When the punishing two-week, 9000km trajectory of the 2017 Dakar Rally heads into sandy climes and a dash through a complex weave of dunes then there will be one rider with a smile under his helmet among the line-up of more than 160 motorcyclists for the 39th edition of the world-famous race. Twenty-five year old former motocrosser and Beach Race expert Adrien van Beveren is one of Yamaha’s two main hopes for rally glory once the competition gets underway in Paraguay and treks into Bolivia and also Argentina.
‘AVB’ might have superb sand pedigree but he is an athlete green and raw at the Dakar and pulses on the rivers of adrenaline that come from propelling a 450cc WR through a vast range of terrain at high speed. With only a road book for company the Frenchman was baptised to the long, lonely and intense stages of the Dakar for the first time in 2016 and after a surprising sixth place finish in his maiden attempt is a fettled ‘dark horse’ for the forthcoming edition. Wider attention on ‘6’ means more expectation but acknowledging his virtual rookie status Adrien is not underestimating the task ahead.
"I’m confident; it will be only my second Dakar but I will go step-by-step," he commented. "I’m super-happy with the team and with the Yamaha and it is a completely different set-up to how we did the 2016 race. We have improved the bike a lot and the link with the people and management at Yamaha means there is a real family feeling and that's important for the Dakar; you have to feel comfortable in many aspects of the event."
"I’m only twenty-five and my goal is to learn a lot," he added. "The Dakar is super-difficult and complicated and there are a lot of things to manage to keep the same high performance through all that distance. I want to learn every kilometre so that I can one day win this thing. I love the feeling of going fast but I want to keep making progress at the Dakar, avoid as many mistakes as possible and improve my navigation technique."
Van Beveren is up against factory efforts from Honda and reigning champions KTM and most of the genuine candidates for the podium have triple-or-more experience at the Dakar. Despite the daunting prospect (Wednesday 11th of January involves a 977km stage alone, 98% of which off-road) Adrien is keeping his objectives firmly within reach. "I’m still young and I don't want to burn steps," he insists. "Winning the Dakar is the final goal but there is not too much pressure and results are not my no.1 priority at the moment. I just need to get better at the Dakar and one day put myself in the best position. Having extra spotlight can be a good thing. When I went back to Le Touquet this year there were people saying: “You can win it [the Dakar]…” and I loved hearing them say that. It means what I am doing is somehow right. I am building myself into the Dakar."
Still fresh to the epic scope of the rally that encompasses some of the wildest and most picturesque corners of South America, ‘AVB’ is well placed to offer some insight on the spiritual side of the Dakar. There is an element of the race that is not simply getting ‘from A to B’ for the competitors.
"It is more about the adventure; that's why I love this type of racing," he enthuses. "You have to be very strong and to keep going even when you are very tired and feel like you cannot get on the bike again. It is a like a victory just to get to the finish, and that’s always the first aim in any Dakar. The rally means lots of kilometres, difficulty, amazing landscapes, cities, countries, tracks, off-road, dunes, rocks and even some – but hopefully not too many! – crashes. I love the challenge and discovery of the Dakar and that is why I started it so young. The difficulty and the endurance factors are big parts of it."
Youth, vigour and the zeal of wanting to conquer at the highest level; watch out for that blue Yamaha, it’ll be going places pretty damn quickly.