First of all, many apologies for not having written another column sooner. Although I haven’t done many races this year I haven’t been sitting around the house twiddling my thumbs, I have actually been very busy. Thanks to the Dakar’s notoriety I have spent quite a lot of time travelling on behalf of partners and sponsors, but by far the largest chunk of my time has been spent down the gym working on my fitness. Experience and maturity are crucial factors in putting together a Dakar victory, so you don’t necessarily need to be out racing every weekend to be able to win it, but without an extremely high level of physical preparation you have absolutely no chance - and chance is something I like to keep to an absolute minimum.
Most of my training in done at home in Andorra with my trainer Joel and is a mix of aerobic fitness using a static bike, swimming and strength exercises. What we are looking for is sufficient endurance to be able to maintain peak performance throughout the 14 days racing and explosive power for the crucial moments in the race when you need to attack hard in order to pull out an advantage. Living at an altitude of about 1500 metres is obviously an advantage, especially as much of the Dakar is also run well above sea level. In addition I am lucky to have the Andorran ski station GRANDVALIRA as one of my sponsors and they put aside a gym area for me at 2500 metres. And I tell you working out at that kind of altitude really gets the heart pumping!
In addition to training at home I also use the facilities at the excellent PreSport centre in Perpignan, ‘just’ down the mountain. It is a specialist training centre used by all sorts of top athletes, including the Perpignan rugby team, and I have just spent a week there doing various fitness tests just to make sure that everything I have been doing at home is going in the right direction. Overall it seems that my hard work has paid off, although they did pick up on a couple of areas where I need to modify my training regime, and with over two months to the start of the Dakar I have plenty of time to make the necessary corrections.
If all that wasn’t enough I also use the facilities at James Bondesque Red Bull training centre tucked away in the Austrian mountains. That really is a hi-tech establishment, with an incredibly high ratio of staff to athletes and some very sophisticated equipment on hand.
Of course I still need to enter a rally every so often just to keep my navigation skills sharp, test my bike and the check out the competition, and this year I raced the new Dakar Series event in South America, Le Desafio Litoral, and the recent Rallye du Maroc. Happily I won both of these races, which suggests that both my bike and I are still on the pace, all of which are good omens for next January.
That isn’t to say I am over-confident – far from it. For a start it is clear that the competition is hotting up considerably. At the Morocco rally there were five official teams and over 18 factory riders – something not seen on a rally for quite a number of years – and they were all there like me preparing for the Dakar. Obviously the other thing you have to keep in mind is that just by virtue of the distances involved and sheer length of the event, the Dakar is a race apart. It is what makes it the greatest off-road motorcycle race in the world. And the challenge of trying to win it is what motivates me to spend all those hours in the gym!