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Dakar Team GB: An Inspirational Story

When I was first introduced to the Dakar, I must admit it was something I’d heard of in passing, but didn’t actually know what it was in terms of the race, the location and popularity. However it only took a couple of minutes of research to appreciate the sheer magnitude of the event and the ridiculous amount of courage that these men and women have facing the 9000km of road, track and sand. Competitors compete on motorbikes, quad bikes, trucks and cars to push themselves to the most extreme mental and physical limits to achieve the glory of finishing the Dakar Rally.

The Dakar is run across 15 days which means up to 800km a day are ridden by these heroic endurance athletes. Although still known as the Dakar, the race is actually now ran across South America running through Peru, Argentina and Chile. This new route began in 2009 after the race had to be cancelled in 2008 as a result of Al Qaeda terrorist threats and the murder of four French Tourists in Mauritania in December 2007. The original race ran from Paris to Dakar, North Africa.

Since the re-birth of the Dakar race it is now bigger and better than ever before with more than 1 billion people watching the progress worldwide and 3rd most viewed sporting event after the Olympics and Football World Cup. Though as I mentioned, I was not familiar with the Dakar race, and it turns out I’m part of the majority here in the U.K. The reasons? Well, coverage for starters. Unlike other countries the coverage is at an absolute minimum comprising of only a small slot at the end of each of the 15 days on Eurosport. There are also very view competitors from the U.K, with only 4 British riders competing in 2012 (one of whom lives in Dubai.) Due to very little coverage it is hard to achieve sponsors, and without more riders it is hard to achieve more coverage, and without more coverage… well you catch my drift, it is a never ending cycle.

So for 2013 three men have joined forces to push for more P.R, more sponsorship, more coverage, more media and generally more interest in the Dakar. From their passion of the Dakar, Toby Younger, Jago Pickering and Stan Watt created Dakar Team GB- bringing together Team Desert Rose Racing and Team Frontrow. Eventually Dakar Team GB hope that bikes, quads, cars and trucks will all fall under the Team GB name.

In the process of generating exposure of the Dakar really in the U.K, they also aim to raise money and awareness for their selected charities: ARK (Absolute Return for Kids), Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, Royal Marsden Cancer Research and Shelter Box.

To really understand what drives these amazing individuals to take part in the Dakar Rally, I picked the mind of Toby Younger who kindly shared the experience with me through his eyes:

1) What was the initial appeal of the Dakar Rally?

Dakar symbolises free spirit, adventure, pitting man and machine against the harshest environments in the company of the best desert racers in the world, it’s inspirational! 

2) Did an opportunity present itself to you or was it always a goal you were aiming for?

I never thought I was capable of entering an event like this; I had ridden bikes on the road for a number of years, but had not touched the dirt since I was a kid. But in the spring of 2008 I woke up one morning and said to myself ‘what the heck, let’s do it!’ In-fact, what on the face of it seems very spontaneous, was in fact an idea I had held subconsciously for a number of years. I recently came across a life plan I put together back in 2005 and in it I had written down to entering Dakar.

3) Did the scale of what you were doing ever sink in? Or was it ‘one-day-at-a-time’ mentality?

Depends where you start, preparing for the Dakar or the rally itself?

Even now I don’t think about it as being me who took part! Looking back at the footage and photos is the only thing that distinguishes the whole thing from real life and a dream or nightmare, hahaha!! looking back at when I first put my plan together, I realise how naive I was. If I really knew then what I know now, I don’t think I would have ever attempted such a race.

-I can’t believe that I’m afraid

It took me nearly 4 years to mentally and physically prepare for the Dakar; I had an incredibly steep learning curve. When I had shoulder surgery in 2009 from a crash during an enduro race I had only ridden something like 20 hours off-road!

In terms of the Dakar, I had to take it day by day. This approach was reinforced by a number of veterans I met in South America as well as patsy quick, Clive ‘zippy’ town and Simon pavey. After the first day of the Dakar, the thought of another 14 days was simply too much to consider. it had to be one day at a time and each day had to be broken down into parts; liaison, special, liaison; then each special had to be broken down further into cp1, cp2, cp3 etc.

