In just a few days Hélder Rodrigues, the Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally Team’s top rider, will take the start of his 10th Dakar. Whilst the last preparations take place before the Prologue on January 2nd, the Portuguese rider opens up in Buenos Aires about his return to Yamaha and his preparations for the new challenges of this year’s Dakar Rally.
How has Hélder Rodrigues been preparing for the 2016 Dakar?
”I have been working during the whole rally-raid season on many things. I had Yamaha and a complete team to help me get prepared for everything, to be in the best possible shape and fully confident for the start.
”I followed a strict training program with cycling, running and swimming sessions, scheduled together with riding and navigation practice. All of this in different countries and with changing weather conditions, depending on the time of year and the championship races. During these last few months I also trained hard for altitude with my coach Manuel Alves at the Jamor Sports Facility (Lisbon).
”I made good progress over several weeks and achieved encouraging results in test races. I have a clear-mind before the start and feel 100% ready to tackle a new Dakar.”
How does it feel to be back with Yamaha and back on a brand new bike, the WR450F Rally?
”My return to the Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally Team means everything for me, especially because it reminds me of victory. I was FIM Cross-Country World Champion in 2011 with Yamaha and I finished twice on the Dakar podium in Yamaha colours, in 2011 & 2012. I know the team well, and also the mechanics and other riders, we get along just fine, it’s like a big family.
”The Yamaha crew has been doing an incredible job, putting on an entire new bike together for the Dakar in just 6 months. The new WR450F Rally is fast and reliable, easy to control and lighter. I believe in a good future with Yamaha as we are both ready to take it to the next level and win again.”
In your opinion, what are the main challenges for the 2016 Dakar?
”I believe this year the winner will be the more complete rider, not the fastest. The new rules set by the A.S.O (i.e less information given before the race and priority given to road book lecture) are very good because we are all on the same page now, and navigation will play a major role. I really like it.
”The two marathon stages in Argentina promise to be very challenging and with no assistance and no mechanic on the bike it will be very tricky. The first marathon stage is Jujuy-Jujuy on day 4 and will take place on high altitude, adding an extra challenge. The second one, scheduled on day 9, one day after the rest day, will be even more complicated as it will happen after the rest day. From what the organisation has informed us, we go from high altitude to very high temperatures, so the bikes have to be in perfect conditions and also the riders!
”This year’s Dakar sounds to me to be one of the toughest editions ever. The second part of the Rally will be very challenging and the last stages might be those where you can either win or lose everything. On the Dakar, for the last nine years, I have always made the race from back to front. As the day advances, I feel better and stronger. My favorite route profile consists of dunes, and the specials I like the most are those made for navigation; so the final stages Belen, Fiambalà, la Rioja ; these are all very good for me.”
What do you bring back from your past experiences to perform better this year?
”I have gathered a lot of experience in these last ten years, a lot of stage wins but also small difficulties that helped me to better understand the race, the challenge I know what to expect from the Dakar Adventure even if I keep in mind that each edition is a new start, with its own number of twists and fates.
”All the preparation is now almost in auto-pilot mode: I had Yamaha working on the bike, my coach for the physical training, … Also, after all these years, you already know what works and what doesn’t in terms of eating, sleeping and riding. Everything is clear in my head and I can’t wait for the Dakar to start. I am very excited to do my best, for me and for the team.”
Some young new riders will participate in the race this year (i.e Adrien Van Beveren’s first participation in the Yamalube Yamaha Junior Rally Team). Usually we say on the Dakar that experience is the main asset to perform. Is it still true today?
“The Dakar has evolved a lot in these last years, with the factory teams entering the Dakar and pushing the limits of bike, speed, durability and reliability. In the past it was all about the journey and arriving at the end, now its much more like a professional race with teams of mechanics, the evolution of the bike and always trying to add more speed.
”Adrien Van Beveren, Yamaha’s rookie, knows the sand well and excelled in the European sand races, but they are incomparable with the Dakar. Usually we say on the Dakar that experience is the main asset to perform. I believe that it’s true, especially this year. You have to be not only a good rider but also a smart mechanic, to avoid navigation mistakes while still riding fast, and to learn to rest and spare your strength. So the more Dakar experience you have the better your understanding of all the small parts involved that make this race one of the most difficult races in the world. The path to Dakar success is also a matter of time.”