Not many 47-year-old go into a Dakar Rally as a rookie nowadays, but for Australian Ben Young this is very much the reality for him.
But what’s it like training for your first experience of The Dakar, one of the most gruelling races in the world? Young will find out over the next 10 days just if he has done enough to survive it.
Because survival is what The Dakar is about. So many competitors fall by the wayside and the achievement of finishing, and getting across the line to receive a finishers’ medal, is the feeling that most people are chasing when they arrived in Peru last week.
“There are 140 riders and as long as I finish in the top 140 I will be happy,” Young told Fox Sports.
The carnival atmosphere kicked off on Monday with the podium celebration to mark the start of the race, with each driver and rider introduced to the carnival Peruvian crowd in Lima ahead of the gruelling week and a half ahead of them.
“It’s amazing,” Young said. “I was just saying to everyone, last year I was in Africa doing a race there and over there they stick the finger up and you and throw rocks at you – here it’s the biggest show in town.
“It’s unreal and just to be welcomed by the people is the best. I’m loving it.”
The preparation needed to get yourself in a mental and physical condition to complete the race is a “part-time job” in itself, with Young putting in at least 20 hours-a-week off the bike as well as the work he does on it.
“Most of the work is just getting here in the first place – the rest is easy.
“The physical preparation is a part-time job. If you want to get through without the worry of fatigue… if you’re not fit and you get tired then you make mistakes. But if you’re fit and you have problems, your body and heart-rate can recover.
“When you’re not fit, you panic and the head starts to get a bit loose. The physical part is probably 20 hours a week with cycling, gym work and then doing a lot of riding on the motorbike – one, two days a week at least.”
Young is in good company though, his discipline also features 2016 champion and Australia’s first and only Dakar winner, Toby Price.
Price will be looking to emulate his achievement of three years ago despite carrying a broken wrist and Young heaped the praise on his compatriot for how he has helped him prepare for The Dakar.
“Toby I’ve known on and off through the last few years of rally, he’s a real legend of a fella. He’s been giving me all his time and advice, because of course he’s been here before. He’s so great in giving up his time. Absolute legend.”
The Dakar Rally is a dream for all of the competitors here and on the eve of the first stage, the excitement was palpable. And if the next 10 days really is “the easy part”, then that should tell you all you need to know about how tough it is to even get here.