Melbourne’s Ben Young might be among the oldest ‘rookies’ in this year’s Dakar, but he had the smile of a 12-year-old schoolboy as he soaked in the ceremonial start of the event in Lima, Peru.
The 47-year-old will be part of the Duust Rally team for the next 11 days as he tries to get his KTM to the finish of the gruelling event, which will also include former winner Toby Price, despite a recent wrist fracture.
While a rookie in Peru, Young is a veteran of many international events during the last eight years and is well credentialed to make comparisons.
“It is off the planet,” Young told Speedcafe.com as he waited to be introduced to the crowd on the start podium in Lima.
“I was just saying to some people, that it’s the best. I am loving it.
“When you are doing the Africa (Eco) race people are giving you the middle finger and throwing rocks at you. Here they are cheering you and welcoming you with open arms.
“Most of the work is just getting here in the first place, the rest is easy.
“To be honest, I have been a little bored this week just standing around getting documents checked and the bike checked – all the bloody bull***t – but tomorrow we are into the fun stuff and I am really looking forward to it.
“I have been a bit jet-lagged so I think I will sleep really well tonight.”
The bike section will include Australians Price, experienced Yamaha rider Rod Faggotter, who is back for his fifth Dakar, and fellow rookie James Ferguson.
“Most definitely,” Young confirmed to Speedcafe.com when quizzed if he had received any words of advice from Price in the lead up to the event.
“I have got to know Toby over the last four years through rally and he is an absolute legend of a fella and so giving of his time and advice.
“Because he and Rod Faggotter have been here before, I have really nailed what the dunes are like here. Those two blokes are absolute legends.”
While Young is no slouch when it comes to international events, he has one simple plan for the next 11 days and that involves flying home with a finisher’s medal.
“I think there are 140 riders; if I finish in the top 140, I will be happy,” joked Young.
“I am here 100 percent to finish, not to race. If I start to race then I am just going to hurt myself.
“For me it is much more important to get to the end and get a finisher’s medal than crash out halfway and say I was in the top 50 when I crashed. It would mean nothing.
“I need to ride smart, intelligently, navigate well and don’t take risks.
“A finisher’s medal is all I want.”
At 47, Young knows that the 3000km of sand dunes that lie ahead of him will test his body more than many of the riders, some of which are half his age.
“The physical preparation has been a part-time job,” he explained.
“If you are not fit, you will get tired and you will make mistakes.
“I have been doing at least 20 hours a week of cycling and gym work and then a lot of riding, at least one or two days a week. Just riding, riding, riding.”
While the crown jewel of world rallying, the Dakar was never seriously on Young’s mind until the event moved from the altitude of Bolivia to a predominantly sand dune event in Peru this year.
“Riding at 4000m? I would get altitude sickness and I wouldn’t be able to race and I wasn’t that interested,” admitted Young.
“When I found out it was going to be in Peru only and all on sand, which is my favourite terrain, I signed up that day.
“I have done the last two editions of the Africa Eco race and for me that was the true spirit of Dakar.
“This is just a show and a whole lot of fun, but it is a different beast.
“It has the prestige. It’s no different to Africa or Abu Dhabi, but everyone knows about it.
“As soon as I mention that I ride rally, the first question everyone asks you, ‘You ride in Dakar?’
“It’s like the Tour de France for a cyclist. Everyone can relate to that.”
The first special stage of the Dakar Rally gets underway early tomorrow morning (AEDT).
CLICK HERE for the 2019 itinerary.