It is that point of the yr when rallyists spend most of their waking time crouching over their bikes, traversing huge stretches of land to arrange for their final check—the Dakar. Scheduled between January 3-15, the world’s most celebrated rally raid can be held for the second successive yr in Saudi Arabia after spending 11 years in South America.
CS Santosh too has been coaching within the Iberian Peninsula for the final 5 months to compete in what can be his seventh Dakar. His return to the 2-week lengthy rally can be an emotional one. After his profession-finest end of thirty fourth within the 2018 version, the 37-yr-outdated Indian crashed out with a concussion the next yr. But tragedy struck in Dakar 2020 when his Hero MotoSports teammate Paulo Goncalves died in an accident through the seventh stage between Riyadh and Wadi Al-Dawasir. Consequently, Hero pulled out of the occasion. Santosh’s problem can be to work with the emotions from earlier this yr earlier than driving off within the filth.
“It was a difficult time for the whole team (to get back together). We’ve all had our share of ups and downs,” Santosh mentioned over a video name from Spain. “What happened this year is something we didn’t expect, it came as a big shock. It’s never easy. It’ll definitely bring back a lot of memories when we go back to Saudi. It was the start of a new chapter for all of us. We did what we could to move forward. But I’m happy to see the team back together and working to go back.”
The Bengaluru-born accomplished three of his first 4 Dakars, and this time too, ending is the first goal.
“Every year we have renewed goals but with the Dakar it’s one consistent goal: make it to the finish and see all my teammates there. That will be an incredible Dakar for me. Every year you’re able to gain a little more speed and experience so I know I can expect to do much better,” he mentioned.
In view of the continuing pandemic, the Road to Dakar—a sequence of rallies previous the large-ticket occasion—was comparatively shorter. Multiple occasions—Merzouga, Morocco, Silk Way, Desert Storm—had been both cancelled or postponed. With restricted races and alternatives to coach, Santosh’s preparations have been hampered.
“Usually we spend a lot of time in Morocco (for sand dunes), we do quite a few rallies in the year so that we know what to expect in the Dakar. Of course, we would have liked to spend more time on the bike, in the desert, do some races. We could not do any of those. I can’t say this was ideal but given all of those restrictions we did a fairly good job of getting as much time as possible,” mentioned Santosh.
The rally shifting from South America to West Asia has additionally introduced its personal set of challenges, one thing which Santosh couldn’t utterly grasp because of the untimely withdrawal of the workforce from Dakar 2020. South America was full of individuals cheering on the contributors—like within the Tour de France. But Saudi was lonely with the riders crossing huge stretches of desert on their very own.
“Saudi was very different compared to South America which had huge terrain variation. But Saudi had its own challenges. It’s a massive desert. It was a really fast race so that’s what we take away from this year,” mentioned Santosh. “In South America because of varying temperatures you’d have more of a fatigue because you’ll have really hot days followed by really cold days. In Saudi, temperatures are much cooler and it was definitely more suitable for the bikes, more enjoyable. In the mornings it is so cold that the body hurts but other than that I enjoyed the stages.”
This would be the forty third version of the Dakar, convening and culminating in Jeddah. The rally will see opponents travelling a complete of seven,646km of which 4,767km can be aggressive, divided into 12 phases.