Kirsten Landman came back from a life-threatening crash in 2013 to compete in, and finish, the Dakar. Picture: REUTERS
Kirsten Landman came back from a life-threatening crash in 2013 to compete in, and finish, the Dakar. Picture: REUTERS

While the focus is usually on the battle up front, the annual Dakar Rally is a personal battle for dozens of often unheralded competitors throughout the field.

This year, the dream of finishing the world’s toughest offroad race came true for two South African women competing for the first time: motorcycle riders Kirsten Landman and Taye Perry.

Landman, from Summerveld in KwaZulu-Natal, and Perry, from Rustenberg in North West province, became the first African women to complete the Dakar on bikes.

After 12 gruelling days and nearly 8,000km in the gravel and dunes of Saudi Arabia, where the event was held for the first time, Landman finished 55th out of 95 finishers and Perry was 77th in a male-dominated field.

What the numbers don’t tell is the tough challenges they overcame. For 28-year old Landman, just reaching the start line on her KTM was a heroic feat after recovering from a life-threatening crash in 2013 that put her in a coma for 11 days and threatened to end her bike racing days. She entered the Dakar to overcome her fear of speed after the accident.

Diminutive Taye Perry completed the Dakar after crashing in the penultimate stage. Picture: SUPPLIED
Diminutive Taye Perry completed the Dakar after crashing in the penultimate stage. Picture: SUPPLIED

Finishing the Dakar in 56 hours and 28 minutes, which was more than 16 hours behind winner Ricky Brabec on a Honda, made Landman the first African woman to complete the event on two wheels.

That title had almost gone to the diminutive Perry, also on a KTM, who was up on Landman for the first 10 stages until a crash on stage 11 nearly derailed her Dakar dreams.

One of the smallest competitors in the Dakar at just 1.58m tall, the 28-year-old was stranded in the desert for hours before a car eventually stopped to give her a tow. The plucky South African crossed the final few hundred metres on foot, pushing her bike to the line to ensure she was classified as a finisher.

Of her rescuers, Spain’s Pablo Martinez and Argentina’s Facundo Juton, she said: “They weren’t about to let my Dakar dream die a day before the end … and hooked me up for one of the craziest rides I’ve ever had. To the end! For the long haul! They’re my Dakar heroes!”

The car category of the Dakar Rally, held from January 5 to 17, was won by Spain’s Carlos Sainz in a Mini JCW Buggy. Last year’s winner, Nasser Al-Attiyah was second in a South African-built Toyota Hilux.

SA’s highest finisher was former winner Giniel de Villers, who was fifth in a Hilux.