From taped enduro tests to the wide open deserts of Saudi Arabia to finish as the highest placed rookie at Dakar Rally, Jaume Betriu explains his switch to rallies, future plans and racing alongside Laia Sanz.
Following a path that more and more enduro riders have taken in recent years, Jaume Betriu switched from racing taped special tests to big bikes, high speeds and hours in the desert for the 2020 Dakar Rally.
It was a switch that paid off big time with Betriu claiming the coveted best rookie award and 14th place overall. That was some going on your first dakar but EnduroGP, ISDE and Spanish national trophies under his belt it should come as no surprise.
We caught Jaume back home in Spain to get an insight into how his 2020 Dakar race went in Saudi Arabia, what lies ahead for him and what it meant to share the experience with his partner, Laia Sanz.
Congratulations first of all, 14th place and best rookie is some ride! Did you arrive in Saudi thinking you could finish that high up the order and take the rookie class?
Jaume Betriu: My initial goal was to make it to the finish line and learn as much as I could. It’s a really long race and all my mates, especially Laia, had told me to go with a clear head and to take it day by day. Before Dakar I had never raced against all those top-level riders so my objective was to make it to the finish line and learn as much as I could.
I knew that the riders in the rookie class were closer to my level, like Jamie McCanney with who I shared many years in Enduro. I took it with no pressure at the beginning but when I saw I was in the fight for it and that I had a good feeling on the bike and I was navigating good I did push to finish as best rookie. I rode a lot with Lorenzo Santolino, Joan Pedrero and Laia Sanz and it really helped me to get my rhythm right.
In the end Jamie McCanney was second, another enduro rider turned to rally, do you think enduro skills helped at this Dakar?
Jamie is also a really fast guy, he’s an Enduro World Champion. He had some trouble during the first week and I was able to make some time on him, but during the second week he posted some great results and managed to finish second, 10 minutes behind myself.
For sure having raced enduro helps a lot when you swap to rally, I think it really helps building the right mindset. You’re used to long days on the saddle, changing terrain, knowing when to push and went to back off the throttle and that’s essential in rally because you can't go all out for the whole stage.
Also, the roadbook training and Laia’s advice have helped me a lot in order to know when to attack and when to stay calm.
Did you have any major dramas with your bike or with navigation or was it all plane sailing?
Luckily, I didn’t have any trouble with my KTM, my mechanic, Marc Padros, did an awesome job taking care of the bike during the rally. I did get lost for half an hour once but as I saw afterwards nearly everyone had the same problem, it’s part of the game.
In some other occasions if I missed a note or took a wrong turn I was fast in correcting those errors. There were a lot of tracks where you had to keep really focus in following the right CAP, but as the days went on I managed to find the right way faster.
I remained really focused on the roadbook for the whole rally, especially on the dangers and that aspect of it. I think is the most important one, sometimes even more than the directions.
How much experience do you have with roadbooks and do you find them easy to ride and read at the same time?
If I’m honest when I’m going flat out it is still a difficult thing for me, I have to back off the throttle for a bit every time I read the roadbook.
I had done quite a lot of roadbook training this year plus two races in Morocco where navigation was really important. That really helped to get it right during the Dakar. I also trained quite a lot with Laia so I could learn the way she does it.
I did some extra training in Morocco and I also attended Jordi Villadom’s training centre in Igualada (Spain). I listened to all the advice they gave me and it probably turned out easier than I thought.
As a rookie I was expecting to get lost more often but now, with the new rules, the roadbook has a lot of information on it, plus it’s also pre-coloured so we just have to add some personal notes.
During the first week the navigation wasn’t very hard but you had to stay really concentrated on the right part of the roadbook, which is the most important one. I think I got better as the days went on and I was feeling confident reading the roadbook.
Did the new roadbooks from ASO work well do you think and does it help “levelling the playing field”?
From my point of view and from what I had heard from other riders it does, most of them are really happy with this new system. Sometimes you got the roadbook minutes before the stage, but even when you got it in the afternoon you didn’t have that much time to work on it.
