When the Dakar takes on a Chinese accent
Dakar 2023 |
Stage 11 |
January 12 th 2023 - 12:44 [GMT + 3]
The six Chinese riders enrolled on the Dakar in 2023 are still in the race with four days to go. The three most experienced are in the Joyride team, benefitting from the precious advice of former biker Armand Monleon.
The Chinese already have a certain amount of history on the Dakar. In the car category, they have their uncontested standard-bearer, Wei Han, who finished 10th in 2020 and is currently in 9th place in the general rankings. While they have been more discreet on two-wheels, for the last few years they have had a trio of regulars, including Zhao Jongyi, who has the most races under his belt, with already six participations on his CV. Like many young motocross riders, Zhao was gripped by the revelation of the Dakar when he saw images of the African editions on television: “Right away, it made me dream. I found it crazy and I thought, ‘I want to do that’”. In 2010, it was two of his friends, Su Wenmin and Wei Guanghui, who had the privilege of being the first to wave the Chinese flag on a stage podium on the Dakar, whilst Zhao finally discovered the rally in 2017: “I dropped out after two days. I really wanted to come back to make it to the finish, with a new bike and a new team – I changed everything. It worked and in 2019 I was the first to finish in the unassisted bikers’ category. Everything is just crazy in conditions like that. It’s so hard!” The memory of his journey through Peru is still fresh in the mind for the 42-year-old rider, who is also finding the menu of this 45th edition particularly spicy: “This year is very particular. It started to get cold and then got worse and worse! The stages are longer than usual and I’ve got the feeling that the level of competitors is improving. Yesterday, on a very quick portion, I hit a stone, my legs flew up in the air and I fell. It was mad. I’ve hurt my wrist and shoulder a bit, but the pain isn’t too bad. I want to make sure I reach the finish and I’m confident I will”.
Every evening at the bivouac, Zhao meets up with two team-mates who have also become regulars on the Dakar, a group known as “ZZZ”. Zhang Min is surfing on the crest of three completed editions (46th in 2019) while the youngest among them, Zaker Yapk, already set the Chinese record on the event with a 33rd place finish two years ago in Jeddah. If the three friends are able to show such consistency, it is very likely thanks to the help of Armand Monleon, the current co-pilot of Jakub Przygoński and especially a former biker who finished in the top 10 on the Dakar in 2016. The Catalan, who discovered China and even won three times on the Taklimakan Rally, has been involved in the Joyride team in order to set up a structure that facilitates participation and progress of Chinese riders on the Dakar: “I met these guys eight years ago when they came to Spain to train on the bikes and we got along great right from the start. They invited me to come and take part in the Taklimakan Rally and now they’ve sort of become my Chinese family,” explained the navigator who is again in with a chance of aiming for the top 5 in the car category. “I’m not really their coach, but I try and pass on my experience as I would to friends. I think that China has genuine potential, but they have real logistical difficulties to come and take part in the Dakar. That’s why we decided to set up all the logistical part in Catalonia: the bikes, the spare parts, the tyres, everything. I’m committed to this team and it keeps me busy throughout the year, but in January, I put on my co-pilot overalls”. Though, each evening, that does not stop him from paying a visit to his protégés from Asia.