Dakar: Face to Face, day 12

Face to face January 11, 2006 moto Frans Verhoeven (n°15) He has a smile to die for. Bright enough to appear in a television advert for toothpaste. With this face of a winner, anyone would trust him with his or her daughter. Frans Verhoeven,...

Face to face
January 11, 2006

moto Frans Verhoeven (n°15)

He has a smile to die for. Bright enough to appear in a television advert for toothpaste. With this face of a winner, anyone would trust him with his or her daughter. Frans Verhoeven, a modest businessman who resides on the Belgian-Dutch border, more than just turned heads last year: top rookie --16th overall- and winner of the Super Production 450cc class. Not too shabby when you realise that when he arrived in Barcelona he didn't even know how to use a GPS system.... The star of a drooling press, the privateer rider of the Yamaha Holland team, 39-years of age, turned up this year in Lisbon with new ambitions, to do better. Except that...

Frans chose to recount his " small misadventures" under a zéguéné -- a wild tree of the Sahel nation-, planted in the middle of the Kayes bivouac, the first of two Malian stages. The heat is stifling, he drinks like there is no tomorrow, he catches his breath and he goes for it: "I rode well just until Quarzazate. I was in the top 20, I love the rocks". It was on this type of terrain that the Dutch trial champion often trained with Richard Sainct, a neighbour of his former mechanic from Saint-Afrique. " On the Tan-Tan special, my gearbox became stuck 45km from the finish. I thought that the Dakar was over for me. After a long hour of waiting, my team mate Marcel Van Drunen turned up and he towed me to the end of the stage. We didn't stop falling..." The next morning, he suffered burns to his feet when petrol leaking from his tank pierced his boots. Before knowing that, on the following stage, a new gearbox incident forced him to ride at 50km/h for nearly 200 kilometres.

After falling to around 30th in the overall standings, his lone objective is to now make it to Lake Rose. But it will be a long time before he forgets the drama that unfolded before his very eyes on the special stage from Nouakchott to Kiffa. "It's possible it was a riding error. I saw Andy speed by; he overtook us flat out on the right side and off the track. He crashed a few hundred metres later. Even though the circumstances of the accident are not the same, this drama reminds me of when Meoni died. It was on the way to Kiffa, here as well. I rode in the leading group and I saw the helicopter land near Fabrizio's bleeding body..." Frans lost his smile. His thoughts are first with the family of the two stricken bikers, like the entire Dakar family. And he politely sneaks off under the burning sun.

moto De-ter-min-ed !
Victor Rivera (n° 39)

Imagine a young man a bit lymphatic, lanky and somewhat shy. Visualize him with a slightly old bike. The same with which he completed the 2005 Dakar with barely two or three sponsors. Here, you have, perhaps, one of the future winners of the event. It is at least the career goal that Victor, age 23, is pursuing. He lives in Caspe, 100kms from Zaragoza. With his father, they run a small transport business. Cherries and peaches, as well as a local Adidas factory, suffice to bring economic life to this out of the way region. Victor is right at home, and it is from there that, with little fuss, he has set off to conquer the world. Two Dakars under his belt with one fine result. Last year he finished 32nd. His strong point? His mastery of navigation. "On one stage of the 2005 Pharaohs Rally, I was the only one to have read the road book. As everyone else got it wrong the stage was cancelled."

When he speaks, he extends his long legs and his beanpole look. He always takes his time to find the right word. Then he lets silence take over. Victor has nothing to sell. He doesn't have the time. He is too methodical for any of that. "On the Dakar, I finish. I take a shower. I eat. I study the road book. I sleep. On the smaller rallies I sometimes take the afternoon to study the track. Without realising it I memorize the entire route. On the Dakar, it's something different."

He could try to make himself known in the large Dakar community in order to finally compete with coherent means. " That is what I need", he says. To be signed by a professional team, but I don't have a single contact," he explains.

He is armed with just his willingness and a steadfast confidence: "I do what I know how to do and each time the results get better". Since the start of the 2006 Dakar, he has consistently finished in the top 25. "I continue to gain experience and then, yes, I race".

In an environment where the goal is to participate, Victor, thinks of winning. " It's the event that has the biggest impact", he explains, suddenly concerned with glory. Victor's personal raid towards winning the Dakar began when he was 21 years old. On his third participation, the Aragonés rider still clearly assumes his goal: one day, win the Dakar. Sometimes, the greatest stories begin like this.


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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Richard Sainct , Frans Verhoeven