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Joan Barreda at the 2018 Dakar

A certain breed: Joan Barreda & fighting on for Dakar

Apr 052018

Joan Barreda’s latest scar shows a bumpy, meaty set of lines on his left wrist; a consequence of the surgery carried out in Barcelona a few weeks after the 2018 Dakar Rally. The 34 year old Spaniard and Monster Energy Honda Team rider made it through ten of fourteen stages – around 6000 kilometres at almost full throttle on the HRC machine - before the rigours of the trek and the agony from both the wrist and ripped left knee ligaments forced him gingerly away from the saddle.

Is there something slightly unhinged about Rally racers? They are frequently tackling surfaces and paths and trails used by people, vehicles and animals and then also veer into expanses of unknown, all the while knowing hesitation with their right hand will not cause the same deliberation from a ticking clock. Rally-ers are often hurtling at speed into the abyss, only a scroll of symbols and codes on their dashboard mounted ‘road book’ providing any semblance of guidance or warning.

Rally is stretched out over hundreds of kilometres in just a single day. Physicality, focus, endurance, navigation, technical nuance, a synchronisation with the motorcycle and assessment of risk: it is one of the ultimate motorcycling tests and it all happens in a blur.


Barreda, now five years into his Honda tenure and a multiple Dakar stage winner, has missed out on the big prize either due to his body or his bike. He is still HRC’s lead runner and most decorated campaigner and – wrist recovery permitting – should be a fierce prospect in the 2018 FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship that recently got underway in Abu Dhabi. Barreda could be back on the CRF450 Rally by the mid-point of the campaign and to join the line-up of Kevin Benavides, Paulo Gonçalves, Ricky Brabec, Michael Metge and Jose Ignacio Cornejo.


“I expected to recover from my injury in two months but two of the four bones I broke in my wrist didn't set properly,” he explains. “It was just a month before the Dakar and I knew my options were limited. If I had surgery then the Dakar would be gone. So I changed therapy hoping to make it better in time but it was not possible. I made the decision to race in this condition…so difficult! Two bones that were not healed and four months without riding or testing…”

“I was second in the overall standings…but it was impossible to keep riding at that level.”


“It was really tough,” he admits. “There was a lot of interest in the race from Honda and of course for them I really wanted to continue. In the last few years we have worked very hard and very well. The bike was not quite ready at first and there were a few other small issues that stopped us from winning the Dakar in the past but the team were fully prepared and it felt like everything was in place this year. So I felt bad for the injuries and not being in the condition that I wanted. It was complicated to accept the situation but I had to be smart and think about the year ahead and trying to get healthy. I also had to use the experience of the last few years to analyse where I was and where I could go.”


“Dakar is a difficult and unique race, everything has to come together at the same moment: the team, the logistics, the mechanical side, the strategy…and the rider has to make as few mistakes as possible”


“I think Rally is changing,” Barreda opines. “It is not like six-seven years ago when I started. It seems like the level is increasing every time we race: people are even faster and even more professional. The days have changed of people ‘opening’ the course and pulling the others along. The strategies of pushing and holding back are fading away: now it is full gas every day. This means that riders are getting younger and younger. Now it is rare to find a Dakar rider deep into their thirties. They are younger and really know how to open the gas and train all through the year for this. The level does not stopping rising. I feel good and I think I still have three really good years ahead of me and this helps with the motivation to work as much as I can every single day. After then…we’ll see what’s next.”


The sustained thrill of Rally racing may be more exhilarating and pressurised (with the ‘adventure’ factor perhaps diluted in comparison) but Joan likes to think that there is still a spiritual aspect involved. There is no denying the epic scale of these complicated meetings organised and sprawled across some breath-taking landscapes in pockets of the world, some very much untouched and unseen. It seems the chance to absorb, disturb and even breathe-in some of these settings is a factor of the sport that every competitor relishes and adds grandeur and spectacle to this fascinating scene.


“I’ve always loved to travel and to see and learn about other cultures and countries,” Barreda enthuses. “You see such beautiful things in places like Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, China and lands that are normally difficult to access. This is one of the things I love about Rally. I remember one of my first rallies was in Egypt. I was on the rear wheel of Marc Coma in the dunes – it is always a bit easier to use another rider as a reference – and I remember looking to one side and the view to the horizon actually gave me goosebumps. I’ll never forget that, and it is the sort of impact that being in the heart of a Rally can give you. It can really affect you and you carry it with you always.”


The next hurtle into the blind for #5 won’t come soon enough.