He has seen it all…

Dakar 2023 | Rest 0 | RIYADH
January 9 th 2023 - 08:10 [GMT + 3]

An icon of the rally, Franco Picco is competing in his 17th Dakar this year. At 67 years of age, the Italian hasn't lost his knack behind the handlebars nor his passion for an event in whose history he has participated for 37 years.

His movements are a bit slower than they were 38 years ago when he was competing in his first Dakar rally and his limbs are somewhat stiffer when he gets down from his bike. However, for the rest, not much seems to have changed. His skill behind the handlebars is still there, and, with a mischievous glint in his eye, Franco Picco is inexhaustible when he starts to talk about this rally on which he wrote many beautiful pages at the end of the 1980s. The Italian veteran, with three final podium finishes and ten stage victories in the bag, is today taking part for the seventeenth time. Whether on a motorbike, quad or in a car, Franco has practically done it all on the Dakar. However, when the Saudi desert came calling, in 2021, he decided to resume competition after a five-year break, with the sole idea of competing on a bike, in the unassisted biker category. “I wanted to get a feel of the adventures of yesteryear,” he remembers. Since last year, he has taken on another challenge since accepting to develop the new 450 Fantic. “Riding with a standard bike forces me to use my experience to get over the difficulties,” he explains, before jokingly adding, “At my age, I can’t count on much else”. Yesterday, before tackling the 400 km link route to Riyadh, Franco took the time to eat, exhausted by this eighth stage dotted with stones and tracks going off in all directions. “It was all the more harder with the Dunlop tyres which we haven’t really had the time to develop,” he admitted. “What’s more, I’m the only rider of the team still in the race”. Though he still has six stages ahead of him, Franco believes the most difficult part of the race is behind him: “It was the first five days which were the hardest, with the stones, the rain and the cold… We had a bit of everything. At one point I was really tired, but now I’m feeling better. That said, I’m looking forward to the rest day”. This year, Franco has chosen to race with number 67. “Each day, it will help me remember my age,” he jokes. At the midway point, the Fantic rider is 74th in the general rankings and completed stage 8 in a time of 5 hours and 43 minutes. Mason Klein took virtually two hours less to cover the same distance. “This new generation is incredible,” observes the Italian. “The top ten riders are extraordinary. Ten years ago, overall victory was always a battle between Desprès and Coma. Today, each day there’s a different winner. The level is incredible and much more professional. In fact, the Dakar itself has been transformed. In the 1990s, we rode through the African continent. Today, it all takes place in a single country with looped stages. The Dakar has changed into extreme Enduro racing”. This does not prevent people like Franco from having adventures that many people still dream about in front of the television.  

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