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Adrien van Beveren at the 2018 Dakar

Life in the saddle at Dakar: Sand, speed and danger

Jan 092018

Adrien Van Beveren is one of the ‘new breed’ at the Dakar: the world’s most prestigious, challenging and perilous off-road race. The 27 year old Frenchman is currently throttling his factory Yamaha WR450F through the fourteen stages and 9000km of the 2018 programme event - also the 40th edition – for what is only his third attempt at the brutal chase that involves long days in the saddle and is the harshest test of machinery, spirit, bravery and endurance. “When you finish the Dakar you feel completely destroyed,” he admits. “In 2017 I wanted to finish…but by the end I was looking for a result as well because I was close to the podium.”

The talented sand rider has fast emerged as Yamaha’s best rally hope and one of the authentic few that can topple the hegemony of KTM, who have ruled the discipline for sixteen consecutive years. “People and companies trust me for the Dakar and that's a good kind of pressure. I want to win it in the future but I have to be patient and learn more.”


There is an art to hammering a motorcycle at full pelt through three countries and diverse topography from desert dunes, rocky climbs, marshland and awe-inspiring mountaintops while hitting almost 5000m in altitude. Not only do the athletes have to be courageous enough to ‘pin-the-grip’ as long as possible but also survive poor light, harsh climates (two stages in 2017 were altered or cancelled due to floods) and sudden hitches (animals, injury, bike problems). They also have to master their ‘road book’: a paper strip of guidance and directions enclosed on the dashboards of their motorcycles that acts as an essential guide between checkpoints and their only reference in treks that can reach up to 900km in length in a single day.


“It is difficult not to panic when you are on your own in the middle of the desert…” ‘AVB’ says. “You think ‘I’m here at the Dakar…but I don't know where I am’. Somehow you find a way back. I think it is difficult to win the Dakar if you go too crazy. Maybe you can win it one time but the truth is that when you ride the rally bike you feel your life in your hands. We go fast in dangerous places…but I am trying to make it easier, more natural, automatic and I think this is the secret,” he reveals. “You have to be focussed on the road book. You have to be strong enough to ride fast without thinking about your riding. The Dakar is changing because they are making it difficult with the waypoints and to win it you need to be strong with navigation.”

“We passed one place and we were really high - more than 4000m I think - and I was concentrating on the track…but I looked to my left at one moment and I instantly thought of a commercial for a mineral water: there were green mountains and it looked totally amazing.”

“Then there is the riding itself,” Adrien continues. “Sometimes you are on s**t tracks and it is difficult to take pleasure…but when you are on good trails with good grip then you can really enjoy yourself.”


For the majority of the 2018 entry list then simply completing the route is a major achievement in itself. After his fourth-place finish in 2017 and coming so close to a champagne celebration, Van Beveren has touched a different kind of sensation at the Dakar. The likeable racer is keen to stress that patience is a virtue at the toughest race of them all but his time could very much be now.