Completing a long stage plus then spending three hours working on the roadbook to go to sleep and wake up at four in the morning wasn’t easy I guess. This year I was able to recover properly after the stages thanks to the new system. It also levels the field as everyone has the same information.
By all accounts the stages were really quite different sometimes even in one day, how much did it change and how did you have to adapt to conditions and adapt as a rider?
There have been some stages where you had to get the riding right as the terrain changed a lot during the stages, but as I said before, enduro helps a lot with it. Specially on the days where the terrain was rocky and sandy, even if I was starting a little bit back and riding in dust, I was really confident. They were more like enduro days than rally for me.
I also remember a day where we had to ride in sand and camel grass for a long time and the fitness from enduro really helped there. The first week that was mainly like this and I did really well because it was more technical riding than going flat out.
During the second week everything got faster, we had some days riding dunes but not a lot and it was mainly during the morning, I guess the organization wanted everyone to make it to the bivouac. Next year they’ll know the country better so I hope the whole rally is more like the first week, it’s a shared feeling that all the riders I spoke with felt the same.
How did you find the long days – those days when you have to travel hundreds of kilometres from the early morning just to arrive to start the special?
We even did a 370km liaison one day before getting to the start of the special stage! There have been a couple of days like those where we had to do a lot of kilometres early in the morning. I used them to focus on the special and I listened to music during the liaisons to make them easier going.
I normally rode in a group with the riders that set off in front or after for nearly every liaison so it wasn’t that bad. Actually, when the liaisons were after the special they were more tiring because you all you want to do is make it to the bivouac.
What were the best moments riding? The terrain or particualr awesome peice of riding in Saudi?
I remember the first week especially, the terrain was incredible and we rode in some amazing canyons, mainly in the area around Neom, but the best moments for me have been the ones I rode with Laia.
We rode together in some stages and I have great memories. I remember a day when she beat me, she finished just in front of me, and we were riding just some meters apart and I could see her looking back to me and smiling because he had beat me.
When she got to the finish she just told me “I beat you today” and it made me really happy because she was coming from a tough first week with some crashes, it was an emotive moment.
Also just meeting her after the stages, we used to wait for each other at the end of the specials. Sometimes you don’t remember the stage but those moments when you see the person you love are always there.
So you will be back for more? What is next? Back to enduro or more rallies in 2020? Are KTM Factory team sending you WhatsApp messages?
Being back at the Dakar is my objective for sure. I’m willing to learn more and to get more Dakars under my belt because it has really captivated me.
I’ll do more rally races during the year because it’s the best way to get ready for it and I’ll also race the Spanish Enduro Championship with KTM Spain because it’s a great training ground.
It helps with everything, from building up your fitness and technique to having the right mindset and adapting to the changing conditions. If I can I won't stop racing enduro, it’s a passion for me.
I haven’t heard from the Factory Team but the KTM Spain has been sending support messages during the whole race and Marc Coma was always willing to talk with me once the stage was finished. All my sponsors have been really supportive, I hope we can close up the plans for this year in the following weeks.
Lastly, what about Laia? It is a remarkable achievement to finish 10 Dakars straight which no other Spanish racer has done – there are some big, big riders in that list...
She’s a beast and she really is a master of the Dakar. She knows when to push and when to back off. She’s an inspiration for me really, finishing 10 Dakars straight is nothing easy.
She was really happy because last year she wasn’t able to train as she wanted so this year everything went the right way for her and she was really looking forward to race it.
The first week was really good for her, even if she had a fall and was a little sore, but then the flat-out style second week didn’t suit her really. She would have loved to have a second week that had the same style as the first one.
Her objective is always to make it to the top 15 and she couldn’t match it this year but she was more than happy to finish her 10th straight Dakar and I’m more than happy to have share it with her on and off the race.
Photo Credit: Enduro21/Andrea Belluschi + Rally Zone + ASO/DPPI Igor AguadoEnduro21 Junior EditorIgor.firstname.lastname@example.org