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

1 / 2
Saudi motorcyclist Mishal Al-Ghunaim is ready to face the challenges of the 13-day Dakar rally in his home country. (Supplied)
2 / 2
Short Url
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.”

-------

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

-------

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.”


Atletico catching all the breaks in Champions League

Updated 12 August 2020

Atletico catching all the breaks in Champions League

  • A victory against Leipzig will put Atletico back in the semifinals for the first time since 2017

LISBON: So far so good for Atletico Madrid in the quest for their first Champions League title.

Diego Simeone’s team have caught all the breaks going into the decisive final-eight tournament in Lisbon.

Old foes Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo are gone. They drew Leipzig instead of a more traditional powerhouse for the quarterfinals. And their rival lost its top player after Timo Werner left for Chelsea. Even when things went wrong and the squad was hit by COVID-19, Atletico avoided the worst as only two players were infected and they could still make the trip to Portugal.

Things have been looking good for Simeone and his players.

A victory against Leipzig on Thursday will put Atletico back in the semifinals for the first time since it was eliminated by Ronaldo’s Madrid in the last four in 2017. Ronaldo and Madrid had defeated Atletico in the final in 2014 and 2016, and also ended the rival’s run in the quarterfinals in 2015.

Ronaldo again was Atletico’s nemesis last season after joining Juventus. Atletico lost to the Italian team in the round of 16 after Ronaldo scored a hat trick in the decisive second leg in Turin.

But this time Ronaldo and Juventus were eliminated by Lyon in the last 16, the same stage in which Madrid were knocked out of the tournament by Manchester City. Only two past champions are still left in the competition — Barcelona and Bayern Munich — and they play against each other in the opposite side of the draw, meaning Atletico could only meet one of them in the final.

Leipzig are a relative newcomer to the Champions League, having reached the group stage only twice. This is the first time they made it to the knockout round. They eliminated Tottenham in the round of 16, but now they won't count on top scorer Werner, who did not extend his contract by a few weeks to finish the season with the German club before moving to Chelsea.

Atletico stunned defending European champion Liverpool in the last 16, advancing after a 3-2 win in England.

“The game against Liverpool will go down in history and was one of the best we’ve had in a long time,” Atletico striker Diego Costa said. “It gave fans high expectations and we will give our best to try to meet those expectations. Hopefully we will play well and luck will stay on our side.”

Costa said Atletico will not take Leipzig lightly despite  the rival’s lack of experience in international competitions.

“They are very strong on the ball and know what they are about,” he said. “They have made it to the quarterfinals and have no pressure.”

There was a scare within Atletico this week when it announced two positive test results for COVID-19 among the group that was traveling to Lisbon. There were concerns that an outbreak within the club could have affected the team’s participation in the tournament in Portugal, but new tests showed that only Ángel Correa and Sime Vrsaljko were infected and the squad could travel to Lisbon.

Vrsaljko was not even going to play because he is nursing an injury, while Correa isn't among Atletico’s top stars even though he led the team in assists this season.

After coming agonizingly close recently, Atletico hope the breaks will keep going their way and that they  will finally get to lift the coveted European trophy.