The 2021 Silk Way Rally didn’t exactly go according to plan. Two days into the ten-day event, COVID-19 and bubonic plague outbreaks in Mongolia forced rally organizers to restrict the 2021 route to the Russian stages. Reduced to five legs, the second round of the 2021 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship repeated previously contested sections on the final two days of competition.
Despite the last-minute route change, abbreviated schedule, and disgruntled participants, KTM Red Bull rider Matthias Walkner emerged victorious. The fifth and final stage of the rally only totaled 138 km, but organizers recorded rider times at the 110-km mark. Walkner started the final sprint with a five-minute advantage over the field. After pushing through the tight forest tracks and demanding terrain, the KTM rider finished in second place, securing the top step by more than six minutes.
“The final stage here was really nice to ride,” noted Walkner. “It was the same as day two, but instead of making it rougher, it seems the cars and trucks prepared it quite well for us today. I really tried to push at the beginning, because I know the first part of the stage is good for me over the fast pistes. In the forest, I thought I might have to ease off a little, but it rode better today, and I was able to push for the whole stage. It’s a shame the rally had to be shortened, but the organizers did a great job of giving us a full event to race.”
Combined with Walkner’s runner-up finish at Rally Kazakhstan, the Silk Way Rally victory puts the Austrian in the driver’s seat of the Cross-Country Rallies World Championship. With a 21.5-point lead over Rockstar Husqvarna rider Skyler Howes, Walkner will look to defend his lead at the Rally Dos Sertoes in Brazil on August 13, 2021. Hopefully, the ongoing pandemic cooperates more when the championship visits South America.