Courtesy of Sharon Cox
Mirjam Pol has undeniable resolve to race The Dakar. Not only once, but 8 times in fact. Near to ‘Legend’ status, Mirjam achieved personal best result of 41st place in 2020 Dakar along with 2nd in Women’s category- a remarkable achievement in any athlete’s career.
What stands out as most inspiring is Mirjam’s tenacity to face each and every turn of preparation to line-up at Stage One, to enduring long-race days over 12 Stages, to dealing and coping with most extreme challenges that arise from whichever situation.
These forms of mental, physical and emotional tests of composure during times of duress are not easy – are not easily put into words- and are not felt by anyone other than the riders/racers and drivers of The Dakar.
Mirjam raced 2020 Dakar with inherent positivity uppermost in her mind. The passion and love of the sport had always maintained momentum from start to finish. And preparations along with racing 12 Stages in new terrain of Saudia Arabia were there to be embraced.
Yet, Mirjam experienced more than was expected. More than was reasonably meant to contribute to the challenge of racing. More that could be described outside sheer heartbreak which will never be forgotten. To understand Mirjam’s daily mind altering moments, the following comments transcribes the activities Mirjam reported from Stage One through to Final Stage 12.
Mirjam: ‘There are 2 types of riders after the Dakar. The ones who say ‘see you next year’ and the ones who say ‘never again’. It all depends on what happened to you before and during the Dakar’.
‘It can give you the best feeling in the world, but also the worst. If you had a horrific Dakar, with seeing accidents, crashing yourself, getting lost, getting in the dark, in the cold, etc, you probably will do it once and never again’.
‘But if you’re someone getting in before dark, not crashing and not getting lost, because just at the right moment you’re lucky and see someone going in the right direction, you will probably register for next year. It totally depends on what happens to you in Dakar’.
Direct feeds from Mirjam after Stage 2: ‘I’m not going to drive through the dust of others like rubbish. It’s only the second day, isn’t it? Road-book: I don’t really see the difference between blue and black anymore. But… it does save a lot of time and there is always lack of that in the rally’.
Stage 3: ‘I’ve lost so much time here because I wanted to help him (rider down). Technical problems I can’t do anything with that, but I thought I could help him by giving my satellite phone to him. The consequence of Mirjam helping the crashed rider was loss of time- not just precious riding minutes but toll on losing focus then having to get going again.
‘And if you think you’ve had everything, I couldn’t find a Way-Point. And you keep looking. I thought I was going crazy, and keep looking for that mysterious Way-Point… that apparently wasn’t there at all. So, blow off steam, emptying the head and on to tomorrow’s day’.
By Stage 4 Mirjam was pleased with progress: ‘I haven’t been cold and that’s already a very good start to the special. Because I started at the back, I had to catch up with a lot of predecessors’.
‘Because of the hard wind, I thought it might be wiser to just stay behind him. He’ll navigate us through this. I’ll make sure I don’t go into the fog on those stones! I changed my mind just in time. He navigated the best and I stayed on my bike nicely’. Mirjam smiles.
Stage 5 was gruelling terrain to navigate and race at pace. Even the drivers in Truck category stated that ‘this terrain must be very heavy for the bikers’. ‘After a day like today, I’m broken. It’s very heavy terrain and that requires a lot of my body. On this surface you couldn’t hold a line and I had to correct and jump all the time. There were dunes in this stage but they are different dunes than we know in South America. Not that high but dangerous. The back of such a dune is suddenly completely flat again and that’s where it went wrong for me today!
Stage 6: ‘This is my kind of stage. I had a great ride and had a great time. The first piece was fast and then the dunes followed. The dunes are beautiful, if you understand them. I didn’t drive over the first two dunes but I just rode it’.
‘You get to know them better and better those dunes and I love it. Going into the day of rest with a good feeling is mentally important. I am very happy with the rest day because the days before were long and heavy’.
With rest day in sight after Stage 6, Mirjam was placed 54th in Bike category. A total of 43 withdrawals had already been counted over Bike, Car, Truck, Quad and SSV categories and the looming Marathon Stage was set to test all competitors survival skills which ruled ‘No Assistance’ from end of Stage 7 to Stage 8.
Stage 7: Then changed circumstances for Paulo Goncalves and everybody within Dakar. ‘On behalf of Mirjam and her team we would like to express our condolences to the family, friends and the team of Paulo Goncalves. We wish them a lot of strength with this great loss’. Mirjam: ‘I had such an uncomfortable gut feeling and the thought of ‘the worst scenario’ kept haunted in my head’.
‘We lost Paulo the day after our rest day. We were old team-mates. In 2007 and 2008 we were both riding for the same team (HT Rally Raid, Netherlands). And after that we became team-mates again in 2013 and 2014 when Paulo raced Dakar for the factory team HRC Honda and I worked there in assistance’.
Stage 8 was cancelled.
Stage 9: ‘It was a difficult day, the first part was heavy, also physically, with lots of stones. They already warned us about that, it was Morocco Style and I didn’t get in well’.
‘I’m packing my marathon bag. We get a big yellow bag from the organization to put our name and start number on. Tomorrow we have to hand in the big yellow bag to the organization before departure. We get a sleeping mat and a tent and that’s it. I think we really end up in a bivouac in the middle of the desert’.
Stage 10 became hazardous for racing and organizers shortened Special Stage due to sand storms. ‘Today’s special has been neutralized after CP2. Sand storms couldn’t use the helicopters. This means that the time the participants have recorded at CP2 is also their finish time. That would mean Mirjam finished 33st…’.
January 15th- 10 days after Dakar competitors started from Jeddah covering near on 7,500kms to Final Stage 12 at Qiddya. Mirjam: I came off at 118kms very unhappy. My lip and inside mouth are completely broken but especially my upper legs are very painful. My bike is fine’.
‘There was a very hard storm, and those dunes are very treacherous. You have a high speed plateau, it goes back into a dune and that dune cut off three meters in front of the top! I noticed pretty quickly that I had to keep my thoughts close. Still, I had my concentration weaken for a while and then it went wrong right away!
Stage 11: Report by Mirjam’s PR- Due to the heavy crash of Edwin Straver, where Mirjam has provided help, she was heavily upset. ‘”Right now nothing to do with Dakar is important, only Edwin fighting for his life”‘. Out of respect for Edwin and his family and for Mirjam, we want to leave it at this’.
By the next day- Stage 12: MIRJAM IS FINISHED! ‘Actually I’m struggling with being ‘pleased’ this year. Even though I know I did a great job, this year’s Dakar was a very black edition for me’.
‘I’m the only Dutch rider and only female pilot in the world (on motorcycle) who raced and finished Dakar on the 3 different continents; in Africa (2006 en 07), South-America (2009, 10, 11, 18, 19) and now also in Saudi-Arabia (2020), so that’s something I’m proud of’.
‘My 41st finish this year was also my best ever result. But in the end there’s only 1 thing that matters. And that’s getting home… And two of my friends didn’t make it home this year’.
As for the future Mirjam replies: ‘We can only wait and see what the future will bring us’. And so, if ever there was a person who upholds humanity, compassion and generosity in the most extreme situations it is Mirjam Pol. Such fine personal and professional attributes are to be admired and respected for years to come.