We followed Jurgen van den Goorbergh in his run up to his final Rally Dakar entry; his final attempt at winning the Malle Moto class. Obviously we’re very curious as to how the Dutchman got on in 2018’s rally. The former MotoGPTM rider spills his guts on the hardship of the most grueling rally raid in the world.
First of all, congratulations! You’ve made it to the finish line, coming 41st. You have to be proud, right?
“It turned out to be a good end to my Dakar career. Well, the last try on a motorcycle anyway. Who knows, I might go back one day, just not on two wheels; no way. I’m glad to have been a part of this Rally Dakar, though. It was a tough one, but a good one as well. It kind of makes me proud, knowing I made it to the end on a bike I’ve built. That makes it that bit more special, even though I didn’t quite finish too high up on the leader boards because of it. I had to be careful, because above all I wanted to finish. Breaking down was not really an option. That did mean I didn’t quite come out as well as I had originally intended. I blocked that out very quickly. I came here to fight for the Malle Moto class title, but just six days in I realized that was a bridge too far. After that, I didn’t really care anymore where I’d finish. It turned out to be 41st in the end, which I’m content with. For me personally, I felt I rode a good rally, not making too many mistakes; keeping the bike in one piece. And in the end my KTM didn’t miss a beat. In hindsight I know I could’ve been faster, but I really wanted to get the bike to the finish line at all costs. That I did, so!”
The bike made it out unscathed, but we can’t really say that about you physically, can we?
“Yeah, for me Dakar is far from over. The aftershocks are coming through in waves, because I’m suffering from a nasty neck injury still. On stage 11 I had a spill taking on a fast dune. At the bottom it flattened out quickly and I had a knoll of camel grass. You come across thousands of those in the desert and normally they’re quite soft. This one wasn’t. As my rear wheel hit it, I went off. I’ve got a nice mark from my front wheel across my helmet, so I guess I should be lucky it didn’t hit me square in the face. I wasn’t even going too fast when it happened, but it was still quite a hard hit. It immediately took me back to my entry last year, when a relatively small crash caused me to withdraw from the race. I got up right away and felt my neck had taken the brunt of it. Plus I was quite dizzy, too. And I had landed on my back as well, something I found out as the contents of my camel back was dripping down my pants. I had only done around fifty kilometers of the stage, so now I was going to have to finish the stage without water. I managed to bargain a bottle of water off a couple of locals, but that meant I had to stop every time I needed to rehydrate. Every single chance I got to get myself a drink, I took. Stopping at the roadside wasn’t my concern at this point; I was more worried about possible broken bones. After I did my own physical check-up, it turned out all was well on that front. Think about it, having to withdraw with only a few days left because you took a slight tumble and broke your collarbone. Anyway, I had hoped my neck would start to get a bit less sore as the days went by. Unfortunately, that really wasn’t the case. It only got worse in fact, so I stocked up on quite a bit of painkillers and got on with it. On the second to last day I woke up and could barely lift my head up. That is not good, I thought. That rally shouldn’t have lasted for much longer, because I don’t think I would have been able to keep going for much longer.”
You’ve been home for a week now. How’s the pain in the neck going?
“Not too good, unfortunately, and I don’t even know what’s exactly going on in there. I’ve had appointments at a chiropractor and had X-rays made as well. No fractures, luckily, but no clear image of what’s exactly wrong with my neck at this point. I’ve got an MRI planned for tomorrow, so by then I hope to know more. Looks like a pinched nerve, because I’ve got a tingling sensation in my forearm. All I know now is, things are not as they should be. It’s driving me crazy to be fair, certainly because it was the smallest of spills.”
Back to the rally. All contestants agreed this was a big one. Would you say it was tough?
“Definitely. I’ve faced hardship before, like when I first rode the Malle Moto class, but this was one technical rally. In Malle Moto you get it doubly bad, because it’s all up to you. That alone takes thirty to forty percent of your energy during the rally. I reckon this year’s winner, Olivier Pain, would certainly concur. He used to be a works rider, so top ten finishes are a regularity. This time around he had to give it his all just to make it within spitting distance of the top 25 that says a lot to me. I spoke to him a couple of times during the rally, and he told me he really enjoyed experiencing the rally this way. His eyes, however, told a different story; this to him was a one-off. You won’t be seeing him back in Malle Moto, no way! It’s a different game altogether Malle Moto, and completely different from what he’s used to. Top tier riders start every day fresh, only suffering from the rally stages themselves. As a Malle Moto rider you come out of a stage, only to have to piece your bike back together until around midnight. And then you have to get back up at four in the morning. That takes a toll, especially when you’re expected to give it your all again the next day. Malle Moto really just wrecks you.”
