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07 January

There’s tough. And then there’s the Dakar’s Original by Motul. It’s perhaps the most brutal of all motorsport competitions. The competitors aren’t allowed any assistance, managing their own repairs between the 12 stages in the oppressive heat of the Saudi Arabian desert. But the Original by Motul also attracts some of the oldest competitors of the competition. Some of this year’s are nearing official retirement age. These are the 10 oldest, but toughest riders in the Dakar’s Original by Motul class.

Picco Franco, 65
Pico is the oldest competitor in the Original by Motul category and something of a Dakar veteran. His start number of 65 is also the same as his age. “This will be my 29th Dakar,” said Pico. “I started in 1985 as a factory rider for Yamaha Racing, winning the Dakar that year. In the following two years I finished in second place. In the Dakar Rally, you can expect it all. I do have to take into account my age because 12 days of rallying is long and hard. But I’ll keep on riding as long as I feel ok.”

Norbert Dubois, 61
This will be Norbert’s 18th rally. “I’ve been racing in Africa Eco Races and this will be my eight participation at the Dakar Rally since the early 2000s,” he told us. Recalling an earlier Dakar memory, he said: “I was once stuck in the dunes for 24 long hours. Another time I passed a pilot who had run out of gasoline during a stage. I brought him to the next refuel station 20 kilometres further along and, just as we arrived, my fuel tank was also empty. I drove him back to his bike so that we could both restart our rally. The friendship in this rally is extraordinary and unique.” 

Eric Martinez, 60
“In 2021 I’ll be 61, so it was now or never,” says relative Dakar newcomer Eric, after being forced to quit due to an injury in last year’s rally. “In 2018 and 2019 I rode the Merzouga Rally in order to prepare for the Dakar Rally. In 2020 I rode my first Dakar Rally but fell off my bike quite hard. This year I’m back and very determined to finish. It took me a while to get this far, but I’ve been abroad for my work a lot and now I finally have time.”

Pascal Rauber, 57
Pascal is the owner of a motorcycle store in France, and this will be his first Dakar. He’s been itching to get started. “Those 15 days in January will be tiring, but also the most relaxing period of the year for me. Once I am on the bike, I simply forget all the daily stresses. It’s just me, my motorcycle, and the desert dunes”.

Pierre Cherpin, 52
Pierre only started riding at the age of 30. So, what’s his driving force? “Very simple: the quest for adventure,” he said. “In 2009, I competed in my first Dakar Rally (and he’s since competed in it three times). The Dakar Rally is a very challenging and demanding race for man and machine. You have to have focus and be mentally strong. But it’s an amazing experience.”

Cesare Zacchetti, 51
“I participated in 2015 in Argentina, and when I heard the Dakar would take place in Saudi Arabia, I just needed to ride it again,” said Cesare. “I’m not in it for the fastest time, I just really enjoy the adventure.” For Cesare, he’s drawn to the camaraderie of the Original by Motul class. “I’m not a well-trained mechanic, although I can fix normal things and I can maintain basic things on my motorcycle such as oil changes, cleaning all the filters, changing a tyre, etc... There is always a competitor or somebody in the bivouac who is lending you a hand and giving you good advice if you need it.”

Francesco Catanese, 50
“The next edition will be my fifth Dakar,” says the fifty-year-old Italian rider. “I had decided not to do it anymore because I’m getting older and my work takes up 100% of my time. But the Dakar is not a normal race, it is something that gets under your skin, and that stays with you forever. It is the desire to push yourself to the limit, to test yourself. It is the goal that forces you to keep fit all year round. That’s why I had to do it again.”

James Alexander, 50
“I discovered motorsports as a kid,” says James, who lives in Botswana. “In the early 1980s I used to watch the Dakar Rally on TV. It was fascinating. By the age of 16, I was racing enduros. All my life I’ve been on and off motorcycles. When I taught my son to ride a motorcycle five years ago, I wondered why I’d given up on riding. So, I picked it up again ad started participating in the Botswana off-road racing series.”

Willy Jobard, 49
This is Willy’s 16th Dakar. “It’s a big part of my life,” he said. Willy will compete on a new hybrid hydrogen motorcycle this year, adding to the challenge. “During the final stage of the Dakar Rally in 2007, I fell and suffered a double arm fracture. I was only 150km away from the stage and still had over 250km to ride before I reached the finish of the rally in Dakar city. I drove the last 250kms with one hand and my teeth clenched to withstand the pain. You see, when you are determined and your brain really wants it, you can achieve it.”

Gabor Saghmeister, 49
“I first applied for the Dakar Rally in 2008 because I wanted to test my abilities,” says Gabor, who turns fifty this year. “That rally was cancelled due to terrorist threats in Africa, but that didn’t sway me. The following year (2009) I made my debut and I have been a regular participant ever since. I immediately fell in love with Dakar. In the previous 12 rallies, I even reached the finish line nine times. The challenge for me is to ride in difficult conditions, in the desert, and to orient myself in this vast landscape. There were many dangerous situations, but I overcame them and made a few friends for life.”

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