfully finished the notoriously tough event on his debut this January, and so far enjoying a healthy pre-season aboard the new Red Bull KTM 250 EXC-F Factory Enduro machine, Cervantes is as motivated as ever for the start of this year’s Enduro World Championship series.
“With the injuries everything started in 2014 when I was leading the E3 class championship. In the middle of the season I broke a bone in my foot. I went back to my doctor, who told me I must stop riding. I was leading the championship by over 20 points, so sure to stop was not possible, and we agreed that I should try to race, so I had an operation, and tried to ride one week later. I had a good result the following GP in Finland, but I got an infection in the wound shortly after and my season was over. Once the foot was good I trained a lot, lot, lot with the 300 2-stroke ready for 2015, and in January I had a small training crash breaking the shoulder. I knew I had some time to recover before the season; I worked every morning, afternoon and night for the recovery and then two weeks before the first World Championship race in Chile, I tore ligaments in my knee. I couldn’t believe it. It was really a nightmare time,” explained Cervantes.
“Of course this was the last opportunity for me to be ready in 2015. I called Fabio (Farioli, KTM Enduro Factory Team Manager) and explained the situation. I said I wanted to try without the operation, to train in the gym and concentrate on the stability of the knee, and I tried. In any case the series was unlikely, so I went to the opening round, but I didn’t have a good feeling with the bike, having had such little riding time, and I twisted my knee again. I had a bad result in Spain and so in Portugal we decided if the result wasn’t good I should stop for the recovery. It was better for me physically and mentally to stop, and of course for KTM, as having a rider making bad results is also no good.”
Cervantes went on to have knee surgery and focused on making a comeback to Enduro in 2016 as strong as he can be. But things changed in June last year, as an opportunity presented itself for him to race the Dakar Rally with a privateer team supported by KTM. It was a dream of his to race this incredible two-week long event, and he decided that after a disastrous two seasons in Enduro, it was a good time to make his debut. By September Cervantes could ride again; he quickly learned to use a road book, raced the Morocco Rally and headed off to Dakar, a short introduction to Rally some might say.
“Dakar was definitely harder than I imagined. Everybody can tell you what happens in the Dakar, and maybe this could happen or that could happen, but for sure you don’t know until you’re there. For me it was a really nice experience, but psychologically tough. From 3am in the morning you are riding in excess of 900km, and it’s really hard. Some places are cold, some places are hot, some places wind, and this year we had issues with the storm too. It was a great experience; I finished (16th) and that was my priority, as this is the best way to learn the system needed for the whole race the second time around.”
“The speed is really unbelievable. For sure what is also unbelievable is the speed of the top 10. When you’re on the KTM 450 RALLY bike you have an easy road, amazing bike, a lot of power, and you think why not (open the throttle a bit). A little more, a little more and then some place maybe there is the problem when you realize there’s something more in the road book or you make a mistake and you need to stop for something dangerous. You then realize the momentum you have on gnarly dirt is really high and it’s really difficult to stop. Concentration is also incredibly difficult at that speed for that length of time.”
Cervantes explained that the main difference between Dakar and Enduro is that in Enduro he only has to concentrate on staying between the tapes and riding, whereas at Dakar the riders have to race, navigate the road book, look for danger, be at incredible speeds, over long distances and keep an eye out for other riders, while dealing with fatigue, altitude and weather extremes. The Spanish star said it was a shock to see that Toby Price could be 10 minutes ahead in one day, and also that over such a big distance the times can be so tight at the top. Asked whether he would go for it again Cervantes grinned, he clearly has his own personal goals for the Dakar Rally.
“Sure I want to do it again, and I want to be better than this year, but I know I made some big mistakes in my first attempt and there are the small things I can prepare better. After the world championship I will have a few months to make the preparation for Dakar and now I know what to expect. I want to do my best, maybe it’s my future, maybe not, but I want to try again. It’s also funny that Marc Coma said to me when I come back to the small bike after Dakar it will feel difficult. For sure I didn’t believe him, I mean come on a big Rally bike to my small Enduro bike surely would feel easier, but really it was strange going back to a small and nimble machine. It took some time to get back into things and find the corner speed on such a small bike again.”
Cervantes is fit and healthy at the moment after a strong pre-season and although it may seem some have written him off, he’s switched to the smaller class and he seems incredibly focused – we at the KTM BLOG spoke to him at the recent pre-season team test in Italy. He told us that he tested both the KTM 250 EXC-F and KTM 350 EXC-F leading up to the start of 2016 and decided the smaller bike was fun, enjoyable and a refreshing change. The Red Bull KTM athlete has clearly lost weight to suit the smaller capacity machine, and is very excited about the new KTM 250 EXC-F factory bike he will race this season, which has been completely designed from the ground up.
“The new bike is completely amazing. It’s very small; the new chassis is really nice to turn in the fast and slow corners, it feels good in the difficult sections and the technical stones too. The power of the engine feels really good; I remember when I raced in 2006 the 250 4-stroke when I won my second title, which was 10 years ago, and there is so much difference from then to now. The plastics, ergonomics, the bike is more aggressive and completely amazing. I’m very happy to come back to the small bike. I’m 33 years old, so a little older, but I lost weight to train for this bike, and so far I made a real good preparation for the season. I might be 33, but I am young (laughs). My approach will be step-by-step for the eight GP’s to start strong and my dream and focus is to win the championship again.”
The Enduro World Championship kicks off on April 9 in Agadir, Morocco.