That is the story of the Dakar 2021 where a certain Al-Attiyah, a backpacker in search of glory near his land. The Dakar Rally 2021 route, features about 5,000 kilometres made up of 12 stages. Despite months of uncertainty mainly due to the pandemic, this 43rd edition is the second to be held in Saudi Arabia. It will start on 3 January from Jeddah and finish on 15 January in the same place. Nasser Al-Attiyah, a native of Qatar, is the favourite candidate to take the top prize. Here is his story as told by the France 24 television edition of today.

2 January 2021

Dakar 2021: Al-Attiyah, backpacker in search of glory near his land

Qatari Toyota driver Nasser Al-Attiyah during a technical check on January 1, 2021 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, before the start of the 2021 Dakar FRANCK FIFE AFP

Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) (AFP)

He knew the Dakar when he still arrived in the capital of Senegal and signed his three victories in the famous rally-raid in South America, but Nasser Al-Attiyah still has a dream: to win in Saudi Arabia, in the environment of the Gulf countries that he knows so well.

At 50, the Qatari driver is taking part at the wheel of his Toyota Hilux from Sunday in his 17th edition of the Dakar.

And it is an understatement to say that Al-Attiyah loves the Dakar: since his first participation in 2004, he has posted a worse result, when he did not give up, a 10th place, precisely for his debut in the rally-raid. who was still arguing in Africa.

Since then, he has entered his name on the charts three times (2011, 2015, 2019) with three different cars, and has won at least one stage per edition without stopping since … 2007 for a total of 35 successes!

But Al-Attiyah remains by his own admission on “a big disappointment”: he nevertheless finished 2nd in the 2020 edition, behind the Spaniard Carlos Sainz (Mini), but for the start of the Dakar in the Saudi desert, he was another goal was set.

“It was great to be in a new region with incredible landscapes and above all, we were very confident, but from the start of the rally, we started to have punctures. In all, I suffered eleven punctures”, he recalled on the official Dakar 2021 website.

– 150 km of cycling –

The tire problems, used until then for South America, resolved, “NAA” has also adapted its physical preparation.

While he focused on endurance, adapted to low oxygen levels at high altitude in South America, he worked his muscle building to tame the dunes of the Saudi desert on the program of the twelve stages of this Dakar 2021. until January 15.

“I adopted a different physical program which focuses on building muscle,” he told AFP.

With his co-driver since 2015, Frenchman Matthieu Baumel, “we train according to the countries where the Dakar takes place”, underlined the driver born in Doha, the capital of Qatar.

“The program varies between cycling 100 to 150 kilometers per day, running or other exercises,” said the man who is nicknamed “Superman” in his country.

With the confinement imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the champion had to adapt.

– “Dance on the dunes” –

“I have a simulator at home and a gym that kept me in the rally spirit,” he explained.

Al-Attiyah is a symbol of the rise on the international scene of Qatar, a small emirate of the Arabian Peninsula that has become in a few decades an essential name in the field of sport in particular.

Before training in the gigantic and luxurious Aspire sports complex in Doha, Al-Attiyah experienced difficulties in his youth in financing his ambitions to become a great racing driver.

The one who is said to “dance on the sand dunes” has forged an impressive track record in rally as well as in rally-raid: he has been 16 times Middle Eastern champion, WRC2 world champion or four times winner. of the World Cup off-road rallies.

He also shone at the Olympic Games, shotgun in hand, to finish 4th in the skeet event at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games and 3rd at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

While waiting for a new Olympic challenge in Tokyo this summer, Al-Attiyah is aiming for a fourth coronation on the Dakar. Everything is looking good: in October he won the Andalusia rally and his car will be struck with the number 301, just like in his successes in 2015 and 2019.

© 2021 AFP