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.”


Saudi helpers step up to the tee at first women’s golf tournament

Updated 26 February 2020

Saudi helpers step up to the tee at first women’s golf tournament

  • Volunteers will have the chance to step inside the ropes and get up close with the sport’s leading players

JEDDAH: Saudi volunteers will be able to write their names into the history books by helping at the first-ever Saudi Ladies International professional golf tournament.

Competition organizers are looking to recruit hundreds of people to help with the smooth running of the four-day event from March 19-22 at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC).

Volunteers will have the chance to step inside the ropes and get up close with the sport’s leading players, including Order of Merit winner Beth Allen, three-time Ladies European Tour (LET) winner Carly Booth and Solheim Cup hero Azahara Munoz, as they compete for $1 million in prize money. 

The LET tournament in Saudi Arabia will mark the first time that professional female golfers have played competitively in the country, and comes hot on the heels of last month’s triumphant men’s equivalent, the Saudi International, won by Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell.

Online registration is now open for the debut event’s volunteers’ program.

Volunteers will be briefed before the event and receive a tournament uniform to wear while they work.

Marshals, including traveling, static, crossing and transitional positions, will be required for the tournament. Mobile scoreboard operators and walking scorers are among other roles that will offer volunteers a unique insight into the world-class event.

Mike Oliver, event director at Golf Saudi, said: “For the first year of this event, we are offering volunteers a chance to be part of history, working at the first professional women’s golf event to be held in the country.

“Volunteers, from both Saudi Arabia and abroad, will play a key role in helping us deliver a successful inaugural tournament,” he said.

A certificate of service will be presented to volunteers at the completion of the tournament.

As a bonus, volunteers will have their photo taken with the 2020 ladies winner during the prize presentation — a moment that will be seen by a worldwide audience via live broadcasts.