Biking is a team sport... The favorites in the race put all chances on their side to get to the finish line. In order to shelter them from mechanical problems on the track, they call on other champions to help them and become their... support ...
Biking is a team sport...
The favorites in the race put all chances on their side to get to the finish line. In order to shelter them from mechanical problems on the track, they call on other champions to help them and become their... support riders.
A Dakar victory is something that must be built around a prominent athlete with a good dose of talent and a top physical condition. But it is also built upon many little details that sometimes prove to be decisive. In the logistics developed by a biker to aim for victory, the said biker must be supported by one or two other riders who will be able to keep up with him and give up their own personal interests in case their leader needs a hand with repairs or a spare part. Being such a support rider is the mission Henk Knuiman has been entrusted with this year in the shadow of title holder Marc Coma: "The difficulty is to ride fast enough to be close to him; he is very fast! Normally, Jordi Viladoms was his top support rider but he withdrew. So I took over. For instance, I was useful on stage 5 where Marc received the wheel from Luca Manca because I then gave my wheel to Luca," explains Knuiman.
In such circumstances, the hand given by a support rider can be decisive. Cyril Despres, double Dakar winner, has - however - a much broader vision of the role of his "assistant"! "As a matter of fact, when I won in 2005, I did not have any support rider because Fabrizio Meoni had had an accident and Jean Brucy had fallen too. And in 2007 Frans Verhoeven was riding with me but he fell trying to win a stage. As time goes by, I realize that it is pretty hard to find a good rider who can put himself at the service of a leader. In my career, the only two I have seen do that where Jean Brucy, for Richard Sainct and Jordi Viladoms, for Marc Coma. This year, I think that with Ruben I found someone who is really reliable and has a good philosophy."
Newly recruited by Despres, Portuguese rider Ruben Faria did not have to intervene much but he was in the right place at the right time. In stage 8, the leader in the general standings had reached mid-stage with two seriously-damaged wheels. Faria who was doing well in the stage stopped to give his wheel to Despres so that the latter could keep going in the best possible conditions till the end of the stage: " I don't know how much time he avoided me to lose there because the wheels might have held. But it would have been between three minutes and three hours. A support rider is essential when you fight for every minute to get to victory. Presently, I can say that I am more serene when I start each stage. But all in all, the help of a support rider happens 70% at the bivouac and 30% on track", says Cyril, who mainly emphasizes the moral support of a support rider.
In this particular field, Despres might have found a rare gem. Two-time stage winner in the Dakar, Faria had not found any funding to participate in the 2010 edition until a phonecall from Despres changed it all three weeks before the start of the rally raid: "He called me on a Sunday; I had already drawn the final curtain on the Dakar. Ten minutes later I was already onto my new objective: help Cyril win the raid. And the next day, I landed at his place in Andorra so we could get down to work." Used to riding for himself, Ruben is nevertheless true to his mission. The ease with which he IS a support rider is very much due to his sports education and his entourage: "I often train with professional cyclist from a team in my home region. Actually, one of my best friends is the "pilotfish" of a sprinter. He spent his career working to make his leader win; he is a great teammate. I see myself doing the exact same thing for a few years as well. What I love in life, is to ride a bike. If Cyril wins, it will be as if I had won myself."