Saudi motorcyclist’s road to Dakar and the dunes of Saudi Arabia

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Saudi motorcyclist Mishal Al-Ghunaim is ready to face the challenges of the 13-day Dakar rally in his home country. (Supplied)
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Updated 04 January 2020

Saudi motorcyclist’s road to Dakar and the dunes of Saudi Arabia

  • 36-year-old Al-Khobar native began riding as an enthusiast then turned his passion into a professional career
  • On hearing the news of Dakar coming to the Kingdom, he jumped at the opportunity and joined qualifying rallies

JEDDAH: Saudi motorcyclist Mishal Al-Ghunaim is ready to face the challenges of the 13-day Dakar rally, where bikers and quad racers will have to endure the sand dunes and mountain ranges alone.

The 36-year-old Al-Khobar native began riding as an enthusiast then turned his passion into a professional career — and now has the opportunity to achieve success and reach the finish line of this most demanding of races.

We met Al-Ghunaim at the “Parc Ferme” at Jeddah’s waterfront with team X-raids, as the riders and mechanics focused on tweaking their bikes ahead of the race.  




Saudi motorcyclist Mishal Al-Ghunaim is ready to face the challenges of the 13-day Dakar rally. (Supplied)

“I’ve always looked for a challenge in my life and motorbikes gave me the adrenaline kick that I’ve always sought,” he said. “I’ve been told by many that I have a wild soul; motorbikes and being off-road is one way to express myself.”

He started riding at the age of 7 and has not stopped since, but the motorcycle aficionado moved up a scale when he decided to ride professionally. 

“I starting racing rallies three years ago and began regionally, and though I was out for a year due to an accident, I’ve kept myself busy after taking many on bike tours of the area with my company, gaining experience as I rode across Saudi Arabia; something that helped me later with Dakar,” he said.

On hearing the news of Dakar coming to the Kingdom, he jumped at the opportunity and joined qualifying rallies, which he successfully completed. He rode his motorbike in the Dubai International Baja, the 2019 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, one of the most difficult rallies, with 500km of nothing more than sand dunes. He was the first Saudi to finish in the rally’s 30 years and this was a major boost for his preparation in Dakar.

His knowledge of the Kingdom’s terrain as an off-road free rider gives him an advantage over other competitors. It took Alghunaim months to fully prepare for Dakar, with plenty of riding and familiarizing himself with the terrain, as well as physical and mental training. “It’s been a nine-month struggle” to make it happen, he said.

“Deserts are deserts, and it’s very comforting for me to be racing in my home country; you don’t feel like an alien,” he said. “This lifts the strain from myself and from my family, that’s the home-country advantage.”

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READ MORE: Arab News' dedicated Dakar Rally 2020 Saudi Arabia Spotlight

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Although tough, Al-Ghunaim believes the 8,000km tour around the Kingdom will be exciting.

“Dakar is a very mental race; obviously it’s a challenge I’ve never been through so I don’t know what to expect,” he said. “The most challenging aspect will be the duration, almost 12 hours of riding each day; it’s physically straining and fatigue can set in. My plan is to take it day by day and find the inspiration to keep going.”

For riders on motorbikes and quads, the challenge of finishing Dakar is more difficult as they ride for hours on end. Al-Ghunaim’s strategy is simple but there is a lot of pressure. 

“It’s when your bike breaks down or crashes and my routine changes; that’s when everything creeps up,” he said. “You need to deal with those scenarios, try to resolve them to get back on track and get back to racing again.”

“If I’m focused and develop a routine the first few days, I’ll be able to settle into the Dakar routine nicely and manage the ‘flow’ easily. My focus and aim is be an official Dakar title finisher.”


Man United, Inter favorites for Europa League finale

Updated 44 min 50 sec ago

Man United, Inter favorites for Europa League finale

  • All games from the quarterfinals onwards will be played as one-off ties across four venues

PARIS: Manchester United, Inter Milan and Sevilla headline a quintet of former champions traveling to Germany for a remodeled eight-team straight knockout tournament that will crown the winner of a Europa League campaign heavily disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

All games from the quarterfinals onwards in this season’s competition will be played behind closed doors as one-off ties across four venues — Cologne, Duisburg, Dusseldorf and Gelsenkirchen — following a five-month interruption.

While a Champions League berth still awaits the victor of the final in Cologne on Aug. 21, much has changed since the COVID-19 outbreak that brought European football to a standstill in March.

“There are rules and regulations on the bubble that’s going to travel. We’ve got to stick together, stay together in and around the hotel and the training ground,” United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said of the strict health protocols clubs must respect.

Players and staff will undergo virus testing before departing for Germany and again on the eve of a match once arriving, a process repeated for each subsequent game in the final tournament.

UEFA has advised teams to travel on charter flights and minimize contact with the general public, strongly recommending the use of exclusive hotels — to which players will largely be confined — in order to avoid potential cross-contamination.

Masks will not be required for substitutes and coaching staff but they must maintain social distancing when seated, with players instructed to limit contact as much as possible when warming up. Match balls will be disinfected before kickoff and at half-time.

United, the 2017 winners, face FC Copenhagen in Monday’s quarterfinal in Cologne while Serie A runners-up Inter take on Bayer Leverkusen in a clash of former UEFA Cup champions at Dusseldorf Arena.

England forward Jesse Lingard, who played in United’s 2-0 win over Ajax in the final three years ago, is confident the team can capture the title for a second time.

“We can’t wait to get there and play this game now. 100 per cent I want to win it again,” Lingard told MUTV.

“Lifting a trophy is a special feeling you can’t really explain and winning it before you take that confidence forward. We have got a mixture of youth and experience in the squad and for the young lads to win their first trophy, it will be perfect for them.”

Should United advance to the last four they would face either Sevilla — who have won the Europa League and its precursor, the UEFA Cup, a record five times — or Premier League rivals Wolves in Cologne
on Aug. 16.

Wolves are through to a first European quarterfinal since 1972 but were punished by UEFA in midweek after failing to comply with Financial Fair Play requirements. They take on Sevilla in Duisburg on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Inter beat Getafe 2-0 in a single-leg last-16 tie Wednesday in Gelsenkirchen, and Antonio Conte’s men harbor hopes of adding to the three UEFA Cups won in the 1990s.

“This is an important competition. It doesn’t matter where and under what conditions you’re playing, you should only be focused on the upcoming match,” midfielder Christian Eriksen told Inter TV.

“It’s certainly not as fun playing without fans, the atmosphere isn’t there. We’ll try to excite them while they’re watching on TV, and we’re hoping that we’ll be able to embrace our supporters again soon.”

Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk, winners of the 2009 edition, play Swiss outfit Basel in the other quarterfinal in Gelsenkirchen.

This year’s Europa League final was initially due to be played in the Polish city of Gdansk in late May before the health crisis forced a change of plans.

Gdansk will host next year’s final instead.