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Adventure motorcyclist from qathet region ready for Dakar Rally

"You could be up to 150 or 160 kilometres per hour at times, but I think the average speed will be upwards of 70 kilometres per hour." ~ Gareth Jones

Motorcycle enthusiast Gareth Jones is preparing to enter the toughest challenge of his racing career by participating in the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia.

Jones, a qathet region resident, is putting the finishing touches on his race preparations, which will be his way of bringing in the New Year.

Jones said December 31 is the first day of the rally but it’s a short, 20-kilometre prologue. What it does is sort out the starting order for the first proper day, he added. The race begins in earnest on January 1, 2023.

“You have 20 kilometres to ride as fast as you want to and dare to on that first day,” said Jones. “It’s the start of a 16-day race and you definitely don’t want to crash and hurt yourself on day one.”

Jones said in the rally, there are motorcycles, cars, trucks, buggies and quads. The bikes set off first, being dispatched every minute for the top 50, and then every 30 seconds. Once the last bike is gone there is a half-hour gap before the cars start.

“The cars are super-quick, so you’ll get overtaken in the race,” said Jones. “There’s warning systems on the bikes so when the car drivers see someone in front, a warning goes off and you usually have time to get out of the way.”

The race was initially known as the Paris to Dakar Rally, with racers going from Paris, France, to Dakar in Senegal. Its inception was in 1978. That rally was cancelled in 2008 due to terrorist threats in Africa and the race was moved to South America from 2009 to 2019. It is now located in Saudi Arabia and is done entirely within that country.

Jones will be riding a factory replica 450cc Husqvarna motorcycle through what he refers to as a satellite team. There are factory teams, which feature the highest echelon of riders. His satellite team is made up of a group of eight riders, organized by an individual who runs the race team.

“If you can prove yourself in other events, you meet the owner of the team, and if you have a good rapport and want to work together, you join forces,” said Jones. “He supplies the motorcycles and all the spares. The pit crew helps you with most of the logistics, the entry forms, the visas, et cetera. It’s an all-in package. You pay for the privilege, of course.”

On the team with Jones are some riders from Belgium, one from South Africa and one from Slovenia.

Daring to dream

Jones said he has followed the Dakar Rally for years. His parents were not into motorcycles or keen on having Jones ride one, so he didn’t get into riding until his late teens. He said he quickly got into adventure motorcycling. The KTM bike he had was a production version of motorcycles that raced in Dakar. His interest in adventure motorcycling spurred his interest in the Dakar Rally.

“The more intrigued you get about the [Dakar] race the more you watch it every year,” said Jones. “It’s a huge adventure. I never thought I would actually be in Dakar. It was always a dream to follow it and to go one day and watch it.

“Two years ago, I wondered if I could actually ride in these races, so I went to a rally school in Spain and tried this art of navigation, as well as the rigours of riding. I found out that I could, and I was pretty good at it, so I kept visiting the school and did some amateur rallies. I got a feel for it and thought I could actually give it a go. I don’t know how you’d do it without the tutelage from the school. You need someone who has done it before to give you hints and tips.”

Jones said he likes the challenge of pushing himself.

“It’s nice being out there in the middle of nowhere, faced with the challenges,” he added. “I’m not out there racing people. I’m not interested in finishing in a position. It’s all about if I race this event and beat the rally itself.”

Leading up to Dakar, Jones has ridden an amateur rally in Greece and the Morocco rally was his first big, “proper one,” sanctioned by Federation Internationale de L’Automobile (FIA).

Riders face extreme conditions

The Dakar race will be enormously challenging, with Jones spending 16 days on his motorcycle. He said mileages have just been released. The rally will be 4,800 kilometres of racing, and about 8,000 kilometres in total, including all the road sections riders will traverse to get to racing. The biggest day is 860 kilometres.

“There will be some sores,” said Jones.

Because it’s a race, riders travel at high speeds.

“You could be up to 150 or 160 kilometres per hour at times, but I think the average speed will be upwards of 70 kilometres per hour,” added Jones. “You definitely have to keep your wits about you.”

Staying hydrated in the heat is a challenge. Jones rides with a three-litre water pack, and at fuel stops he can top up with liquids to keep him going. As far as food goes, at breakfast, he consumes as much as he can and hydrates as much as he can.

Breakfast comes early, at 4 am. Jones takes energy bars along with him while riding, but typically, won’t eat again until the evening meal.

Jones will be facing extreme conditions. Early in the morning, with wind chill, the temperatures can be below zero, and at midday, the sun can be scorching.

Jones said he wants to avoid any bad falls. The goal is to finish the race, but he’s trying to get his head in the space of enjoying every day, every kilometre, immersing himself in the joy of being in the race.

“It’s all about the adventure,” said Jones. “It’s going to be a shame if something should happen and I don’t finish, but it won’t be the end of the world. I have a wife and three beautiful kids and coming home to them is more important.

“People do, unfortunately, die in this race. It brings things into perspective. It’s most important to get home safely.”

Jones said the race will be a test of his mettle. He said it’s his one shot. He doesn’t see himself being in the position to afford entering again.

“It’s definitely a bucket list thing,” said Jones. “It’s a dream, but you do wonder why you do it, really.”

People wanting to support Jones in his quest for the Dakar Rally can visit his GoFundMe page.