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Giovanni Sala, bodyguard even on the podium
Dakar : The third step for the veteran italian
The veteran Italian rider joins Marc Coma on the third step of the podium at the 2006 Lisbon Dakar Rally.
With an eye on the final assault on the Dakar with Marc Coma, the Repsol KTM Team set for the second year in a row
on this veteran enduro rider. After one almost inactive year, he participated in the Egypt Rally achieving an excellent fourth place. His job in the Dakar Rally was clear: covering Marc Coma's back. Despite some navigation errors, mechanical mishaps and dislocating a finger, Sala fulfilled his job perfectly well. He took one stage victory and did not even leave Coma on the podium in Lake Rose, where he arrived in third position.

How has your 2006 Dakar Rally been?
"My job during this Dakar Rally was being assistance rider, doing teamwork. My intention was, if possible, to make a good race, but it was complicated to aim too high. I took Morocco with ease; I tried not to push too hard because I hadn't the best feeling on the bike yet and because I didn't want to jeopardize my job on such a dangerous terrain. Mauritania gave us some really complicated stages as regards navigation. My experience helped me to set a good pace without making any serious mistakes. I arrived at the rest stage with a good progression and not too far behind the leading riders. From then on I tried to ride a bit faster and I had a lot of fun. My physical shape was good and that allowed me to bear the longer stages better and, although I was afraid that my crash before the rest stage would jeopardize my performance, in the end, it didn't.

I was already third when I had a problem with the brake of the bike which made me loose a lot of time. I tried to make up for the time lost in the hardest stage but the finger was making trouble. I made a navigation mistake in the penultimate stage and lost a lot of time, but fortunately I was able to keep the third place until the finish, a position I didn't expect. I'm very happy because my aim was to arrive between the top five. It's been an excellent teamwork, both of KTM, my mechanic, the doctor who helped me to recover immediately, my team manager.... a whole bunch of factors that together helped me to get on the third step of the podium."

How does the Dakar Rally look like from the podium?
"Beautiful. I've had great satisfaction along my sports career in enduro, but the Dakar Rally is different. It's always been a race that fascinates me, but for one reason or other - mechanical problems, navigation - I had never been able to finish in the top positions. But this third place is the icing on my career as an enduro rider."

Which has been the worst moment of this Dakar Rally?
"I'm sure that the death of our team mate Andy Caldecott. It's always difficult to accept when a rider suffers an accident, but in this case Andy was part of our team. We shared food, tent, laughs, briefings... so it's even harder, it gets you psychologically down."

Was the best moment when you got on the podium?
"Obviously, and in addition together with Marc. You don't really notice what is happening when you're on the podium because everything happens really fast. But now I'm more relaxed and I've analysed how everything went and I've realised that I've made a good race, and I'm even more happy. Now it's time to enjoy it."

When did you notice that you were able to finish on the podium of the Dakar?
"Three days before the finish. When Isidre crashed I saw the chance to finish third or fourth. With my years of experience, I know better than anybody else how unpredictable this race is and when I had the problem with the break, I really thought that I had lost the podium. But fortunately I didn't and I was able to keep the third place."

Which has been the biggest fright you had?
"To tell you the truth I've been very calm and I didn't have many frights. Maybe during the last stage when I got lost. I came a cross many riders I had to overtake in the dust, despite the danger, in order not to loose more time."

What role did Jordi Arcarons play?
"Jordi is a great guy and a great professional. Before starting the rally he worked a lot on the minds of the riders and then, during the Dakar he takes care that everything works to perfection. He's been in charge of giving the team orders, such as having to wait for Marc to ride together. Although sometimes I didn't really understand the reasons, that's how the team has to work and I accept it."

What do you think about Jordi Viladoms?
"He is a brave young man and a good rider. Too bad he didn't make it to Dakar for one stage. But the crash he suffered is one of the most usual ones. You're close to the finish and having fun, so you relax a bit and you can make some small mistake. The stage was easy but the motorbike is always dangerous and you can never relax. I'm sure that he'll take something positive for the future."

Carlo De Gavardo
"A complete rider. He's got experience and he's good riding and navigating, but he's had bad luck with certain circumstances, such as the speeding penalty. That forced him to be in a critical situation, not relaxed, nervous and when you feel like that it's easy to make mistakes."

And the champion, Marc Coma
"He has been fantastic. He's one of the best riders I know, a great person and a great friend. He's done an almost perfect rally. He made some small mistake, but everybody does, even the greatest. He is very good as a rider, but he has also navigated better than the rest. Now he is mature and he is right now the best rally rider."

Are we going to see Giovanni Sala again at the 2007 Dakar?
"Let's first finish the 2006 edition and then we'll see, although I'd love to. I feel very well in the team. Repsol and KTM have put all means within my reach to achieve a good result so it would be fantastic to be back next year."

Are they waiting for you at the airport in Italy?
"Yes, I guess there'll be some fried waiting for me."

What are you going to do after these two intense weeks?
"I'm going back to the world of enduro, which is my world. I guess that I'll also race some race of the Italian Championship to stay in shape and continue with my organising activities in the Enduro World Championship."
Press Release Repsol Media Service

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     Volkswagen second with Giniel de Villiers
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