It's only been two months since Michael Metge joined the ranks of Team HRC Rally and preparations for the first race are almost complete. Over recent weeks the French rider has been through a vigorous training regime, which will allow him to debut aboard the Honda CRF450 RALLY in Morocco.
Joining Joan Barreda, Paulo Goncalves and Jeremias Israel for the 2016 Dakar Rally, Metge is a relatively fresh face to the sport but one we're sure to learn more of next January…
As the newest member of the HRC Honda rally team, what's your background in the sport?
"I've been riding since I was four years old and I am lucky enough to have parents that had a fantastic plot of land where it was easy to train. My brother and I built a cross circuit using my dad's bulldozer. I started with the motocross championship then moved on to enduro and rode for various teams while working for the family business. Motorcycling was an amusement and a hobby. Gradually I was headed towards rally – it's always been in my blood. My father rode the Dakar six times and my cousin was heavily involved and ever since I was small I've dreamt about it too."
When and how was your first taste of the Dakar Rally?
"Three years ago I got to do my first Dakar with Yamaha thanks to a good finish of third in the Sardinia Rally. The following year I acted as Cyril Despres' water-carrier. It was an honour for me. Cyril is a great rally rider and to be at his side was incredible – I learnt a lot. I have never met anyone in the world of motorcycling as professional as he is."
What does rally mean to you?
"Rally, and the Dakar – which is the highest level of rally – is an adventure race. I started in motocross, but quickly moved to enduro because I loved the sense of adventure. The Dakar Rally is a greatest adventure."
How do you describe yourself as a rider?
"I don't know – I'd like to think of myself as a grafter. I've got to where I am without ever being given anything. I've made it this far by hard work and sheer effort. I'm proud of that. I try and ask myself every day how it is possible to get better, because there can be no resting once you've got into a good team. You've got to force yourself to be competitive."
How important is it to be mechanically minded for rally?
"Before doing rally I worked as a mechanic. And before that I was in the family car business in charge of the mechanics. This meant that I learnt a great deal. In fact, everything that I've done has come in useful: bike riding, mechanics, water-carrier. So, if I have to help my teammates out, I'm available."
You've put in a bit of mileage on the Honda CRF450 RALLY. How are you finding it?
"The initial feeling that I had was that it is easy to ride, very agile, easy to handle, light. Straight away I felt at ease on the bike. The engine is very efficient at low revs and is very powerful at the top end too. It's an easy yet very effective bike."
Now four years into rally do you feel comfortable with the navigation aspect of the sport?
"I'm need to keep working at it because I think that in rally there are riders who navigate really well and others who just follow the tracks – I want to be in the first group. My job will be to help Paulo and Joan, both of whom are really good at navigating, so I will do everything to keep learning, which is really important. Last year's Dakar wasn't very difficult for the navigation but I've got to keep pushing because the Dakar is an adventure and the navigation is so important. I'm lucky enough to have been given great advice by the rest of the team. Joan has trained me really well in Zaragoza and I will try to keep following Joan's inspiration."
Finally what are you expecting for the Dakar in 2016?
"Undoubtedly it will be a very full Dakar – very intense from the start. Also, there will be a lot of technical track in Bolivia. It will be very physical as it is every year. I hope that there will be a lot of technical stages, which is my cup of tea. Unfortunately Chile and Peru are not on the route but I prefer Argentina and its technical tracks."