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!
After a relatively quiet summer of racing for the 2012 Dakar Rally winner, Cyril Despres is getting back into race mode again. Following his dominant win in the Desafio Litoral Rally in Argentina at the end of July, Cyril is gearing up for his final Dakar Rally shakedown by contesting the Oilibya Rally in the deepest sand dunes of Morocco.
It’s been a busy time for Cyril as he takes time away from his hectic racing schedule to write his book 4X Dakar to help fund the Fabrizio Meoni Foundation. Here Cyril explains how he became involved with the school in the Dakar suburbs…
When I discuss training methods with other riders it seems the most popular way of preparing for races is to spend hours on the bike, getting through endless tanks of fuel. Personally, that’s never been my thing. In early November, in the run up to the Dakar, we always have a last shake down before everything gets shipped off to South America and then I literally don’t touch a bike until I ride my 450 Rally into scrutineering at the beginning of January.
Clearly some people think I am winding them up when I tell them this, but it is the absolute truth. For me fitness has always been the most important factor and I spend many hours in the gym, often at altitude and also on a static bike and cross country skiing, which where I live in Andorra, is as simple as walking out the door and clipping a pair of skis on!
Apart from being, in my opinion, the best form of preparation for an event as gruelling as the Dakar, it also means that you don’t get saturated and are actually happy to climb aboard the saddle come race day. The other advantage is that it reduces the risk of a pre-race injury – unless of course you have a fall while skiing, as I did just before the recent first round of the rally-raid world championships in Abu Dhabi…
It wasn’t a big fall and at first I thought I’d got away with it but when my right shoulder began to seize up I decided to head down to Presport in Perpignan to consult my doctor, who promptly pronounced me ‘out of action for 3 weeks’ with damaged ligaments.
Of course injuries are an occupational hazard of any professional sportsman and given how long I’ve been competing I have been extremely lucky. This is the first time I have missed a major competition due to injury and I have only failed to finish one Dakar, back in 2002, when I went out with a dislocated hip.
I am also lucky that I’m not trying to win any championships, so there’s no pressure for me to race before I am fully fit. For me the Dakar is by far the biggest priority and as long as I’m ok for that neither KTM nor any of my sponsors put any pressure on me to rush to get ready for another race. And it is surely for this reason that I am still in pretty good physical shape. I have some mates who raced at high level in moto-x or enduro who are younger than me and you can almost hear them creaking when they get out of a chair, whereas I’m pretty much aches and pain free.
Instead of racing on the Desert Challenge I’ve been busy with the doctor and the physiotherapist regaining flexibility and strength in my shoulder. It isn’t a lot of fun but it is vitally important, as I know the effort I put in now will pay dividends for years to come.
Happily it hasn’t stopped from taking part in my next competitive outing. The main reason I can do it is because it is a car race, the Tour Auto Optic 2000 to be precise, which I will be competing in with a rather tasty 1972 Corvette C3R that puts out a tyre shredding 550 bhp! The format is a little like an enduro in that you have a liaison and about 3 specials a day, some on closed road and others on circuits. Last year we had a lot of mechanical problems and spent some of the 5 days on the back of a truck, so this time I’m hoping to do a little better. As the car has been provided by one of my main sponsors, Maison France Comfort the most important thing however is not to bend it!
I’ll let you know how I get on…
Hello and welcome to my first column for enduro21.com. I’ve known the guys behind the site for a long time now so when they asked me to write something for them on a regular basis I was happy to oblige. I’ll try and keep it interesting and hopefully give you an insight into the life of a rally-raid rider both on and off the piste.
One of the big misconceptions is that between Dakars us rally riders are sitting at home twiddling our thumbs. And while it is true that we aren’t racing every weekend, we’re nevertheless kept pretty busy. For example ever since I got back from South America I have been flat out and only spent three weekends at home!
The first thing you need to do when the Dakar is over – especially if you win it – is a load of press and TV interviews. I spent one whole day at home, after getting off the plane from Lima, before heading up to Paris to embark of a three day tour of all the different magazines, TV sports channels etc. I think in English you say something like ‘making hay when the sun shines’.
Then after that I went to visit my sponsors. I am very lucky in that I have had the same partners for a number of years now. When the financial crisis came they all stuck by me and I am really grateful to them for that, so of course I want to share my victory with them. You might think that it is purely a financial relationship, but you’d be wrong. All the people who sponsor me I consider my friends. Without them I won’t be able to spend all the time I do training and preparing for the Dakar and wouldn’t be able to remain competitive.
I also went to see all the people who help me prepare for the race. I have a trainer here in Andorra but I also regularly go to a centre called Presport in Perpignan where the town’s rugby team trains. And I also spend at least a week every year at the Red Bull Diagnostic and Training Centre in Austria. It’s super hi-tech and looks like something out of a James Bond movie but they really know their stuff.
And once I’d seen everybody in Europe I went off to the capital of Senegal, Dakar to visit the school I support there. I’ve been helping them out since 2005 and it is something that is really important to me. The school is in a poor suburb of the town and life is hard. Yet despite this the people are kind and friendly and the kids are so keen to learn. It is really a good way for me to keep things in perspective and remember what is important in life. Since I have got back from there I have been working on a ‘coffee table’ book celebrating my four victories. All the proceeds will go to the school and if it is a success it should allow us to expand a little, take on some more teachers and children and ensure the school’s future for a couple of years. I’ll be sure to let you know when the book is out and how to buy a copy! In the meantime however I’m finally off on holiday with my fiancée and our daughter. I’ll speak to you again in a couple of weeks.
All the best