Euromilhoes Dakar 2007 Portraits of the Day
Sunday January 21, 2007
Arjan Brouwer: "The Dakar is my life"
When Arjan Bower says the Dakar is his life he isn't exaggerating. In 1986 the entered the mythical race for the first time and very nearly didn't come home. "One day I gave my backpack to a truck driver to take to the beginning of the special but he never turned up and so I started without my distress beacon. There was a huge sand storm and I went off the road book." It took four days to find the Dutchman and it wasn't a moment too soon. "At first I thought 'they will be here any moment', but as the days went by I became less sure. I prayed to God and prepared to die. But God answered my prayers and sent me a helicopter."
Now with the Iritrack system, sat phones and GPS such a thing couldn't happen, but despite this Arjan is nostalgic for the 'good old days'. "For sure everything is better now and the organisation is fantastic, but I liked the adventure aspect of the early Dakars." Arjan also misses riding the Dakar on a motorcycle. "I raced a bike here a total of seven times but a while ago I had to have a hip replacement operation which put an end to my motorcycle racing." His solution -- come back with a truck. "I am surprised how much fun it is. The engine puts out 1000 bhp and it has independent suspension. Sometimes it is like riding a moto-x bike."
Before the celebrations on the Lac Rose podium, Arjan is pleased with how his truck debut has gone, but is even happier to have reached Dakar and see his wife and her family, who live in the Senegalese capital. "The big thing I learnt from my four days in the desert is that life is a precious gift and should be enjoyed. The people of Black Africa have the same philosophy and ever since my experience I have felt a special affinity with them. Two years ago I met my wife in Dakar and we got married and are very happy together, so you see the Dakar really is my life."
Paul Belmondo: "I want to do even better."
He is one of the faithful ones. His silhouette is both discrete and very present and is almost part of the overall landscape of the bivouac. Paul Belmondo is used to the Dakar. He is however much less well-known in Dakar proper as this year is only the second time he reaches Dakar in 10 participations. For the former Formula 1 driver, this 2007 edition has a special taste: "it's true that I've only seen Senegal once in 2001 as the last time I finished the rally the finishing line was in Sharm-el-Sheikh. But my track record is not that bad: on the last two rallies, there was nothing I could do to avoid withdrawing. I was actually quite lucky to get out of it that well. This year, I had much less trouble, so it's rather logical I am now reaching the finish."
If he was able to avoid the trickiest problems, the second challenge of Belmondo was bothered by unfortunate race incidents: "The aim was also to get victory in T2. Up to Atar, I was in the game, ranking 26th in the overall rankings, and more importantly with the other first five more than 30 minutes behind. But when crossing dunes between Atar and Tichit, I got stuck between a rock and the bottom of a dune. This was an absurd situation but it cost me 3h50, the time it took for the assistance truck to arrive and get us out."
But Paul being a fighter, he forgot about his half-disappointment and is now thinking about the future. Next to his season in Le Mans Series, he intends to invest a bit more in the rally raid world championship to be starting the next Dakar with higher stakes and goals: "I would like to participate in at least two races and develop a project to show up with a competitive car in another category, maybe a buggy. This Dakar made me want to do better and also gave me some arguments to go get sponsors, because with my Dakars only lasting 4-5 days, it was hard to be convincing in the past!"
Ludivine Puy: "I took it easy this year."
A Dakar to suffer; a Dakar to have regrets. In 2005 she finished 97th after a lot of trouble. Last year, she withdrew two days before the end after a single mistake when she fell to avoid a kid on the road to Tambacounda. This year, her third attempt, is almost right. Almost because in Ludivine Puy's values, it's accomplishment that matters. The young biker from the north of France works on the principle of all or nothing. And in this 2006 Dakar she is very demanding. Seated at a white table in front of her tent, she is peacefully reviewing the 2006 edition in which she is the winner of the female biker competition. She follows Patricia Watson-Miller with this title but it's not what matters. "Over the last few days, I was stressed out. Last year, Tambacounda was the stage when I fell and broke my pelvis."
Don't look any further for a reason why she is so modest; Ludivine is focused on herself but very open to the Dakar and its atmosphere. This is a far-fetched attitude but she's feeling good and certainly not obsessed by competing. It's after all just a plus if she's doing well in the race. In her words, it sounds like: "I took it easy this year. I did not push myself to the limit. I don't feel tired." Ludivine hates cheap modesty; she's like that. A bit easy-going and most certainly still far away from her true potential.
"The Dakar is the only rally raid I do each year. So I want it to be good. I'd want the pleasure of participating to be total." As for sporting demands, that's another issue. She still refuses to make plans for the next Dakars and just mentions that she would like to do the next Morocco Rally: "in order to make progress on rocky trails" and the Dubai Rally "To make progress in the dunes." That could very well look like a career plan: being perfect for the rally raid in January. But again, Ludivine, who's 24, is not making any plans. Her thing is now to successfully finish her year's study with the French national police next August and become part of their motorized unit. Actually, Ludivine wants to do the Dakar in her own way and at her own pace. This may be the only way of staying in the race for many more raids to go.
Alioune Sarr: "The guys helped out for nothing."
The scene is heart-breaking: Alioune Sarr, alone in the darkness of the bivouac in Tambacounda, removing the dust from his doomed bike. For him, the Dakar finished with the first stage in Senegal, the day before what had to be a triumphant arrival back home in Dakar. "I'm angry and so sad... if it had happened in Mauritania like last year or even in Portugal, I would have accepted it, but there is only one day left to Dakar."
One after the other, the privateers with no assistance, the very supportive family of unassisted bikers, came to support him in his despair: the Tilliette father and daughter, Mauritania's Soueid, Yannick Guyomarc'h... That same family that had allowed him to start stage 13 between Kayes and Tambacounda. The night before, there were 15 of them working on his machine. 15 including the man in charge of assistance with Yamaha, woken up in the middle of the night to dismantle and reassemble the engine and repair the damn oil leak. Work went on till the early morning hours allowing the man nicknamed 'Lune' (moon in French) to start the next day. "People helped out for nothing."
Indeed, trouble started in the first connection: "I had to disassemble the bike five times before starting again then I had a derogation to start the special stage despite my delay." Everything was going well up to CP1 (km 149), the biker even caught up on two of his competitors. "I stopped to get gas and was unable to start again. Dead battery. I had to kick for three hours. I was exhausted..."
The rest of the story is just crazy. An off-race van offered to tow him. He was headed for Tamba but on a leash. After a few km, Alioune had the misfortune of hitting a tree. The reslt was a broken steering. So he decided -- which is not overly by the book -- to load his bike in the van. Based on the principle of "what you can't see, you can't judge", the biker kept going incognito. But the race marshals soon realized due to the Iritrack system that bike 153 was indeed moving but on its flank... damn technology. Obviously, Sarr was excluded from the race. End of story... "I've had problems end to end. I haven't slept in 5 days... all of my friends are waiting for me at Lac Rose", explains the 26-year old with tears in his eyes.
Alioune must respect the decision of the marshals. Eventually his tears were be replaced by a wide smile at the sight of his friend Anne-Charlotte Tilliette getting the fair-play award at the last briefing of the Dakar... A smile that never came off Lune's face despite all his misfortunes in the rally.