Dakar: Portraits of the Day 2007-01-16

Euromilhoes Dakar 2007 Portraits of the Day Tuesday, January 16, 2007 The Vulliet family: Brothers on the Dakar! There are fathers and sons, even fathers and daughters racing on this Dakar, but undoubtedly the record for family participation...

Euromilhoes Dakar 2007 Portraits of the Day
Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Vulliet family: Brothers on the Dakar!

There are fathers and sons, even fathers and daughters racing on this Dakar, but undoubtedly the record for family participation in the 2007 is held by the three Vulliet brothers -- Regis, Francois and Etienne.

Explains Francois, "We have always been mad about the Dakar and used to watch it together on the TV. I am not very tall and so thought it would be impossible to enter, but then about 15 years ago I saw Cyril Neveu getting on the boat at Marseille and realised that he was no bigger than me. From that moment on, I was determined to enter the race one day." He and older brother Etienne achieved that dream two years ago but neither made to the end, Etienne broke his foot, while Francois cracked his shoulder blade. Regis meanwhile couldn't make it as he was busy building his house.

So for 2007 they decided to all come back together, on nearly identical 450 Yamahas, the only difference being Francois' seat, that has virtually all its foam cut out so he can get his feet somewhere near the ground. And after successfully making it to the rest day they were feeling confident about getting to the final finish - until Regis broke his gearbox on the Atar -- Tichit stage. Francois again, "he was very tired on the rest day and decided not to change his engine." Myself and Francois however are going ok. The only problem we had on the way to Tichit was a leaking fuel tank on Etienne's bike. So we have been filling my bike up to the brim and sharing the petrol between us." That's brotherly love for you!

Mirjam Pol: "Get to Dakar, yes... but with my bike!"

At the bivouac in Tichit, there were still six of them. 100% success rate so far for the women in the bike race. And amongst the 174 competitors in the race there is a certain Mirjam Pol.

When she first participated in 2006 the Dutchwoman finished second in the women's category and 80th in the overall rankings. This year, Mirjam, 23 years old, could do even better. Ranking 44th in Tichit, this young sports teacher has had her ups and downs since leaving Lisbon. "In Europe, I managed to stay in the top 100 but at the end of the marathon stage in Foum Zguid, I started running a fever and it got worse the next day." Add to it a badly twisted ankle during the stage to Zouerat: "I landed badly after a jump and twisted my right ankle. I thought it would be ok but the pain woke me up in the middle of the night."

With her ankle tightly strapped, the strong Dutchwoman keeps going towards Dakar, her goal. "I don't care about my ranking or about the other women in the race. I know that Ludivine Puy and Annie Seel are better than me", she admits looking at the rankings and the gap between her and the Frenchwoman. During the stage to Atar, Mirjam would have deserved a fair-play award when she stopped to give Annie Seel some gas, additional evidence that the Swede is not a rival at all.

The female biker knows that she's still learning on the Dakar but has already achieved the respect of others. "Last year in the Netherlands people were laughing when I decided to do it. Then they were surprised to see me reach the rest day. This year, it's almost normal if I'm still there. I now have to keep going till Dakar without taking risks and I must take care of my bike. The aim is not to be in Dakar, it's to get to Dakar with my bike..."

Rob Deckers: "I will come back in a truck"

Rob just got to Tichit. He just completed 589 km of special stage alone in Mauritania. Behind the victory is tiredness almost as big as the stage from Atar was. "It's too hard", he says. Standing in front of his KTM 525, a hat down to his ears, he seems lost. It's 10 PM and Rob Deckers is asking for a helping hand. His fingers numb and swollen can't even untie his road book. The bike is fine but his moral is low. The Dutchman summarizes the stage in a few sentences. "I did the last 120 km in the sand. It was night. I was doing 40km/h. It was very long and just too hard. I'm 42..." Rob lights up a cigarette and lets his stare slip away. The noise of bikers arriving or working on their engines won't touch him. The turmoil of the privateers with no assistance on this night after a marathon stage is so far away from him. Rob draws on his cigarette and tells the story. "I came to the Dakar in 2005. At stage six, I fell in the dunes and a car fell on the back of my bike. My ribcage was crushed. I could finish because the bivouac was just 60km away. But I had to withdraw the next day and it took me three months to recover."

After this first attempt, he came back this year. To finish and get it out of his system. "It's a big fight for me and at my age, it's too much risk. I will finish, out of pride and to put an end to the project, but a bike in the Dakar, that's over." Rob Deckers might win his personal bet but this Dakar will have won over him. This is the paradox of a race out of this world. But Rob just can't face a future without Africa or adventure. Living in Meerle in Belgium, he manages an import-export truck company. So he now intends to get back to what he knows best. "I will race again but in a truck. It's less risky and more of a second nature to me." 22h30, in the dark and starry night of Tichit, Nr 135 is headed slowly to the catering bivouac. Thoughtful, he is already elsewhere.

Nuno Mateus: "Getting to Dakar to party in Albufeira"

Years go by and each one is almost similar to the previous one for Nuno. In Tichit we find him working franticly on his light blue bike sponsored by his region -- Algarve -- and his home town of Albufeira with Pedro Bianchi Prata. This other Portuguese biker has already finished the stage and working on his bike and he is helping Nuno out for a wheel change. Helping one another is not a hollow word on the Dakar and Nuno knows it better than the rest. With his short brown hair and his small size and brisk stature, he smiles at his misfortunes of last year. "Yes, it's true. I withdrew because I did not want to leave my countryman Ricardo Pina alone in the dunes even if my bike was still doing ok. But earlier in the day, we had helped Ruben Faria go on by giving him the spare parts of our bikes."

This time around the 34-year old civil engineer is on the side of those being helped. "It's my turn", he says with a wink. In this Atar -- Tichit stage, it all started with an electrical problem between two WPs of the special stage. "My fuses were faulty and a competitor stopped to give me some spares." Now he just changed his wheel and to remove the bag that he used to hold the bike during the operation it's the Czech biker who just set his tent right next to him who's coming to the rescue. The wheel has really turned for the best with Nuno. Before the start, sponsors volunteered to support the Algarve team which allowed him to afford true assistance. Then biking is a real virus for Nuno. Endurance Champion of Portugal in 1994 than number two champion in 1997, he finished 6th again this year in the same championship. "I want to get to Dakar and have a big party back home in Albufeira". Still a team player, Nuno will never change...

-credit: dakar.com

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Series Dakar
Drivers Ruben Faria , Nuno Mateus , Ricardo Pina , Pedro Bianchi Prata