Tears, crashes, near misses and a speed penalty summed up Ross Branch's stinging exit from the 2021 Dakar Rally.
Despite overwhelming expectations from the biker, he bowed of the competitions on stage nine due to a mechanical fault. Mmegi Sport Correspondent, KABELO BORANABI weighs in on the biker's 'all-in' approach at the race. (BLURB)
"I have everything I need to go and win," Branch declared ahead of his trip to Saudi Arabia for this year's edition of the Dakar Rally. The biker's statement came on the back of securing a spot in a factory team, Monster Energy Yamaha Rally team. With a factory team on his side, Branch's focus was solely to ride.
In 2019, for his first outing at the Dakar, he finished as the best rookie reaching the podium in an outstanding 13th position. At the time, he was a commercial airline pilot who used to fly all week and race on weekends, a career he has since halted to go professional as a rider. For his first appearance, Branch had to source funds with the help of a handful sponsors. It was a cautious approach for Branch as he defined his debut Dakar race as a 'test and feel' and performed beyond even wildest expectations to finish the world’s toughest race and to cap it all, finish as the best rookie. A year later, Branch had one thing in mind, to impress scouts and try to secure a spot in a factory team. A rookie award in the previous year was a confidence boost but he was still cautious to avoid slip offs as potential recruiters looked on. The 2020 Dakar Rally was a turning point in Branch's off-road career. Despite coming in at position 21 in the overall standings he prided himself in bagging a maiden career stage win. He had done enough to seduce Monster Energy Yamaha Rally team, booking a space in a fast pacers team that includes Andrew Short and Adrian Van Beveren.
The stage was now set for the Kalahari Ferrari ahead of his only third appearance at the Dakar.
The goal became as big as expectations of him, to clinch the Dakar Rally title, setting an 'all-in' mentality for the biker who had done fairly well in his first two attempts as an amateur. He has claimed all the possible continental titles in the off-road and motocross disciplines and the time
Branch's title push got off to a steady start as he finished fourth on the first day in overall standings, before he moved a place higher to third after two stages. A navigation problem cost him a lot of time on the third day of the competition as he dropped to 17th.
He recovered well on the fourth day showing great speed on the bike to finish the stage second. He was however, penalised for over-speeding in a controlled zone and was served with a one-minute penalty, which saw him drop to fourth place on the day, but he moved up to the third spot in overall rankings. Half way through the competition, Branch was in the sixth spot. Branch had a disappointing start to the second half of the Dakar Rally as he dropped out of the top 10 in the overall standings. He lost 24 minutes after crashing just 31km from the starting point to finish stage seven placed at number 28, which saw him drop to 15th spot in the overall rankings. This saw his chances of winning the Dakar Rally title, dim. Branch wept through the 24 minutes as he fixed his bike to get back on track. Five stages were now left for Branch to try at least secure a podium place finish and he moved to 13th on day eight. Pressure was raised on the Jwaneng-raised biker after teammates Short and Franco Caimi pulled out, leaving him to carry the team's hopes in attempt to close the gap between him and leaders. Lady luck eluded the biker as his engine blew off in stage nine.
The accident put to an end what would have been a fairy tale competition for the 34-year-old. Early signs had shown, as only 78 of the 101 participants who started the race remained half way through the competition. It proves to be toughest race for the man and the machine. "Unfortunately my Dakar came to an end today.
I learnt a lot form this Dakar and it has been an incredible adventure. I cannot thank Yamaha Racing for believing in me and giving me this opportunity. I am so excited for the 2021 season," Branch said on Wednesday.