Which stages or areas will stay with you the most; what made the biggest impression?
“I took on the challenge one more time because the organizers had taken Peru back into the rally. That country has the most beautiful dunes, as the organizers promised us. It all came together. It was daunting, but beautiful. That shows the effect a man like Marc Coma (Director of Sport at organizer ASO) has on the rally. Last year he showed it here and there, but now he really put things back on the map. As a former entrant and winner, he knows how to make the rally as grueling as it should be. Every single time you think things couldn’t get harder, they take it one step beyond. Take the second to last stage for instance. You can all but see the finish line, only to face off on the longest day of the lot. Marc Coma kicks you out of bed and on the bike at 5.30 am, onto a stage that won’t see you back in the bivouac until nine in the afternoon, just before sunset. Just ride from sunrise until sunset. I can tell you, that made me long for the finish even more.”
In 2016 you took home the Malle Moto title and this year you had high hopes to reclaim it, only to finish fourth in the end. That has to bum you out, doesn’t it?
“I was sort of expecting to be at least on the podium, yes. Not sure if it all just came down to Olivier Pain being so fast, but in the end that’s not what it’s all about in the Rally Dakar. By the third stage I had to help out my friend Kees Koolen, because his quad bike had broken its chain. I couldn’t just leave Kees by the side of the road, so that cost me half an hour to about 45 minutes. Over an entire Rally Dakar, that’s something you could clean up on, but in the end I didn’t manage to do so. I started to fall behind, and trying to up ground only saw me make more mistakes. Missing a waypoint for instance or having to help yet another fellow rider. In the 2016 rally I had locked in to an upward spiral that was definitely not the case this time around. I had this sort of neutral like feeling about me.”
You rode a self-made bike, based off a KTM 450 EXC-F. How did people respond to that?
“It hasn’t gone unnoticed, I can tell you that. More than once others sought me out in the bivouac to come and see it. It’s a quite different from the regular rally replica bikes; mine’s built quite a bit lighter. Technically I’ve had no problems, so I’m content about that. The bike stood tall, even though I might’ve been able to go faster on it. I tried to keep my cool, but the bike would not have minded bit more push and shove. I did miss a bit more speed and stability here and there, though my bike was better when it came to handling. Truth be told, I could’ve done a better job on a KTM 450 RALLY REPLICA. My bike is perfect for amateurs who struggle making it into the top fifty. When you lack skill a bit, a lighter bike that handles well really helps. Especially in tough editions like this one. I’m not yet sure about how I’m going forward with the project. I guess I might build a few more but nothing’s set in stone yet.”
You take on a daunting ride through the depths of hell for two weeks, as Malle Moto riders even more so, that has to form an unbreakable bond of friendship among rider, doesn’t it?
“You make some amazing memories along the way. Not just literally on route, but when you get off the bike the adventure doesn’t stop. One such special moment was when I spent the night with the other two Dutch Malle Moto riders, Hans-Jos Liefhebber and Edwin Straver. In the bivouac at Tupiza we were told stage 9 was canceled, and we were required to ride on through to Salta in Argentina. Just another 500 kilometers to do after a pretty hefty ride on stage that day. We did get underway, but just after crossing the border from Bolivia into Argentina we decided to grab a hotel somewhere. Three guys in one room; it was actually – as we say in Dutch – gezellig. It was fun. After a hot shower we went and found ourselves a pizza place. Unfortunately we didn’t have any clean clothes on us, so there’s the three of us in some random pizzeria in stinking MX-gear; brilliant stuff! I felt just like some tourist. Those are the little extra’s you get from the Dakar. Same goes for meeting Juan Agustin Rojo, a young Argentinian rider who was riding the Malle Moto class for the first time. It’s a very skinny kid who had to really push himself to make it to the end of the race, but in the end he did just that. I spoke to him every night, trying to keep his spirits up and to advise him wherever he might need it. It really showed character how he got on; you can say it was a heroic effort on his part. I really felt like a father figure; like a father and a son taking on the Dakar together. Those are moments that stick by you. They’re a part of what makes the Rally Dakar special. You’ll never ever forget those memories.”
Photos: Shakedown Team