Van Niekerk had to learn how to ride a top-heavy motorcycle flat out, sideways in soft sand, while at the same time time navigating the trackless dunes by GPS to a hidden route marker.

KTM riders Riaan van Niekerk and Darryl Curtis have just returned from Swakopmund in Namibia, where they spent a week in the dunes fine-tuning navigation skills and sand-riding techniques; there is simply no better training than time in the saddle.

They used the standard Dakar-spec ERTF GPS satnavs to plan and plot courses through the dunes, where Van Niekerk had to follow the cap heading and collect hidden waypoint markers.

OUTSTANDING DEBUT

This will be Van Niekerk's second Dakar and it will take a lot to equal his outstanding debut - he came in 13th overall, winning the rookie class and the Elf Trophy.

But that still wasn't enough to earn him an Elite entry, with the yellow number-plate that guarantees an instant advantage in the starting order. If an Elite rider gets lost on a stage, he gets an instant pass to the front of the queue the next morning.

Van Niekerk showed impressive navigation skills, although he lacks the experience of his team mates; he said he'd learned a lot from them, especially after training with Marc Coma in Spain and finishing 12th overall in the Rallye de Maroc just a few weeks ago.

TEAM MANAGER

Curtis has still not recovered fully from 2013 Dakar crash, when he broke his back and tore muscles in his shoulder. He will take on the role of team manager, streaming updates and images to the SA media.

Van Niekerk will again be part of the KTM Factory squad, alongside Marc Coma, Ruben Faria, Francisco Lopez, Kuba Pryzgonski and Ben Grabham, but sadly without young American rider Kurt Caselli, who was killed during the recent Baja 1000 desert race in Mexico.

He'll leave from Johannesburg for Buenos Aires on 29 December, where the team will collect all its bikes and equipment before heading off to the start in Rozario, Argentina on 5 January.

The 2014 Dakar route includes a twist for the bikers, who will separate from the cars for one leg in Bolivia, as well as a technical marathon stage that is expected to produce some surprises.