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14 January

The Original by Motul is the toughest category of the world’s toughest race. Competitors on bikes and quads compete without the backup of a support team. Just them, their machine, and miles and miles of endless Saudi Arabian desert. We caught up with six Original by Motul competitors to hear how previous Dakar experiences have been for them – and get a small glimpse into life on the saddle in the world’s most gruelling sporting event.

Rider #46: Simon Marcic          
Bike: Husqvarna 450 rally
Nationality: Slovenia
We arrived during a liaison at a crossroad. My roadbook said turn left with approximately 70 kilometres to go, but policemen sent us straight into the mountains. I followed another rider but after 30 kilometres it became clear there was no passing possible through the mountains. My fellow rider ran out of fuel, so I returned looking for help. I ran into a police officer, and luckily one of their colleagues went out looking for petrol. Meanwhile I had to wait in the car, and the policeman was video calling his wife and kids showing me to them as if I was an alien. It was a really funny evening!”

Rider #61 Norbert Dubois
Bike: KTM 450
Nationality: French
“I was once struck 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.” 

Rider #30 Arunas Gelazninkas
Bike: KTM Rally Replica
Nationality: Lithuanian
“In preparation for the Dakar, I had to pass a qualification in the Merzouga Rally. I rented a bike and was rather unfamiliar with the roadbook reading. This caused me to take the wrong direction and get lost on the way. I even ran out of gasoline and had to push the bike five kilometres to a small village. At least that’s what I thought it was, but once I got closer I realised it was a mirage, and I was actually at a canal. I was totally exhausted, out of water and sick. A local guy noticed me and gave me a litre of petrol so I could ride to the refueling station.”

Rider #92 Eric Martinez
Bike: Husqvarna 450 rally replica
Nationality: French
“During my first participation last year, I had passed the third ‘special stage’. Lots of riders were looking for the right direction, when I discovered a fast road on a platform, which gave me the opportunity to pass 10 riders. But, on this fast road which had deep wheel tracks, my front tyre suddenly lost grip and slid into the track and I was ejected midair. Result: broken steering, a busted fork and a broken clavicle. That night the doctors forbid me to continue in the race.” 

Rider #84 Neil Hawker
Bike: Husqvarna 450 Rally
Nationality: British
“At the end of day five last year I struck a rock that was hidden under the sand at high speed and fell hard. I broke my arm in two places, but still rode the 300 kilometers to the bivouac thinking I could manage it, which I did. Until I arrived. My body was shaking all over and it was game over for me. At that moment, I thought never again! But here I am! [laughs].”

Rider #39 Benjamin Melot
Bike: KTM 450 Rally Replica
Nationality: French
“I could tell you a hundred anecdotes about the Dakar Rally. They vary from extreme sadness to extreme happiness. The camaraderie is one thing that sticks with me the most. Last year we had a connection route between two mountain stages. One of the bikes suffered an engine problem, so I towed the bike with a rope for 50 kilometers to the next check-in. We are single riders but count us all together and we are the biggest team in the Dakar!” 

© Pictures: Vytautas Dranginis, Denis Janezic, Antonin Vincent / DPPI

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