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DAKAR RALLY

"I spent my month's vacation in hospital"

The Spanish motorbike rider Laia Sanz talks about the challenges of the grueling two-week race

Nadia Tronchoni
San Miguel de Tucumán -
Spanish motorbike rider Laia Sanz rests after a stage of this year's Dakar Rally.
Spanish motorbike rider Laia Sanz rests after a stage of this year's Dakar Rally.FELIPE TRUEBA (EFE)

Laia Sanz won everything that was going in 2012: the World Trial Championships, for a 12th time; the Trial des Nations, her sixth title; and an inaugural victory at the Enduro World Championships. She was also first in the female class at the Dakar Rally. This year, after the withdrawal of Josefina Gardulski on Stage 9 of the race, Sanz is the last female motorcycle rider left in contention. As of Wednesday's stage, she was 106th in the overall rankings, from an original field of 196 riders.

Question. There have been years when, even as a world champion, you ended up losing money. Is that still the case?

Answer. Not anymore. I dedicate all of my time to the sport. I had a bad contract one year: I paid for the journeys, and there were a lot of expenses. I would only earn money if I won the world championship, which everybody assumed I would. When I didn't win it that year, I lost money. Since then we have changed the contract.

Q. Last year was a tough one. You combined the Trial, the Enduro and the Dakar and picked up an injury...

Laia Sanz driving on the Dakar Rally course in Chile on January 10, 2013.
Laia Sanz driving on the Dakar Rally course in Chile on January 10, 2013.FELIPE TRUEBA (EFE)

A. Although it was my best year for results, it was my hardest as well. Everybody rests after the Dakar but I went straight into training on the trial bike. Then my knee said "enough" and I took two months to recover. In the summer I won the Enduro and Trial but got injured again. I'd planned a month's vacation and spent it in hospital instead.

Q. After a year like that, will you pick and choose disciplines?

A. I've been going round for quite a while now. And the regulations in trial have changed, so everybody else is training while I'm here. Enduro and the Dakar attract me more. And even without really preparing for the Dakar, it goes better every time. I'd like to really prepare well for it. When I came back [from injury], I planned an even better year than last, because the foot injury was an accident, but the knee gave way because the body has its limits.

Q. What does it mean to finish a stage less than 17 minutes off the leader?

A. It's good. The majority of people in front of me spend all year preparing for this race and have competed in many Dakars. It was a very technical stage, which suits me well. I still have to improve many things but I notice as well that I'm reading the road book better now, which allows me to go faster.

Peru suprised me a lot: there are deserts nobody could imagine"

Q. What do you like most about this race?

A. Lots of things happen; it's a long race. It's an adventure and the places we go through are spectacular. Peru surprised me a lot: there are deserts nobody could imagine. We didn't even see Machu Picchu.

Q. And the least?

A. Riding over fesh fesh [soft sand, which is easy to get bogged down in]. It's dangerous and it's no fun. In the bivouac, doing the road book for the following day, and getting up so early.

Q. You're considered the best female rider at the Dakar, but who are your rivals?

A. In the Dakar your main rival is yourself. If I keep racing as I have been, I've hardly made any mistakes and although I haven't been taking many risks, I'm sure I'll improve.

Q. You live in Seva, like Àlex Crivillé. Have you thought about trying MotoGP?

A. I've rented a house there. There was no space at my parents' and they were fed up with me and my junk. I needed a garage - I've got bicycles, motorbikes, cars, material, spares, a bit of a workshop... Although I'm an awful mechanic, it's something I wouldn't mind trying.

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