EX-GP racer wins Dakar
Jurgen van den Goorbergh found fame in 500GPS by making improbable bikes do impossible things. Ten years on he’s still defying the odds by winning Dakar
Dutchman Jurgen van den Goorbergh may be 46 but he’s still winning races. The ex-500 GP star won the Malle Moto class in this year’s event, which means he had no team back-up and had to work on his own bike during the gruelling two-week event. He finished 31st overall and reckons it’s his biggest biking achievement yet.
He’s put an MZ on pole in 500GPS and gone from 13th to first in one lap on a 500cc Honda twin, yet Dutchman Jurgen van den Goorbergh says his greatest racing achievement came at this year’s Dakar.
Racing in the Malle Moto class, in which competitors receive no outside assistance and carry out all of their own maintenance, the 46-year-old won the class and finished 31st overall in the torturous two-week 5000-mile event.
MCN caught up with the former GP rider to find out how and why he put it all on the line to race Dakar.
How did you get involved in Dakar racing?
“When I finished my racing career I was a Michelin test rider for Yamaha and Valentino but I always planned to do Dakar. Before my first Dakar I prepared for two years. I did lots of enduros (Erzberg, Romaniacs) and trained a lot doing motocross with Stefan Everts. I was ready for the 2008 race but it got cancelled (due to a direct terrorist threat to the event) so by the time I started the 2009 race I was really ready. I went with a good Honda team, rode well and finished 17th overall and was top rookie.
“I never expected to finish so high, but it didn’t become a goal to fight for the top 10. I knew how fast the top guys ride and how dangerous it is at the front and I didn’t know if I could do so well again. I got involved in a Buggy project and did the race twice before becoming a navigator in a truck for one year.”
Why do you keep doing it?
“In 2015 I raced Malle Moto, but there was another rider, Thomas Berglund, who was better than me. I did not win so I had to come back! To win the Malle Moto this year was my goal. Competing in Malle Moto is the exact opposite to my GP career where I had two factory bikes and a team of 15 mechanics. This year I was racing with the factory riders who have a team of mechanics and a motorhome to sleep in. When they’re going to bed at 9pm my work starts, changing tyres, oil, air filter and checking the bike before getting food, marking up my road book and finally pitching my tent. I was pushed to the limit, mentally and physically.”
Why do you do Malle Moto?
“I class myself as a good mechanic. I have always prepared my own bikes; working on them is a hobby for me. In 2015 I finished second which is why I had to come back in 2016. I was up against two very competitive riders this year – one from Italy and one from Argentina. In the first week we were neck-and-neck but the second week was much harder with the heat, dunes and navigation. I have raced Dakar so many times now so I know how it works and as a result I was able to take a lot of time out of them, sometimes 15
JURGEN VAN DEN GOORBERGH
or 30 minutes on a stage. My goal was to win the class and finish top 30; I ended up 31st.”
Just how hard was it?
“For the last three days I was on the limit and I slept for a total of just nine hours in three nights. I was concentrating so hard and I could not have done another day. When I finished the last stage I was exhausted but we still had to do a 400km liaison to the finish and the podium. I fell asleep three times, I only just made it and arrived really late. Racing Malle Moto is like doing two or maybe three Dakars with a team. Winning this race means I have achieved one of the big goals in my life. Racing in Malle Moto is the highest level of Dakar and endurance. I’d swap the class win for a top five overall, but I’d rather be Malle Moto champion than have a solo top 10 finish.”
What is the key to your success?
“My preparation, my fitness and I have learned to navigate well. Also I don’t crash. I had three crashes on the entire race, two in the sand and one on the gravel, but they were all low speed. I was uninjured and the bike was undamaged. In Dakar you cannot afford to crash. If you crash you lose time and energy. And if you lose time you end up at the back with the trucks and cars and that makes it very difficult.”
Were you able to transfer any particular skills from GP racing to Dakar?
“Compared to grand prix racing, I worked at the same level in terms of preparation. I knew the level necessary if I wanted to win or be on the podium – it is the same. The big difference is that in GPS you have to focus for one hour - in Dakar it’s the same focus but for 10 to 12 hours a day.
“The biggest thing I took from GPS was rear wheel sliding and drifting, and I’m sure if you put Marc Marquez or Casey Stoner on a Dakar bike they’d be pretty impressive! I slide the bike with my feet on the pegs, most riders put a foot down, I don’t – it’s the way I like to ride
“I also did trials from the age of four to 16 and it gives you a certain balance other riders don’t have – it gives you an advantage.”
‘I was on the limit, I slept for a total of just nine hours in