4WDING, CAMPING,CARAVANING, ADVENTURING...& A BLOODY GOOD LAUGh
DAKAR 2010: Trail Zone magazine
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARK ALLEN
BRUISED N’ BROKEN
TRAILZONE WENT TRACKSIDE TO WATCH THE AUSSIES TAKE ON THE WORLD IN THE 2010 DAKAR
Dakar…Dakar…Dakar, every man that dreams of off road racing has visions of the Dakar Rally – or are they delusions, hallucinations and nightmares of the incredibly arduous and gruelling rally that sees bikes, 4WD’s and trucks battling it out for over 9000km of what surely must be some of the most arduous terrain know to man.
This race…or should we call it an adventure of a life time, is incredibly hard on not just the bikes that take part, but the bodies of the poor soles that pedal their purpose built machines. They have one purpose in life during the 14 days of the rally – make it to the finish! If a top 100, top 50 or heaven forbid a podium finish is granted, then that’s just the icing on the cake.
Witnessing tears of jubilation on many entrants at the finish line was proof of what riders had conquered to bring their battered machines and bodies home. Or, perhaps the bruises, broken bones and terrifying memories of sections of the race was the rational behind the helmet-concealing-sniffles in recognition that they had actually made it to the end of the worlds most punishing battle of Man and Machine V Mother nature.
While there were many privateers on low budgets slogging it out for whatever placing they may be granted, this year it was the all-conquering Cyril Despres (KTM Team Red Bull) that took 1st step on the podium, with KTM scoring 2nd and an Aprilia 3rd.
The terrain experienced during the Dakar was nothing short of awe-inspiring, challenging, arduous and at times, bloody scary! Imagine dunes souring upwards of 2 to 3 km, patches of sand that at times swallowed half a bike, measured over (I’m guessing a little here) 60 degrees Celsius (my steel caps actually burnt the top of my toes!). While we could slowly and carefully pick our lines, the racers had no choice but to ‘gas-it’ for hundreds of kilometres at a time. Once mistake and kiss the Dakar 2010 goodbye!
At other times, high speed runs along dry river beds were the course for the day. Figure on suspension-destroying rocks strewn along the entire course, of which had to be taken at as high a speed as possible. Again, get your line wrong and BANG…bent rim or busted suspension or worse still, belly-up waiting to be rescued…gone for 2010!
Each night, I wondered the pit area watching battered, bruised and dejected riders trying to repair their machines:
“We break it, we fix it, we carry on until the finish – shit happens on the Dakar – you’ve just got to hang on until the end” is just a sample of the many quotes from entrants, all of which were along similar lines, albeit some more colourful in their execution…and not printable here!
For those that supported and watched the Dakar each evening in its half hour time slot; you got to see some amazing racing by some amazing people. The heat of the deserts (over 50 degrees) to the freezing of the Andes (down to near zero), the long, long hours and the exhaustion of riders, really can’t be portrayed to its full extent, but take it from us, finishing this rally means you have conquered the most arduous off road rally in the world and deserve to be called a ‘winner’.
To every single entrant, right from the first place getters to those that crawled in last in the dead of night, busted and beaten; you outta be congratulated, ‘cause you're all winners!
BEHIND THE SCENES NUMBERS
178 bikes, 136 4WD’s and 52 trucks started the 2010 Dakar – all with high hopes of finishing. There were over 100 organizational vehicles, 10 control vehicles, 10 medical vehicles, 6 TV vehicles, 6 safety cars and 2 safety trucks, 2 technical assistance trucks, seven buses, 20 (yep 20) helicopters and 12 planes – simply huge!
And then there was the catering crew who numbered 80 personnel in 10 trucks that dished out 1.5 tons of food per day, along with 12,000 bottles of water every single day that was to be carried in each vehicle.
In case things went pear-shaped, every single person that had anything to do with the event (racers, behind the scenes personnel and of course the journos) had access to a full range of medical services: a travelling hospital with over 60 staff, 10 vehicles with two on-board doctors, up to four helicopters with two on-board doctors, plus one doctor per safety truck.
To ensure the whole world knew about the event, up to 600 journalists (at the start and finish lines), 240 journos that actually followed the race, countless magazine articles and over 1130 hours of TV footage throughout 190 countries were worked on – a great adventure in itself!
GO HARD AUSSIES
Only 4 Aussies (out of 178 bikes entered) dared to take on Dakar this year – (Aussie living in Toronto) Andrew Scott (Honda bike 108), Garry Connell (Husaberg bike 117), (French-born Aussie) Christophe Barriere Varju (KTM bike 121) and Rob Pollard (KTM bike 122) being those 4 brave fools…err…souls that were game to throw the leg over for Dakar 2010.
Unfortunately Gary hit the deck big time early in the race while in the dunes of the Atacama Desert, causing ligament damage to his knee, which later saw him on crutches and out of the race. His beautifully presented ‘Berg didn’t really get to show its full potential and stood in the sidelines for the remainder of the action.
Those same soft, powdery dunes and over 45 degree heat also saw Christophe and Rob take big falls, drop bikes due to the shear exhaustion and run out of fuel due to the incredibly high consumption with having to use a fist-full-of-revs all day just to keep their bikes moving in the dunes.
Neither Rob nor Christophe made it out without injury: Rob took a dive after hitting a 6 foot gully, cracking the radius bone in his elbow. His KTM copped a buckled front wheel and bent handle bars. He also had the KTM slide out from under him on a moss-covered causeway which broke his clutch – but you know what…even with a busted arm, bent wheel and buggered clutch, he rode on day after day, just wishing for the nightmare conditions to end. We overtook Rob (in the air conditioned comfort of a 4WD) during some of the bitumen stages, his broken arm dangling limply by his side, body leaning forward to counteract the speed-inflicted headwind, eyes nearly closed…perhaps wincing with pain, or maybe looking forward to that nights sleep…if he got into camp early enough!
Christophe, riding his older KTM, had his fair share of hair-pulling problems (yep, he’s bald now, but you should have seen his locks before the race) with multiple errors and breakdowns of his official Dakar-supplied GPS system, he had to rely on navigating sections with the rudimentary maps provided. He took dives in the soft dunes and struggled in the high altitudes and life-depleting high temperatures. On one section of long, straight, high-speed runs, somehow he managed to “Hit the only bloody hole out here” which slammed his body into his seat, compressing his back and leaving massive bruising up his leg, resulting in a torn abductor (muscle), injured his left Sacroiliac (a joint in the back) and tore one of his triceps (that big muscle at the back of your arm)…but nothing was going to stop him finishing this damn race!
Many nights we’d drop in on Christophe while on the tools repairing and cleaning his KTM well into the wee hours of the next morning – he really was a one-man-show and even had to hire some space on another team’s backup vehicle to carry his spares and camping gear!
We caught Christophe at the finish line; tears flowing freely, mixing with the blood, sweat and dust from over 9000km of torturous riding “my arm is all black and bruised, my back is aching, I can’t feel a thing, but I don’t care right now. I dedicate this Dakar to my mate, Alain Florentin, who died 3 weeks before Dakar, of a heart attack...and he was only bloody 37”.
To learn more of the hardships of the lead-up and race time of Christophe, check out www.teamrallyaustralia.com - there’s also a doco that will be released later this year.
Rob Pollard finished 38th overall, while Christophe scored 56th – a big cheer lads, from all at Trail Zone.