IN HIS third attempt, Štefan Svitko, a 13-time Slovak champion in enduro and cross-country racing and three-time European enduro champ, finished in fifth place in the motorcycle category of the famed Dakar Rally. The Dakar Rally involves trucks, quads (four-wheel cycles), cars and motorcycles, the category in which Svitko competed.
The Dakar Rally’s name is somewhat confusing because the race has not finished in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, for some years. The 2012 race was held in South America between January 1 and January 15 with a route starting in Argentina, crossing Chile, and ending in Peru. But the difficulty of the race, which was originally across the Sahara desert, has not diminished. Individual legs still traverse forbidding terrain and vary from several dozen to several hundred kilometres in a day.
“When I first participated in the rally in 2010, I had no idea what I was in for; I was not able to even imagine how difficult this race is,” Svitko, 29, from Žaškov in the Orava region, told the SITA newswire. “One year later, I ended early due to engine failure, and now, with the third attempt, I gave all my physical and mental strength and finished in wonderful 5th place. I am happy to have achieved this, together with the whole team,” Svitko stated.
The racer said that the Dakar Rally is first of all about conditioning and fitness – both physically and mentally – and only later comes the motoring technology.
Svitko said he made the most mistakes in the 10th leg of the race, when he injured his arm and damaged his motorcycle. “In this third participation, the situation was ripe for some scars, both for me and the machine. In the 10th leg, 10 kilometres before the finish line, I smashed into a hole in the tarmac. The pain was enormous and I spent all night deciding whether to continue – but capturing 5th place kept pulling me. The Dakar Rally is not about winning one or two legs but about making it through all the legs to the finish line in Peru. So I gritted my teeth and endured.”
Svitko is now the highest-placed Slovak racer in the history of the Dakar Rally, surpassing Jaroslav Katriňák who finished in 9th place in 2007. After his return to Slovakia, Svitko had surgery on his arm as the injury was more serious than earlier thought.
Svitko told SITA he was optimistic he could begin training in April and hoped to take part in next year’s Dakar Rally.