Fear at the end of the road

Dakar 2024 | Stage 9 | HAIL > ALULA
January 17 th 2024 - 08:33 [GMT + 3]

Bruno Leblanc finished stage 9 of his maiden Dakar in a helicopter, one shoulder in a sling. A major disappointment for the fellow who dreamed of crossing the finish line to pay tribute to his mother, who passed away two years ago…

The rider on KTM no. 133 was taken to the finish of the special and left in the medical team's capable hands, awaiting the ride back to Alula's bivouac for a thorough check-up. It took Bruno a bit to shake off the cobwebs, but hooked up to morphine to ease the pain from his busted collarbone, he eventually let go, caught up in the fatigue and the sheer terror of narrowly averting disaster. "I was proper scared", he acknowledged. "I'd clocked around fifty clicks after the first refuelling, I was tailing another rider… The last thing I remember is getting catapulted over the bike… After that, it's just a blank space. When I came to, I was fifteen metres away from my machine, with a mate by my side. He called the organisers. Five minutes later, a helicopter was on the scene to extract me. I've been doing enduro for a decade and this was my nastiest crash ever. Especially the one at the fastest speed, I must've been going at 100 km/h. It took me ages to calm down and convince myself I was safe." Bruno Leblanc will not be forgetting his maiden Dakar any time soon. "It's hectic, not a minute to yourself", he explained. "Evenings are a hustle —you need to wrench on the bike, grab a bite, swing by the physio… You always go to bed late and, come morning, you're up at 4:30 am… It ain't the toughest rally on Earth for nothing." Like every competitor who signs up, Bruno had been dreaming of this Dakar for years. "As a kid, I was in awe watching Gérard Holtz showcase the bivouac. The whole vibe of this sport, the brotherhood you could feel listening to its players, had me dreaming. To do the Dakar, you've got to be the full package. It's not just about going fast on the bike; you've got to navigate, manage your stamina, take care of your bike, do your own wrenching… That's the whole deal that got me hooked when I dived into rally raids." He stumbled onto the adventure back in 2017 during the Rallye de l'Amitié. It was love at first sight. Fast forward four years, and he was racing in the Rallye du Maroc as part of the Enduro Cup. Not quite enough to snag a spot in the Dakar. He tried again in 2023, this time as a Rally 2 rider, and got his ticket this time round. While he knew he was in for a rough ride, Bruno still thought he would have a bit more time to savour this wild ride he had been dreaming of for ages. Reality caught up with him. "I've been suffering since the 48 h chrono stage", he admitted. "I came across Amaury Baratin in the dunes. We helped each other out because we were both struggling. We didn't make it to the bivouac before nightfall, so we camped out in the sleeping bags they gave us. I managed to get going earlier than Amaury, who eventually ran out of fuel, but I got to the bivouac very late, and the rest day was anything but for me." Bad news compounded the fatigue. "On Tuesday, we picked up a malles-moto colleague with a collapsed lung during the special and, in the evening, we learned that Carles [Falcón] had died from his injuries…" When Bruno bit the dust and blacked out yesterday, it felt like the whole world was crashing down. "I was proper scared", he repeated, as if trying to reassure himself that he was out of the woods. "In fact, today I was feeling good, better than the day before. I was enjoying the ride more… But you've got to be so focused, keeping your eyes peeled metre after metre… It's very easy to make a mistake." Bruno Leblanc will not be crossing the finish line as he had secretly vowed, a promise made in tribute to his mother, who lost her battle with cancer. His helmet bears a yellow daffodil, the emblem of the Curie Institute, and the text "For you Mum"… "I'd been working on this project for my mom and the Curie Institute for two years", he sobbed, holding back tears. "Sadly, it ain't going to happen…"

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