Monday, March 4, 2024

Julien Jagu felt “immense relief” after Morocco crash, overcoming fears of rally

Julien Jagu‘s plans of running his third Dakar Rally in 2024 were upended as he continues to recover from a broken elbow he sustained at the Rallye du Maroc in October, explaining none of his “lights are green, be it physical, material, or mental.”

The accident occurred during the fourth and penultimate stage of the rally. Jagu and a group of his fellow riders, including eventual World Rally-Raid Championship runner-up Paolo Lucci, got lost on a plateau where the tracks “all looked alike” and did not have a proper CAP compass reading to lead them in the right direction. Noticing that he had deviated from the course, he turned around and tried to advance even though he was riding into his own dust. Shortly after, Neels Theric crashed into him head-on at nearly 100 kilometres an hour. Lucci sounded the distress signal and both were airlifted to hospital, where Jagu was diagnosed with a broken elbow and Theric broke his hand.

Strange as it sounds, but he feels the accident that led to the injury has shaped him for the better. In a letter he wrote and posted on social media Sunday, he revealed much of his racing career had been conducted with an underlying fear of the discipline’s dangers, along with the pressures that come with pursuing it.

Jagu grew up in motocross and enduro, though cross-country rally on a bike is a much different beast as it takes racers through environments that range from vast deserts to forests and mountains. He made his Dakar Rally début in 2022, finishing a strong twelfth in Rally2, though he admitted he had knots in his stomach throughout the race.

“From my early days in rally, I feared high speeds in unknown and hostile places,” he wrote. “It relapsed several times during Dakar 2022. I thought about quitting, but the competitor in me wanted to do better, train, improve the bike, and show that I could be among the best amateurs.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to train due to a lack of budget before Dakar 2023. Strangely, I rode better and finished nineteenth overall among the best amateurs. Every evening, I told Gurvan (Peru, mechanic) again that what we were doing all day was completely crazy and absurd.

“It wasn’t natural for me to ride with fear in my gut, grit my teeth at full throttle (160) on a danger indicated in the roadbook because cutting speed would mean losing 30km/h. It wasn’t natural for me to start after the crash of a RallyGP rider 200m after the start, see everyone looking at each other, turn around a second time, and still go full throttle in the special (stage). It wasn’t natural for me to break front wheels every two days and think that a rock could have sent me flying. It wasn’t natural for me to tell my loved ones that everything was fine while riding with anxiety. It wasn’t easy at all to do all this without a bonus or salary, all while closing my business during the races.

“I sacrificed many races or events throughout the year to allocate my budget to the Dakar. It’s a relentless machine that occupies our minds 24/7, as well as those of our loved ones.”

Jagu improved to a seventh in Rally2 at the 2023 Dakar Rally. In Morocco, his second W2RC start of the year, he was running sixth in class prior to his accident.

“When I found myself face down, struggling to catch my breath and with an arm numb with pain, I felt immense relief,” Jagu said. “I knew that at that moment that it was over, that rallies of this magnitude were finished, that I wouldn’t be afraid when getting on my bike, that I wouldn’t have the pressure to gather the budget, that I wouldn’t subject my loved ones to this stress anymore. This accident wasn’t a crash due to overconfidence or misinterpretation of danger. It simply confirmed that we don’t control everything, and at these speeds, there’s no forgiveness.

“I played the best hand possible with the cards I had, and I am proud of that. Whether I finished nineteenth, sixteenth, fifteenth, or twenty-second again, what difference does it make?

“Today, my physical condition will require at least another surgery to hopefully restore the normal functioning of my arm. Get back on a bike and race? Yes, I want to, but the future will tell if it will be possible as before.

“I will return to the desert for sure, but with friends to finally enjoy the landscape, the country, the culture, without the knot in my stomach and without having to find €100,000 every year.

“I thank all the people who allowed me to do these two Dakars. I am proud of my starts. Thanks to my loved ones for supporting this.”