Five minutes catch-up with Ross Branch, the guy who wrote his name in Dakar Rally history books with a stage win during the 2020 event in Saudi Arabia.
Ross Branch pulled a surprise win on stage two of his second ever Dakar Rally. Before that, few people outside his native Botswana, with the exception of the South African off road scene, will have heard of Branch.
Experiencing the very highest of highs and lows of Dakar Rally, Ross Branch had made a name for himself in Saudi Arabia around the paddock as much as taking that surprise win.
Since then the fastest rookie at Dakar 2019 has had to swallow the bitter pills of this tough sport with a high-speed crash causing a painful shoulder injury before then mechanical issues of an epic proportion on stage six.
Much like the issues that hampered Toby Price on the same stage, Branch didn’t have a guardian angel to swap his back wheel with but he did feel the true spirit of Dakar pull him over the line with a whole heap of help from fellow competitors.
This catch-up with Branch was written on the rest day ahead of yesterday’s tragic stage seven.
It’s been a whirlwind week of unforgettable highs and heart-breaking lows. What is your head space like as you prepare to take on the second week of Dakar?
Ross Branch: My goals going forward are out of the question – I was personally hoping to get a top ten overall, which seems highly unlikely now. This is Dakar though, so anything can still happen. I would definitely like to have good stage results in the second week and get to the finish line of what has been a crazy Dakar Rally for me!
Until Monday, winning a stage at the Dakar was something you’d only dreamt of. Take us through what that experience was like...
It was a really strange stage for me! I hadn’t actually realised that I was in the lead until I crossed the finish line. There was a big board that told me my position for the day, and it said number one! That was definitely a goal when I got here – to try and get as close as I possibly can to a win. To actually pull it off is unreal!
Having experienced racing with the top riders in this sport, what are some of the biggest things you’re learning about what it takes to win this event?
The top guys have so much experience and many, many more years of Rally riding than I do. Every day I learn as much as I can riding with them and try take in all their Dakar ‘secrets’. This part of my career (riding with the top guys) is so much fun and I’m really enjoying it!
Stage six was your most challenging day so far (rear tyre issues which escalated to see him pushing, being towed, and ultimately finish the stage 2h:39m behind) what was it that pushed you to carry on instead of throwing the towel?
I don’t just have a country supporting me, I have a whole continent behind me! I don’t like letting people down, so that really pushed me to keep going when I felt like there was nothing left in the tank. I also kept thinking in the back of my mind that I’ve made it this far now, and I wasn’t prepared to let any of that go to waste. Going home will be a lot sweeter if I actually finish the race!
The last thing that kept me going was the idea of coming back next year. If I finish the second half of the race I’ll have a much better idea of what to expect in 2021 and feel a lot more prepared for it.
You’ve experienced an incredible Dakar community of riders that have helped you in your journey to this point. Did you expect that in a race where everyone is very much focused on their own, individual goals?
That’s the Dakar spirit – everyone is out there to help each other. Everyone is definitely chasing their own goal, but we’re all supporting each other in the ultimate goal of getting to the finish line. I never expected to be literally pushed across the finish line on one stage – it was really something special to experience.
What are you looking forward to most about the second half of the event?
I’m really looking forward to getting back on the bike and having fun. We’re heading into the sand now, which will be a lot more demanding on my injured shoulder than the hard-pack terrain has been. But there’s so much to learn, so I can’t wait to gain all the experience that I can as I already look towards Dakar 2021.
Keep up to date with Branch’s progress at Dakar on his Facebook page.Photo Credit: FotoP Jon PearsonEnduro21 Editor and Bike Testerjon.firstname.lastname@example.org