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Revolving racer – Rod Faggotter

Rod Faggotter: One day I was ripping up a dune in Peru with my eye on a top-20 finish and the next day I was back home running my shop in Longreach (Centretune Motorcycles). That’s the Dakar for you and it takes a while to come back down to earth as you deal with the numb feeling of not finishing.

I’ve had three mechanical failures over my years of competing and this year mechanical failures took out quite a few of the leading riders. The huge dunes were a big talking point this year with commentators and while they looked pretty insurmountable I found the short, choppy sand hills harder to deal with.

I’ve had a lot of experience in big sand dunes in previous Dakars, as well as in Morocco, and I like the big stuff. You see them from a long way away so can build up speed in fourth and fifth gear. Because the dunes have been formed for a long time their surface is harder. Getting to the top is exhilarating and the views spectacular!

The short, choppy stuff is very taxing. You’re in a low gear and doing a lot of work to not go very far. Both rider and engine get very hot.

The broken dunes are what caught out the rally leader on the last day. Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna) was a minute down from Toby Price and put it all out there to win. At the speed he was carrying he wouldn’t have seen the dip ahead until he was on top of it. And at that time of the day the direction of the sunlight would have given the impression of clear sand ahead.

In the TV footage you can see him braking hard but then trying to keep the front end up. It’s a crash that could happen to anyone in the Dakar who’s not putting around in first and second gear.

To race successfully in the Dakar you have to balance endurance with speed. That’s why you don’t see many 18-year-olds racing in it. The riders are mainly in their late 20s and 30s and have desert-racing experience coupled with endurance training.

When I first got involved with the Dakar my training was mainly long, three- to four-hour rides in the bush by myself. I soon realised that shorter, high-intensity riding backed up by cardio, cross fit and assault bike training was the way to go.

This year I built up to the Dakar with a second placing in the five-day Sunraysia Rally out the back of Wentworth in NSW. Then I joined the Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally Team for a week of testing in Morocco. It took 58 hours of travel to get there while my teammates just flew over from Europe!

After finishing last year’s Dakar in 16th and the first Yamaha rider home, I was really looking forward to this year’s event. I had a good, clean run in Stage 1, mainly riding by myself to finish 29th. The next day we started after the cars, which had torn up the track, leaving dust and nasty bumps. I was feeling a bit flat with a head cold but ignored that and rode on the limit for four hours to maintain my position.

I was feeling good about Stage 3, but it all ended when a mechanical issue stopped me in the dunes. It was a huge disappointment as I felt I had got into a good rhythm of riding, was up to 12th by the last waypoint and on my way to a top-20 finish overall, which was my minimum goal. By the time I got back to the bivouac it had been a 20-hour day.  Nothing compares with the challenge of punching out 800km a day over mainly uncharted country. The terrain and landscape in Peru was amazing. So were the spectators who set up camp in the most unlikely places to cheer the riders on.

So the Dakar is over but I’ll be back!

By Rod Faggotter