Following as I am the exploits of Dakar Team GB, I went along last week to their launch event and charity fundraiser in West London.
As you can see the charities in question are:
The Nelson Mandela Childrens Fund
The Royal Marsden Cancer Research
ARK (Absolute Return for Kids)
Deciding that I would save a few quid and some time over going by train, the weather looked OK so I decided to ride the bike down. Choosing the Triumph Tiger over the CCM due to the desire to ride a bike with weather protection, a comfy seat and luggage to throw my gear in when I got there!
All seemed OK after I had fueled up and swung on to the A1(M) to head into town, when.....
The heavens opened!
Well riding a bike in the wet down a motorway is not too bad but it started to get worse. Just after Hatfield the traffic (now only two lanes) ground to a halt and I was forced to filter between the stationary cars for six miles to the M25, not much fun when you have (wide) panniers and 125 bhp on tap!!!
Luckily the traffic cleared when I passed South Mimms Services and I had another clear run until Apex Corner where I joined the A41, from here on in it was typical London traffic. I was following the sat nav down to Notting Hill and was surprised to find I knew most of the roads, as I went very close to where a friend used to live and have travelled both to his house in Brondesbury and had on many occasions driven westwards out of London from there, along the same route I was now following.
I arrived in time, having taken just over the hour and still dry thanks to my waterproofs, which were working fine.
After meeting up with few friendly faces, Paul who I met on the London Dakar Convoy and Michael who I race with in the Big Bike Rally Challenge, we settled down for some freebie eats and a glass of coke (well I was riding my bike)!
The evening was being hosted by comedian Ross Noble, now I gather that he was to introduce the guests, do some interviews and a Q and A session but first we got treated to an impromto stand up show. Coming on to do the introductions he picked on a couple of audience members to gain a few laughs, however one chap clearly had never learnt the first rule of going to watch stand up... when the comedian picks on you keep your mouth shut.
He started arguing with Ross, to whom this was a gift horse he definitely wasn't going to look in the mouth! Well it had to be said, he was an incongruous looking character in leather jeans, a shirt and cravat (as Ross pointed out... what sort of biker wears a f***ing cravat)! as well as sun glasses (remember it was December, after dark and inside a theatre) and a baseball cap, a strange ensemble indeed.
This went on for about half an hour, with the rest of the audience reduced quite literally to tears of laughter. He was delivering Ross with just what he wanted, the guy just didn't know when to sit down and shut up. We learnt he was American, called Andre and did ride a bike but refused to say what it was, so of course we all assumed he was embarrased to admit what it was. On our table we guessed at it being a scooter.
Eventually the show got underway and we had interviews with the three riders entered in the Dakar in January and forming Dakar Team GB. Toby Younger and Jago Pickering for whom 2012 will be their first Dakar and Stan Watt, who finished in 38th place in the 2009 Dakar.
Later there was a Session with Patsy Quick of Desert Rose Racing who has competed in the Dakar four times herself and was the first British Woman to complete the Rally and Chris Evans (no not the ginger haired DJ) the UK agent for the Dakar and Team Manager for Cyril Despres, the KTM Factory Rider who won the Dakar in 2010, 2007 and 2005 and has obtained one third place and five second places since 2003, including coming second behind KTM team mate but great rival Marc Coma in this year's (2011) Rally.
The question and answer session later was fantastic with a whole host of UK Dakar veterans joining Ross, Toby and Jago on stage. Obviously Stan as 2012 will be his second rally (he had an entry in 2008 but that was the year the Rally was cancelled due to a terrorist threat) as well as Patsy, Clive (Zippy) Town, Nick Plumb, Craig Bounds and Tamsin Jones as well as Chris Evans who although has never raced has probably attended more Dakar Rallies than any of the others.
A fascinating session followed about the true face of the Dakar, far removed from the glamorous images we see of the elite riders, a tale of dirt, extreme fatigue, loneliness and hard work. Amusingly a (light hearted) argument almost broke out between the two sides of the stage, one side representing the old school African Dakar competitors and the other the new breed of South American racers over which was the harder event. Interestingly nobody present had done both.
It was agreed that the remoteness of Africa made the Dakar more of an endurance event where finishing was the only goal for most riders, whereas the more varied terrain and regular proximity of civilisation and the accompanying thousands of spectators made racing for a position more crucial in South America. The comfort zone, even if only perceived, of South America forcing riders to ride that much harder.
I did manage to get a photo of the proceedings but apologies for the quality!
Interestingly Craig and Tamsin were just back from Tibet where they had attempted to beat the world altitude record for motorbikes on Everest. Riding hired Chinese bikes of dubious quality they managed to get beyond base camp but unfortunately not high enough for the record. Tamsin did set a new "Everest record" for women reaching 5359 metres beating previous holder Annie Seel by 54 metres.
The evening ended with a raffle (no luck there) and a charity auction, which was way beyond my pocket! I then had to ride home, it was still raining and now considerably colder but at least there was little traffic on the roads compared to earlier and I eventually arived home at 01.00 having to dive into a hot shower to warm up before I could even contemplate going to bed. Needless to say Annie was sound asleep and remained that way!