The Dakar Rally only constant is that something will happen and you better be ready to deal with it, whether it is a mechanical, an injury, or whatever the terrains throws at you. By Christophe Barriere-Varju
In the Dakar Rally, nothing will ever be smooth. Something is bound to happen during the 9,000+ km race. To succeed you need to have multiple redundancy plans in place when things do go bad. Obviously, the pressure mounts quite a lot when something does not go to plan.
When a mechanical issue happens in the middle of a special stage, you need to fix it. Duck tape, zip ties, welding paste, jumper cables, hose, loctite and tow rope are your seven best friends and you never want to part with them. As a motorcycle racer there is so much you can do with these, but you can also use the elements around you to fix things up.
Here is are some examples of what I have experienced or seen in the Dakar Rally regarding tyres where the the Mousse inside had badly deteriorated.
- Zip tie the tyres against the rim
- I cut the tyre off for a factory rider to let him finish the stage on the rim
- Fill up the tyre with grass or sand
It pays to have friends in the Dakar, especially if you are on a low budget. You can get a car or truck competitor carry a small box of essential parts for you if you cannot afford the proper ‘race truck assistance’ the factory teams have.
And if you see someone stranded, make sure to stop and help as you might be the next one stranded a few 100kms later. By making a lot of friends pre-race, and showing them how you look in race gears, bike colors etc, you will increase your chances of someone stopping to give you a hand. That to me is the true Dakar Spirit.
What about injuries in the Dakar Rally?
Obviously any pain related to the head, or sharp pain in the neck and back, there are no Dakar worth the risk. Most everything else it will be up to the rider to decide and to the organisation to give you the all clear if you are really concerned. A small injury can create a much bigger injury later on as you are no longer at 100% of your physical capabilities. So if you do decide to carry on, then lower your rhythm a little to add that extra precaution.
Torn muscles, ligaments, tendons, racers usually do not stop for those and there have been plenty of participants continuing with broken collarbones, broken ribs, even broken foot and ankles. Patrice Carillon (FR) finished the 2007 Dakar Rally with a broken ankle, he simply slept with his boot on as he knew if he took it off, his race would be over. Regarding ribs, you have to be careful as another fall on them could pierce your lung.
You might wonder why racers want to continue with injuries, it is just a race after all? On the privateer side of the race, the Dakar Rally is a story of sacrifice. Some would have empty years of savings to do that race one time, others would have piled up debt on their credit cards, some would have taken another loan on their mortgaged home. For others, the personal pride will make them super powerful when bad things happen.
On the factory racers side of things, the motivation is different although most good racers will continue when injured. They get paid to do a job, and the Dakar Rally is just one of many races they are contracted to compete during the year, so they need to balance their decision between totally destroying their bodies racing with injuries and be unable to race for 6 months, or minimize the damage and pull out early so that they could fulfill their contractual commitment with sponsors for the other events.
For some racers, the physical, mental and emotional struggle become too great for them to continue, and fear gets in the way. I have see racers on their knees in the middle of the desert crying and imploring me to not leave them stranded and to help them. An other racer broke down in tears (and fear) at a refueling point asking me how to get out of ‘this crazy race, and where the closest road was’ – people get scared for their life, and the initial idea of racing the Dakar with all your friends and family saying “how strong you are to want to do this” suddenly no longer appeal when everything around you is just an empty desert. When racing in Africa, this fear was just compounded as there is literally nothing around you for hundreds and hundreds of kilometers, not even people — and the closest good hospital in the event of a serious injury is a continent away. Racing in Africa is a totally different beast to tackle.
What about the terrain?
This goes back to your training simulations before the race. In the article ‘Could You Race the Dakar Rally‘ I speak about the importance of making your life miserable during training, so that when you face a difficult situation during the race, it will hopefully be not as hard as what you experienced during training.
Soft sand, mud, rain, salt lake, high altitude, extreme heat, fetch fetch etc are all areas you need to have trained in or have some experience with. Going to Dakar without any experience with these types of terrain is… well, not really recommended!
If you are a Dakar Rally fan, make sure to watch Christophe Barriere-Varju in the 10x Award Winner Film, DREAM RACER. Dream Racer is the only film in the Dakar History to have won any awards and it has now become the most awarded motorcycle film in history. Available on Blu-Ray or DVD, or you can watch it On Demand right away.