Collin Matiza Sports Editor
DÉBUTANT Graeme Sharp yesterday buried himself in glory when he became the first Zimbabwean to finish the Dakar Rally on a motorbike in Saudi Arabia, while his compatriot Conrad Rautenbach missed the podium by a whisker when he came fourth overall in the motor vehicles’ SSV Section.
Rautenbach, competing in his second Dakar Rally, did well to complete the whole course in 54hours 38minutes and 11seconds but this was not good enough to earn him a top three finish as he was relegated into fourth place by American Casey Carey (53hours 25minutes and 52seconds), Russia’s Sergei Kariakin (54hours 05minutes and 04seconds) and Francisco Lopez Contardo of Chile (54hours 18minutes and 28seconds) who took the first three places in the cars’ SSV Section.
This was Rautenbach’s best performance at the Daka Rally after having finished ninth overall in a Toyota Hilux and was named the best rookie back in 2017.
But a bigger pat on the back should go to Rautenbach’s fellow countryman Sharp who defied the odds in the motorbike section where he finished 74th overall in his debut appearance in the Dakar Rally.
After more than 7 500km of dust, pain and rallying in Saudi Arabia, the 33-year-old biker managed to chase down his Dakar Rally dream yesterday when he completed the final stage of this tortuous marathon from Haradh to Qiddiya.
Sharp wrote himself a piece of history by becoming the first man from Zimbabwe to last the distance on a motorbike in 13 days of racing in the sand during this year’s event.
This is a phenomenal achievement by the Zimbabwean rider who indicated just before the start of this year’s event that his dream was just to finish the Dakar Rally and he punched the air in delight as he crossed the finish line yesterday.
“I am an ordinary man, on an extraordinary adventure. My dream is to become the very first Zimbabwean to finish the Dakar 2020 Rally on a motorbike — the most extreme race of its kind.
“Since 2012, I have had this dream of competing in this epic event, and finally in April 2019 I qualified for the 2020 Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia.
“I am thrilled to be on this adventure,” Sharp said ahead of the start of the world’s toughest motor rallying event.
And his dream came true yesterday as he came home unscathed in the 12th and final stage of this year’s Dakar Rally on his KTM bike.
After yesterday’s 429km Stage 12, Sharp was classified as the 74th-placed biker and he completed the whole Dakar Rally in 61 hours 4 minutes and 02 seconds.
And Sharp could not hide his excitement after completing the 13-day journey in the desert of Saudi Arabia yesterday.
“I didn’t think this day would come, but it’s here and I feel very honoured and privileged to be here- what an amazing feeling!
“It’s such an incredible journey to partake in and (there were) so many incredible people behind it; and to each and everyone of you thank you so much from the bottom of my heart and what an amazing feeling. And for my country, back in Zimbabwe, I think we are going through our own Dakar and the stages are pretty tough, the navigation is not easy but the wheels keep turning and we will get to the end and I think everyone can resonate with the Dakar experience back home but what a privilege to be here and I’m so greatful for the opportunity and I hope I’m not the last Zimbabwean to take part in the Dakar Rally,” Sharp told reporters in Qiddiya yesterday.
Temba Mazvimbakupa of Motorsport Zimbabwe was among the first people to congratulate Sharp after his feat at the Dakar Rally yesterday.
“Graeme Sharp the first Zimbabwean to finish the Dakar Rally on a motorbike . . . Well done shamwari!!,” Mazvimbakupa posted on his Facebook wall yesterday.
One of Sharp’s fans Lourens Blikkies Blignaut also gave the biker a pat on the back.
“Great achievement!! This is like a win,” Blignaut posted on Sharp’s Facebook wall yesterday.
The motorbike section of this year’s Dakar Rally was won by Ricky Brabec in 40hours 02 minutes and 36 seconds; and became the first American to do so. Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla came second in 40hours 19minutes and 02seconds while third place went to Toby Price of Australia (40hours 26minutes and 42seconds).
A total of 96 motorbike riders were welcomed at the finish line yesterday but the award for bravery in this year’s Dakar Rally should go to Zimbabwe’s Sharp, who managed to complete the whole course without any major hitches in his debut appearance in the tough terrains of Saudi Arabia.
Sharp is obviously happy to leave Saudi Arabia in one piece.
But kudos must go to both Sharp and Rautenbach for raising or flying the Zimbabwean flag high during this year’s Dakar Rally. A big congratulations to the duo . . . They deserve all the praise that’s being given to them.