Dakar conquered!

It was a big relief and a lot of weight was lifted off my shoulders. It was a surreal experience that I couldn’t believe.

K. P. Aravind after finishing the 2019 Dakar Rally.   -  Special Arrangement

It was a long road of recovery after I crashed out in the fifth stage of the 2018 Dakar Rally and broke my ankle. I couldn’t walk for six months. In a span of eight months, I had to undergo two surgeries for my injury in Bengaluru. After six months of rest and two months of physio, I finally got back on the bike for the PanAfrica Rally in September. But I got injured again. I had a navigational error, went down and dislocated my left wrist and fractured a bone called the scaphoid. After the PanAfrica injury, I thought I wouldn’t be able to compete in Dakar. I had to undergo a surgery in Morocco and the doctor told me it will take me six months to recover and be back on the bike. I didn’t have six months for Dakar.

But TVS Racing is more like family. I have been injured many times in the past and TVS has always been there by my side. They just asked me to take care, heal well and get back on the bike as soon as possible and in good shape. So I got back to France and consulted with my doctor there and decided to get another surgery done in two months to make the recovery time shorter. There was no holding back. The doctor gave the green light and the Sherco TVS factory team made the announcement for the Dakar line-up on the day of the surgery.

I tried to get as much strength and mobility as possible for the Dakar rally. It was definitely painful to ride, but this is what we are made for, this is what we train for. When you have a certain goal on your mind, you have to conquer it, come what may. I have been doing it for the longest time now. It wasn’t any different this time. It wasn’t even the worst injury I have had; I had been out of action for over a year with a hip injury once. I gave it all this time and we made the best out of what we had in hand. I have done Dakar before, so we knew what we had to do to prepare and how hard we had to work. I underwent rehabilitation and training simultaneously. Since it was just my hand that was hurt, I could still cycle, swim and train; my fitness level was really good.

As for the challenge, we knew what Peru had to offer. That’s the reason we went to Morocco before reaching Peru for the Dakar Rally. The whole rally is difficult. That is why we spend so much time on the bike and train. We trained ourselves well enough to be prepared for the situation we will be put in. I landed in Peru on January 3, with dreams of conquering Dakar for the first time.

Stage 1: Lima to Pisco

It was a consistent and a slow start. I wanted to see how I felt on the bike and to get my navigation in sync. It was a clean run.

Stage 2: Pisco to San Juan de Marcona

I got a lot more comfortable with the navigation; my flow was better. It was a better day than the first one.

Stage 3: San Juan de Marcona to Arequipa

We had a lot of visibility issues in the third stage and there was a lot of fesh-fesh (the Arabic term for sand that has eroded into very fine particles that have the consistency of talcum powder. This affects visibility as well as grip). About 70km into the stage, I had rear brake failure. That meant I had to do 260km without it. When you don’t have rear brake, you don’t go really too fast because there are a lot that can go wrong. You just ride slow, save yourself and get to the finish in the best way possible. That’s what I did. I just kept calm and kept on going. I did not commit any major mistakes. Just focused on the navigation and bring the bike back in good shape. That was really tiring.

Stage 4: Arequipa to Moquegua

Since I had brake failure in Stage 3, I lost a lot of positions. So I started behind a lot of slow guys and had to deal with a lot of dust. So I stayed comfortable in and did not really risk a crash. It was the most difficult stage because I couldn’t see really well and it was really dangerous. When you catch many riders together, you don’t really have a lot of pace and visibility to run around, so I had to ride under my level. It was the most tiresome stage.

Stage 5: Moquegua to Arequipa

It was a really good stage for me. I made a lot of passes and made up a lot of time. I climbed 20-25 places during the stage.

Stage 6: Arequipa to San Juan de Marcona

The Roadbook machine was not working, so I had to manually scroll down. That slowed me down and I couldn’t ride as fast as I could and I lost a lot a places. But that’s rally and that’s Dakar. You have to deal with all the elements that are thrown at you and make the best of the worst situations each day.

Stage 7: San Juan de Marcona

I had no major issues and was in the best of my flow.

Stage 8: San Juan de Marcona to Pisco

The rhythm was good, the navigation was good and we found all the hidden waypoints. I caught up with a few fast guys and stayed with them. After a while I could pass them because my flow was better. I climbed the most spots in this stage and touched the top 30. I think it was the highest position for me.

Stage 9: Pisco

The day started with a lot of fog and I couldn’t see much. But it then opened out to be a good dune stage and I charged well through the stage. But at the 170km mark, I had a regulator problem and lost 40 minutes trying to fix it. The thing about rallying is that you have to fix things on your own. You can’t have any other help. Maybe another competitor can help you, but you are on your own. I was stuck in the dune alone and I had to do it myself.

There are only few things we can fix and we know what they are. It is part of our preparations. When we train with the bike, we do most of the stuff ourselves. It is only when there is a major issue with the engine or major technical problems that we cannot solve that the mechanic steps in. Otherwise you are expected to do the job so that we are familiar when we get into rallies like this.

The regulator was among the easier things you can fix yourself. If there was something more complicated, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything. It’s game over. I should say I was lucky. I used another battery to charge it and finish the stage.

Stage 10: Pisco to Lima

If you let your emotions take over, then you wouldn’t be able to finish the rally. You can’t let these things play with your mind. That is when you pressure yourself with the goal. Until then I was dealing with it just one day at a time and not the rally as a whole. It was a short stage, but it felt long because I was counting every kilometre. I was having mixed emotions and felt a little stressed. I kept praying and praying to god that I don’t have any issues with the bike. Everything fell in place. I kept it together and finished it. I completed the Dakar Rally for the first time on my third attempt.

It was a big relief and a lot of weight was lifted off my shoulders. It was a surreal experience that I couldn’t believe. This year was the toughest challenge in the history of Dakar. Only 55 per cent of the entrants finished it. I could come to terms with that only a little while later. Since it was 70 per cent sand dunes, it was physically draining and mentally challenging. Hours and hours of cognitive and focus exercises helped. This time I was successful in consistently keeping it together more than any other time. I was definitely happy for myself and my team. And for my country.

 

As told to Anjana Senthil.