Dakar Rally’s paraplegic racer Axel Alletru beating all the odds in Saudi Arabia

French paraplegic sportsman Axel Alletru has beaten all the odds to fulfill his ambition of taking part in the grueling Dakar Rally. (A.S.O/Dakar Rally)
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Updated 16 January 2020

Dakar Rally’s paraplegic racer Axel Alletru beating all the odds in Saudi Arabia

  • Former motocross champion competing in the world-famous desert race being staged in Saudi Arabia
  • After undergoing a series of operations, he lost 80 percent of his leg muscles

JEDDAH: French paraplegic sportsman Axel Alletru has beaten all the odds to fulfill his ambition of taking part in the grueling Dakar Rally.

The former motocross champion has been competing in the world-famous desert race being staged in Saudi Arabia for the first time.

And just being able to pit his wits against some of motor-racing’s top drivers has felt like victory for determined Alletru.

At 20 years old, he had a highly promising career ahead of him in motocross until a severe accident in the 2010 Latvian grand prix left him paralyzed. But Alletru refused to give up.

After undergoing a series of operations, he lost 80 percent of his leg muscles and sensitivity, changing his life but not his passion for the sport.

His focus turned to swimming, which led to participation in the 2016 Paralympics, and a haul of six gold medals at the French disabled swimming championships.

In 2018, encouraged by his successes, Alletru set himself a new challenge of taking part in the 2020 Dakar Rally.

“To fulfill a dream, it is very important to focus on one goal,” Alletru told Arab News on the last leg of the race. “By embarking on this great project, my first goal was to finish the Dakar Rally and show that despite my handicap I could ride with the able-bodied and finish like them in this international race.

“That’s what I talk about at lectures and conferences; behind the impossible there is always hiding a possible that we can go looking for. This is really what I try to demonstrate and bring to life in my community and all the people who follow me.”

As he spoke, Alletru was holding seventh place in the general classification of SSV (side-by-side vehicle) and first in the T3S category.

“I’m crossing my fingers to finish this rally and if I finish in the top five that would be even better, so that I could be spotted by a team and get started more professionally in this beautiful sport,” he added.

Alletru warmed up for Dakar by participating in the Rally of Morocco 2019 where he was able to confirm to Dakar Rally authorities that he was fit to race despite his handicap.

His experience in north Africa helped him in choosing the right vehicle (a Can-Am) for Dakar and understand the logistics around his disability and his team, Je Peux 2020. It was his team, along with Talent Digital founder Riad Kacim, that drove the Frenchman on to realizing his dream.

“It allowed me to test my physical limits, vis-a-vis my handicap, simple things. When you have a handicap like mine, it is very important to know how to take a shower in the middle of the desert, my needs during a full race, how to preserve my health and hygiene, because as a paraplegic my immunity decreases and I am twice as fragile as an able-bodied person,” he said.

Rocky terrain over the first part of the rally resulted in Alletru getting three punctures and the stage took him three-times longer to complete than other competitors.

“Morocco was of great help to me because I was able to prepare myself physically, but above all mentally, to face all these difficulties,” he added.

On his experience of Saudi Arabia, Alletru said: “The people are very welcoming, always with a smile. I have been very happy to discover this country with my own eyes and make my own judgment. The natural landscapes are wonderful, and I hope it will be the first of many visits.”

Tottenham look to seize on Chelsea’s Premier League slump

Updated 21 February 2020

Tottenham look to seize on Chelsea’s Premier League slump

LONDON: Jose Mourinho had almost reached the end of his lament about the current situation facing his weary Tottenham players when he turned his attention to their next Premier League game against a team he knows so well.

“The Chelsea players were watching this game on TV,” Mourinho said after Tottenham’s 1-0 home loss to Leipzig in the Champions League, “with nice sparkling water, with lemons and biscuits, enjoying the game.”

If only the outlook at Chelsea were so rosy.

Indeed, recent results suggest the predicament of Mourinho’s old club is more concerning than Tottenham’s.

Chelsea, somehow, find themselves still holding onto fourth place in the league heading into Saturday’s London derby against their nearest rivals in the race for Champions League qualification. That’s despite collecting only 15 points from its last 14 games, a dire run stretching back to the end of November.

At that time, Chelsea were on a six-match winning streak — its best since the team’s title-winning season of 2016-17 — and wasn’t too far behind Liverpool, the current runaway leader. Youngsters like Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori were regular starters, given their opportunity by an up-and-coming manager in Frank Lampard who is eager to promote youth. US winger Christian Pulisic was in his best form since his move from
Borussia Dortmund.

Fast forward three months and injuries are starting to bite, the kids are starting to feel the pace in a grueling season, and Lampard — a bright, eloquent and engaging manager — has been grumbling about the club’s failure to add numbers to the squad in January and his players’
wastefulness in front of goal.

“I must sound like a broken record,” a clearly frustrated Lampard said after seeing Chelsea get picked off in a 2-0 home loss to Manchester United on Monday.

Lampard’s main gripe is the team’s inability to finish off chances, which has become more pronounced with Abraham — a scorer of 13 league goals this season — currently out injured.

With Callum Hudson-Odoi and Pulisic also missing against United, Lampard played a front three of Willian, Michy Batshuayi and Pedro Rodriguez — a throwback to a few years ago and an era Chelsea fans probably thought they’d seen the back of.

Key midfielder N’Golo Kante joined Abraham on the injury list after going off early against United, while Lampard is still playing 38-year-old Willy Caballero in goal after dropping Kepa Arrizabalaga — signed in 2018 as the world’s most expensive goalkeeper.

It’s an uncertain period for Lampard, who is still a rookie in managerial terms, and Chelsea’s recent slump has seen as many as seven teams move within seven points or closer in the standings.

In that three-month period, Tottenham have won 29 points — a haul second only to Liverpool. That coincided exactly with Mourinho taking over as manager from Mauricio Pochettino.

The issue, now, is whether Spurs can keep it up, and Mourinho clearly has his doubts. With attackers Son Heung-min and Harry Kane out potentially for the rest of the season, Mourinho likened his team to someone “going to fight with a gun without bullets.”

Amid a hectic schedule that has seen his team play two FA Cup replays since the turn of the year, Mourinho said he has been forced to start with the same group of players for matches every three of four days. Erik Lamela and Tanguy Ndombele came off the bench against Leipzig having barely trained.

“I try to manage the pieces that we had,” he said.

Throw in the fact that Tottenham has a tight turnaround after the Leipzig match — Wednesday night to Saturday lunchtime — and Mourinho will feel he has genuine cause for grievance.

Yet, he is managing to scramble together results and a win at Stamford Bridge, where he previously enjoyed two separate trophy-winning spells as coach and was once revered, would see Tottenham climb above Chelsea.

Outmanoeuvring Mourinho, his former coach, in a 2-0 win at Tottenham in December was one of the few bright spots for Lampard in recent months. 

Doing so again would give him and Chelsea some much-needed breathing space in what is suddenly a bunched chase for Champions League qualification.