4) What was the hardest part for you personally?

again it depends whether you consider the 4 years prep, the sacrifices you made through training every day, racing every other weekend, every ‘holiday’ was spent on a bike in a desert or muddy hill somewhere in the UK, Europe or north Africa. One might say that is a wonderful way to spend your life, it was certainly fun, but it meant my family and friends were my desert rose team.

In terms of the race, everyday was bloody hard for me. Constantly fighting an inner battle willing me to find a way to stop. if anything I think the first week was the hardest, everything is new, the body is waking up to challenge ahead, you’re acclimatising to the environment, the hours, the food, the regime and even the bike had not been ridden in anger.

But the last sand dune stage towards the end of day 12 was probably my lowest point. I’d fallen into another bowl in the dunes. After standing the bike up, I sat down and thought I’d, reached the end of the road. I was pretty knackered and everything started to well up. The pressure, the physical exertion, the mental anguish day in and day out. I even wrote a text to patsy to say that I was struggling. But I took stock of where I was, I looked around and could see cars and trucks also stuck, I was not alone in this battle. I could still walk and the bike was still running, so I kept moving.

– If you haven’t developed a ridiculous amount of respect for the Dakar guys yet, I’m not sure you ever will, what a thing to have to mentally battle with!

5) What was the best bit (apart from reaching the end of course?)

The end was weird, there was no euphoria, I was numb, like I’d been lying in front of a loud speaker listening to Metallica for 14 days!! For me, the best part of the Dakar was arriving home to the team at the end of stage 12. I had reached my lowest point but pulled through it. I knew I was on a mental journey and there were some very dark moments, but this for me was what it had been about. This was the end of Dakar; stages 13 and 14 were a bonus, a formality event.

On reflection however, there are many moments that I will treasure. I have tried to capture them in my blog, but each day another memory flashes past and it fills me with a sense of enormous pride to have been part of something so special and been surrounded by such incredible people.

6) How did Dakar Team GB come about?

You know how these things start, a few beers in a pub and you are taking over the world! I was harping on to some friends about the fact that people raise thousands by running around Hyde park yet I was about to embark on a 10,000km race across south America, surely this was good enough to raise some funds and awareness for my charities. But I had been struggling as very few people seemed to know about the Dakar? So, Rory Elliott, aka ginger piston, who to my mind is the best sales and marketer in the enduro scene, said ‘hell yes!’ to putting an event together with 2 main aims; raise funds and raise awareness. Dakar Team GB was born.

7) When are the next Dakar Team GB fundraising events?

Dakar Team GB is an ‘umbrella brand’ for anyone in the UK taking part in the Dakar. It is purely optional, but we hope competitors will see value in collaborating, the ‘whole is greater than the sum of its parts’! We will look to different charities each year and grow the profile of Dakar in the UK.

8) You said your focusing on helping fund others for 2013- will you be back competing yourself in 2014?

funding plays an enormous part in deciding whether to enter Dakar, but I have to say that with Dakar 2013 registrations in mid may and the newsletters coming in from the aso, plus talking to 2013 competitors, it does get under your skin…..2013 no, but 2014, well never say never!! 

-You heard it here first folks!!

9) By then, what do you aim to have achieved through Dakar Team GB

Firstly, I set out a financial target of £60,000 to raise for charity, not a huge sum on the face of it, but that would be a great achievement.

Secondly, to have helped UK Dakar competitors in anyway would also be brilliant.

So there you have it, the Dakar Rally from a man who has been there and experienced it all. If you aren’t feeling incredibly inspired after reading just a taster of Toby’s story then there must be something wrong with you. Not only has he accomplished something incomprehensibly incredible, Toby is now determined to spread the word while making thousands of pounds for charity in the process. I am really genuinely excited to see how Dakar Team GB grows and wish Toby and the other guys all the luck in the world.

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